We’re here to settle a simple debate between husbands and wives—men do, in fact, snore more than women, according to research, medical professionals, and probably the person you sleep next to. Studies suggest men are almost twice as likely to be banished to couches, locked in spare bedrooms, or elbowed into rolling over on their sides (again) on a nightly basis. But why do people snore? What causes snoring? And why is it so much worse for men?
It’s at least partly due to biology. Men usually have larger upper airways, and lower hanging larynxes, which creates a large space in the back of the throat for amplifying snores. “Upper airway anatomy may contribute to the increased prevalence of snoring in men,” Ellen Wermter, a family nurse practitioner at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, told Fatherly.
About 40 percent of adult men are habitual snorers, compared to only 24 percent of women, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports. As a rule, what causes snoring is the size and position of the airway. When you fall asleep, the muscles in your pharynx relax and your tongue falls back to fill this gap. The larger that gap, the louder — and more likely — the snore.
Men’s airways also tend to change more drastically than women’s when they transition from sitting up to lying down, which further increases their risk of snoring while prone. And it doesn’t help that men tend to carry their weight in their chest, neck, and thorax, meaning they have thicker necks with more soft tissue and fat deposits placing pressure on their airways. That’s both why you snore more, and why puka shell necklaces likely never felt right in the ’90s.
Noah Siegel, a physician and sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School, agrees with these theories in principle, but clarifies that some women inevitably have larger airways and fatter necks than some men. Women are also at lower risk for sleep apnea, he adds, but their risk increases dramatically when they hit menopause. This may be because “the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone provide some protection relative to snoring and sleep apnea,” Siegel says.
Now just because you’re not totally responsible for your obnoxious snoring doesn’t mean you can’t try to minimize it. Studies suggest modifying your diet, getting plenty of exercise, and drinking lots of water, as well as altering your sleep position, quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, and using allergen-free bedding. Rolling over in your sleep can also do wonders.
Meanwhile, if you’re a new father, you can at least take some comfort in those sleepless nights and midnight diaper changes. It’s not like your low-hanging larynx was going to let you sleep anyway.