Snoring During Pregnancy: Why It Happens

Pregnant person snoring

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Of the many, many physical changes that occur during pregnancy, sleep is one of them. You may need to adjust the position you sleep in or use a pregnancy pillow to get comfortable. You may find yourself waking frequently to use the bathroom. And yes, you may also need to buy some earplugs for your partner so they aren’t woken up in the night by your snoring.

“It is definitely not uncommon for women to start snoring when becoming pregnant,” says Salome Masghati, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN based in Maryland.

Here, discover why many people start snoring during pregnancy, how to reduce it, and how to tell if your snoring is a sign of something more serious.

Why Do Pregnant People Snore More?

The increased likelihood of snoring during pregnancy is primarily due to the hormonal changes that support the growth of your baby. “In pregnancy, your body produces a lot of progesterone to help
maintain the pregnancy,” explains Dr. Masghati. “Progesterone has effects on the smooth muscle in your airways and nasal passages which causes widening of your airways. As the muscle tone in your throat decreases, the roof of your mouth can drop at night and cause snoring.”

This dropping of the roof of your mouth is also what causes snoring in people who aren’t pregnant—the muscles in the throat relax so much during sleep that they partially block the airway and vibrate as you breathe, resulting in snoring. But the muscle-relaxing effects of progesterone makes this significantly more likely to occur in pregnant people.

“Additionally, progesterone can lead to the dilation of vessels in our mucus membranes, leading to nasal congestion which further worsens snoring,” says Dr. Masghati. Up to 39% of pregnant people suffer from symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose, all of which can contribute to blocking the airway and causing snoring.

Weight gain and fluid retention during pregnancy, in addition to previous sleeping habits, can also play a role. “If a woman was previously a mouth-breather or already overweight, the additional changes in pregnancy can lead to snoring to manifest itself in pregnancy,” Dr. Masghati says.

The environment might contribute as well. “In some instances, environmental factors such as humidity and dry air can lead to snoring,” says Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, Aeroflow Sleep’s Sleep Science Advisor.

How to Reduce Snoring

Many of the physical adjustments pregnant people make to improve their comfort in bed can help with snoring. “Some adjustments to reduce snoring include sleeping on the side, using a body or neck pillow, and elevating the head, neck, and shoulder area,” suggests Dr. Weiss. “Using a humidifier may also reduce snoring.”

Since weight gain can increase the likelihood that you will start snoring during pregnancy, watching how many pounds you put on can limit the severity. “If you are already overweight, try not to exceed 20 pounds of weight gain in pregnancy,” says Dr. Masghati.

In addition, you can take steps to ensure your airways stay as clear as possible.

“Keep the airways free by using gentle saline rinses of the nose,” Dr. Masghati suggests. If a pregnancy-induced stuffy nose is contributing to your snoring, a saline rinse before bed can be very effective at clearing things out. “It's also important to avoid any nasal decongestants containing pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine,” adds Dr. Masghati, as some studies have suggested that these are not safe to use during pregnancy.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Even if you did not snore at all prior to being pregnant, snoring during pregnancy may be a sign of a more serious problem.

“Cases of persistent snoring that do not reduce with behavioral and environmental adjustments should be investigated,” suggests Dr. Weiss. Persistent snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), for which pregnancy is a risk factor. “Sleep apnea, meaning a condition in which a person frequently stops breathing during sleep, can become an issue,” Dr. Masghati says. “Oxygen supply to the mother's brain as well as to the baby can be affected.”  

OSA is characterized by episodes of complete or partial collapse of the airway during sleep, which reduces the amount of oxygen you are breathing in, and can become dangerous if it isn’t treated. “If you constantly feel tired despite adequate sleep, or if your partner observes periods of you not breathing at night, I would suggest you seek medical attention,” says Dr. Masghati.

From there, your doctor may recommend a sleep study, which is the gold standard test for diagnosing sleep apnea. It involves sleeping in a lab where you are monitored using sensors that detect airflow and motion, while measuring other symptoms that may signal that you have sleep apnea.

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, the most common and effective treatment is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. “CPAP is considered safe in pregnancy,” Dr. Masghati says. “It is a mask you wear attached to a machine that produces continuous positive airway pressure.” This prevents the breaks in breathing that might be happening while you’re asleep.

A Word From Verywell

Snoring during pregnancy is very common and quite normal, as the physical changes a pregnant person goes through are conducive to developing this loud sleep habit. In most cases, you may be able to reduce snoring by adjusting your sleeping position or using a humidifier or saline rinse to keep your airway clear.

That said, if you have gained a significant amount of weight in pregnancy, you’re constantly exhausted, or your partner has noticed you not breathing at night, the snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea for which you should see a doctor. For any personal questions about snoring and your pregnancy, speak with your OB/GYN or healthcare provider.

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