Study Shows Tongue Size May Affect Snoring at Night

Written by Manny Erlich on October 13, 2014. Posted in Health Effects of Snoring, Snoring 101




Study Shows Tongue Size May Affect Snoring at Night  

Snoring is a common sign of sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder that can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, stroke and diabetes. It can also raise your risk of having an accident while driving or working. Researchers have been trying to understand the association between sleep apnea and snoring better in order to come up with more effective treatments. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center have discovered that tongue size might affect snoring.

Behind the Study

The study involved having high-resolution upper airway MRIs done on 90 obese adults diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and 31 obese control subjects with no history of sleep apnea. Researchers specifically looked at the size and distribution of fat deposits in each subject’s tongue. They found that the obese subjects with sleep apnea had greater amounts of tongue fat, particularly near the base of the tongue, than the obese control subjects. Researchers controlled for other factors that might affect these findings, such as gender, body mass index, age and race.

The Effects of Tongue Size on Snoring

The researchers who conducted this study believe that having a larger amount of tongue fat might prevent the muscles that connect the tongue to bone from working properly and keeping the tongue from blocking the airway. This could result in regular snoring and sleep apnea, where paused breathing episodes lasting from a few seconds to minutes occur during sleep.

Tongue Size and Sleep Apnea

The results of the tongue size study could lead to improved treatment methods for sleep apnea. The researchers involved in this study have recommended additional studies on the effectiveness of reducing the amount of tongue fat in sleep apnea patients by having them lose weight, perform upper airway exercises or undergo surgery. By removing tongue fat, snoring might decrease, leading to sleep apnea that is better controlled.

The Link between Obesity and Snoring

Researchers included weight loss as a potential method of reducing tongue fat due to the association between obesity and snoring. Those who are obese have a higher tendency to snore and potentially develop obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, a higher body weight is a main risk factor for this type of sleep apnea. Losing weight can significantly decrease the risk of snoring and developing sleep apnea.

With these new research findings, which are the first to demonstrate a link between tongue size and sleep apnea risk, researchers are one step closer to better understanding how to treat sleep apnea more effectively.

To learn more about the correlation between tongue size and sleeping problems, visit your doctor or consult a sleep center.  You can find a sleep center near you by searching our sleep center directory.


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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist