Around 24% of women and 40% of men snore every night.
If your bed partner complains about your snoring, you might wonder just how loud it can get and why it never wakes you up. People who snore tend to sleep through the night, or so they’d have you believe.
You don’t hear yourself snoring when you sleep because your brain lowers its ability to receive information. The thalamus is the part of the brain in charge of relaying motor and sensory information to the cerebral cortex, filtering out certain sounds and sensations, including snores.
The thalamus is still active when not in a deep sleep, which is why people who wake themselves up with snores do so during the first half of the night. The thalamus only pays attention to sounds it considers important, so your snores are ignored. However, the sound of a baby crying may wake you up.
Why Can’t I Hear Myself Snoring?
You can’t hear yourself snoring because your brain’s ability to receive sensory information is limited while you sleep. Sleep is a vital process in which our brain and body heal from any damage we accumulate throughout the day.
Without sleep, our minds and body slowly deteriorate. Because of how important a good sleep cycle is for our health, our mind makes sure to eliminate anything that may disturb the cycle, including any sounds that may wake us up.
The part of the brain that sends motor and sensory information to the cerebral cortex is called the thalamus. When we hear a sound, this section of the brain sends the right signals to the rest of the brain at the right time. When we sleep, the function of the thalamus is limited. This is so that we can stay asleep, even in noisy environments.
Of course, our brains don’t completely shut off our alertness when we are asleep, which would be dangerous for our survival. So, what it does is filter out sounds that it considers insignificant.
The brain filters out an even, consistent sound like snoring because it’s non-threatening. Our name, the sound of a child crying or a crash, is more likely to be registered by the thalamus than your own snoring.
Do Snoring People Hear Themselves?
People who snore rarely wake themselves up with their snoring, but they rarely remember when they do.
As mentioned, people don’t hear themselves snore because the brain’s ability to receive sensory information is limited while we sleep. This allows the brain to go through its sleep cycle with as few disturbances as possible.
However, this doesn’t mean we can’t hear anything. The brain does remain mildly alert, especially during non-REM sleep. Our sleeping cycle has five phases, with the initial three being non-REM sleep and the final two being REM sleep stages. REM sleep is deep sleep, which occurs when the thalamus is least active.
During non-REM sleep, the thalamus is still fairly active. Not as much as when we’re awake, but enough that snorers wake themselves up occasionally and experience arousal.
An arousal is any sudden change in brain wave activity while a person sleeps. An arousal doesn’t necessarily mean that the person wakes up. Even the most inconspicuous change in brain wave activity counts as arousal. This includes changing our brain activity as we toss and turn in bed.
Experts estimate that people that snore experience multiple arousals each night while in the non-REM stage of the sleep cycle. The only problem is that snoring-related arousals are usually extremely brief.
So, the person doesn’t always remember them happening in the morning.
What Does It Mean When You Hear Yourself Snore?
If you hear yourself snoring, it’s because your sleep is very light, and you wake yourself up with the sound of your snoring. Waking yourself up with your own snoring is most common during the first half of the sleep cycle, and this is before we reach a state of deep sleep.
If you hear yourself snoring before you wake up, it’s a sign that snoring-related arousal is common throughout the night. This means that your non-REM sleep is constantly interrupted. As such, you either rarely enter the REM stage of the sleep cycle, or it doesn’t last as long as it should.
This is a major problem that needs to be fixed. A poor sleep cycle has serious consequences, such as:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Daytime drowsiness
- Poor concentration
- Memory loss
- Weakened immune system
- Low fertility
If you hear yourself snoring, you’ll want to talk to a sleep medicine doctor. A sleep medicine doctor can help you figure out why your sleep is so light, how to fix it, and stop snoring.
Even if you don’t often hear yourself snoring, you’ll still want to go to a doctor if you experience snoring-related arousals during the first few sleep cycle stages. According to Sleep and Breathing, it may not fully wake you up, but a disturbed non-REM sleep cycle can affect your health in the long run.
Why Can I Hear Myself Snoring?
If snoring only occurs when we sleep, why do some people hear themselves snoring? This is because certain areas of the brain take longer to wake up than others. As such, you hear yourself snore even though a part of you is still in “sleep mode” for a few moments.
The part of the brain in charge of waking us up is called the reticular activating system. The reticular activating system reacts to certain external stimuli (like sounds or daylight), signaling the brain to wake up. Our brain and body need to adjust to being awake as we wake up, which doesn’t always happen simultaneously.
You could be awake, but your muscles may still be relaxed because your body is coming out of atonia. As you breathe in and out, your throat muscles, which relax when sleeping, may still be obstructed. You are conscious enough to hear yourself snoring but not enough for your throat muscles to function properly as you lay in bed.
Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea
Snoring is highly connected to sleep apnea, but they are not the same thing.
According to the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, snoring occurs when your airway is obstructed while you sleep. Airway obstruction can occur because of sleeping on your back, thick neck muscles, large tonsils, or a large tongue.
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where you stop breathing while you sleep. Besides the same factors that cause snoring, sleep apnea can be caused by several things, such as:
- A narrow throat
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. However, if you snore, it’s best to see a doctor about it because it could develop into sleep apnea over time.
Studies have shown that sleep apnea gets worse over time. So, even if the only symptom you have is snoring, it’s still worth checking out before it develops further.
What Helps with Snoring?
Depending on the cause of the problem, certain lifestyle changes need to be made to stop snoring. For some, this means losing weight, sleeping in a different position, or having surgery.
According to the European Respiratory Journal, snoring can be caused by the following:
- Alcohol use before bedtime
- Sleeping on your back
If you recognize that these causes fit in with your day-to-day experiences or lifestyle, you can solve the issue at home or go to a doctor for additional guidance and treatment.
Other solutions might require mouthpieces or masks that keep your airway open at night, but these may cause other problems, like excessive salivation and dry mouth.
For people who have a narrow airway, surgery might be needed. A surgeon can trim away excess throat tissue that obstructs your breathing is a common solution to this problem.
A new form of therapy called hypoglossal nerve stimulation, which involves implanting a pulse generator that stimulates forward movement, is available for those who snore because their tongue blocks their airway. This inhibits the tongue from falling back against the throat.
If you can’t hear yourself snore, your brain has decided to filter this information out. It intends for you to continue sleeping, so you can properly regenerate tissues and cells throughout the night.
If it allowed you to hear the snoring, it would disrupt this process by waking you up. If you hear yourself snore, this usually means you’re in a lighter stage of sleep, so less information is filtered out.