By the way, doctor: Is snoring bad for my health?

Q. I'm told I snore at night. I was completely unaware of it. Is snoring unhealthy?

A. About 28% of women ages 30–60 snore regularly. It's usually not a serious problem, unless it's caused by sleep apnea (more on this below). Snoring occurs when air can't move freely through the passageway at the back of the nose and mouth. Soft tissues, including the soft palate, uvula, and — if you haven't had them removed — tonsils surround this area. During sleep, these tissues relax, and air passing through can cause the vibrating sounds we call snoring.

The sources of snoring vary. Nasal passages may be swollen by a cold, an allergy, or smoking. A deformity such as a deviated nasal septum (the wall separating the nostrils) can obstruct the airway. Breathing through a stuffy or blocked nose creates a vacuum in the throat and causes the floppy tissues of the upper airway to draw together. A large uvula, tonsils, adenoids, soft palate, or tongue, or a small jaw, may be part of the problem. Poor muscle tone in the tongue and jaw, excess weight, and use of alcohol or sedating drugs may also contribute. Sleeping on your back tends to make the problem worse.

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