Can Smoking Cigarettes Cause Snoring and Contribute to Sleep Apnea?

Smoking cigarettes may contribute to the causes of snoring and sleep apnea and quitting may help.
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Over the years, you have probably been told countless reasons why you should quit smoking cigarettes, but can another reason be that smoking can cause snoring and sleep apnea? How might inhaling smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes impact sleep? Learn facts about this potential relationship and whether it might be contributing to disrupted breathing in sleep.

The Relationship Between Smoking and Snoring

It seems logical that smoking may increase your risk of snoring. The irritating smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco may cause inflammation along the tissues (or mucosa) that line the airway. This may lead to swelling, causing an exudate of mucus often called post-nasal drip, and narrowing. As the airway narrows, airflow may move more turbulently.

This disruption of your upper airway, especially your nasal passage and throat, may have other consequences. It may cause increased airway congestion. The turbulent airflow may lead to vibration as air moves through, leading to the unpleasant sound of snoring. This risk seems to be increased among smokers, and even those who previously smoked.

Large scientific research studies evaluating snoring support these proposed associations. In one study of 811 adults, the risk of snoring was 2.3 times greater among current smokers. This means the risk was more than doubled compared to those who did not smoke! In another large study of 15,555 people, snoring occurred more commonly among current smokers (24 percent) compared to former smokers (20 percent) and never smokers (14 percent). In other words, about one out of four smokers had snoring compared to just one out of seven people who never smoked.

Although not studied, it is very likely that secondhand smoke exposure also increases the risk of developing snoring. 

What Is Your Risk of Snoring and Sleep Apnea with Smoking?

The risk of snoring seems to correlate with the amount of smoking. In other words, if you smoke more heavily, the risk of snoring is likewise increased. Someone who smokes 2 packs of cigarettes per day has a much higher risk compared to someone who smokes only a few cigarettes on the weekend. However, recent research suggests even very minimal smoking may be risky to health, increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

It is uncertain if the increased airway resistance associated with snoring can lead to a collapse of the airway called sleep apnea. It is likely that it would contribute, but other factors may also play a role. It seems logical that decreased airflow that would lead to snoring may also contribute to sleep apnea. Moreover, the role of nicotine withdrawal (which may lead to sleep fragmentation and insomnia) or nasal congestion in this phenomenon is not fully understood.

Nevertheless, if you smoke, snoring may be another reason for you to finally quit.

How to Quit Smoking

If you have committed yourself to smoking cessation, you may be interested in learning how best to do this. For many people, it is helpful to have the support of family, friends, and even your doctor. Make your intentions known, and then explore some resources that may help you to quit. You may find it helpful to review these lessons to quit smoking:

If you are ready to quit smoking, commit yourself to the goal and get started on the work of putting the habit behind you.

A Word From Verywell

Get started on the road to smoking cessation and you will soon be breathing and sleeping better. If you run into difficulty quitting, reach out to get the help that you need. Snoring may be reduced, and your sleep quality may be improved. It may be just another benefit to your health and well-being.

Sources:

Franklin, KA et al. "The influence of active and passive smoking on habitual snoring." Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2004;170;799.

Hacksaw, A. "Low cigarette consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: meta-analysis of 141 cohort studies in 55 study reports." BMJ 2018;360:j5855.

Trenchea, M et al. "Smoking, snoring and obstructive sleep apnea." Pneumologia. 2013 Jan-Mar;62(1)52-55.

Wetter, DW et al. "Smoking as a risk factor for sleep-disordered breathing." Arch Intern Med 1994;154:2219.