Why Obesity May Cause Snoring

May 7th 2016

Patients who snore should discuss possible symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea with a doctor. A doctor can help evaluate the best steps to take in order to reduce the occurrence of snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is a health risk that can lead to more serious health problems and even death.

Fatty Tissue

The increased size of fatty tissue within the airway mechanism of the neck represents the main reason why obese patients snore. People with fattier tissue in the neck reduce the muscular forces at work in the airway. The pharynx reduces its size because of fatty tissue along the walls of the organ. The airway narrows due to larger abdominal mass that affects the chest wall and trachea. Fat accumulation in the neck and abdomen combine to restrict the airways enough to cause loud snoring. Losing weight marks the best way to improve or eliminate obstructive sleep apnea and the associated snoring.

Mechanical Causes of Snoring

An obese patient's throat muscles relax, causing the tongue to fall back into the throat. This blocks the airway and creates a loud snoring sound as the body tries to re-open the throat in order to breathe properly. Approximately 12 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and 60 to 90 percent of people who have this disorder are overweight.


The severity of obstructive sleep apnea in obese patients varies. Doctors measure how often someone's airway disrupts per hour. Some people may have five blockages per hour, while others could have blockages every 30 seconds. When someone's airway becomes blocked, the oxygen level in the bloodstream lowers. Health professionals could also gauge the severity of this disorder by noting the individual's level of lethargy and cognitive abilities during the day.

Vicious Cycle

A lack of sleep could exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea and snoring because a lack of sleep may cause people to eat more, have less physical activity and gain weight. Disruptions in metabolism may increase insulin resistance, which may lead to diabetes and aggravate obesity further. Obstructive sleep apnea changes levels of metabolic enzymes that increase appetite and caloric intake, while decreasing daytime activity levels because of sleepiness. Obstructive sleep apnea has the potential to worsen obesity, and vice versa, unless the patient does something to break the cycle.


The most prevalent solution to sleep apnea remains weight loss. Dietary changes and surgery could help patients reduce their food consumption habits. A continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP machine, pushes a steady stream of air into an airway while a patient sleeps. Mouthpieces can straighten airways and hold the tongue in place so people with sleep apnea maintain an open airway.


Approximately 30 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese develop obstructive sleep apnea, a condition marked by loud snoring and fragmented sleep. Sleep apnea generally makes people sleepier during daylight hours and may lead to cardiovascular problems. Conversely, snoring may cause people to gain weight since patients who do not get enough sleep sometimes develop an altered metabolism marked by increased eating.

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