Can't stop snoring? Your FAT TONGUE might be to blame

If your snoring is the bane of your partner's life, then you might just have a new excuse. 

Scientists have discovered that the tongues of some people who snore are extra large.

It's already well-known that being overweight or obese increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which leads to snoring because the airway becomes blocked.

Until now, it was thought that a large neck was to blame.

Now, however scientists say piling on the pounds can also cause a fat tongue - which may well be the culprit. 

U.S. researchers found that obese people with OSA had a higher percentage of tongue fat - especially at the base of their tongues - which made their tongues larger overall. 

This was compared with obese people who didn't suffer from the sleep condition.

Increased tongue fat might prevent the tongue's muscles from positioning the tongue away from the airway, causing snoring because the airway becomes blocked, researchers said.

They added the study might provide an explanation for the link between obesity and sleep apnoea - and said screening to identify fat tongues may could help diagnose the condition. 

It's known that obesity is a major cause of obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition where the throat closes repeatedly during the night.

Snoring occurs because the airways become narrowed, or even completely blocked, preventing the body from getting enough oxygen.

In severe cases, the brain jolts the body awake, causing the airway to reopen.

The person may wake up repeatedly without knowing it, increasing their heart rate and blood pressure and preventing deep sleep. 


OSA is a relatively common condition that affects more men than women.

Most cases of OSA develop in people aged 30 to 60 years old, although it can affect people of all ages, including children.

In the UK, it is estimated around 4 per cent of middle-aged men and 2 per cent of middle-aged women have OSA.

Treatment options for OSA include:

· lifestyle changes – such as losing weight, cutting down on alcohol and sleeping on your side

· Using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device – these devices prevent your airway closing while you sleep by delivering a continuous supply of compressed air through a mask

· Wearing a mandibular advancement device (MAD) – this gum shield-like device fits around your teeth, holding your jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of your throat while you sleep

· Surgery – this is considered as a last resort if OSA is thought to be the caused by a physical problem that can be corrected surgically, such as an unusual inner neck structure 

 Source: NHS Choices

Long term, sleep apnoea is linked with a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.

The new study, carried out at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, involved 90 obese adults with OSA and 31 adults without it.

The participants underwent MRI scans to obtain a high-resolution image of their upper airways, and the fat deposits in their tongues were analysed.

In addition to making the tongue larger, increased tongue fat might affect the way muscles attach the tongue to bone, preventing these muscles from positioning the tongue away from the airway, the researchers said.

Future studies should look at whether removing tongue fat through losing weight, carrying out upper airway exercises or surgery would work as a treatment for OSA, they added.

Dr. Richard J. Schwab, of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in the U.S. said: 'This is the first study to show that fat deposits are increased in the tongue of obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea.'

Dr Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said doctors should look at tongue size when screening for OSA.

He said: 'Tongue size is one of the physical features that should be evaluated by a physician when screening obese patients to determine their risk for obstructive sleep apnoea.

'Effective identification and treatment of sleep apnoea is essential to optimally manage other conditions associated with this chronic disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, tType 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.'

The study was published in the journal Sleep.

In September, a Chinese doctor who snored for years due to OSA performed surgery on his own tongue to cure the problem.

He claims the procedure, in which he put tunnels on the back of his tongue to stop it from collapsing, has worked and he no longer snores.