I also learned that this affliction is an unusual problem because, even though I am the one who snores, it is my wife trying to sleep next to me who is really suffering, struggling to survive the nightly nightmare of noise that sounds something like a garbage disposal and a chain saw mating. My wife and I are not alone. According to the 2005 Sleep in America poll released in March by the National Sleep Foundation, 41 percent of those surveyed snore. And for nearly every snorer, there's a "snoree." In the poll, 67 percent of the respondents reported that their partners snored, which was by far the largest single complaint.
Five years ago, to save our relationship, I began a quest to stop snoring. I read nearly every book, visited nearly every website, and went to the best sleep and snoring specialists I could find in Denver. I followed everyone's advice and lost weight, stopped drinking at night, quit smoking (before I even started), changed pillows and altered my sleeping position.
During an all-night visit to the Swedish Sleep Disorders Center at Swedish Medical Center, white-clad staffers wired me with a dozen electrodes to measure the type and frequency of my involuntary symphonies. (Like the band Spinal Tap, I was an eleven on a sound scale of ten.) Strips, straps, sprays and any device I could find on the Internet became part of my arsenal. Even nasal steroids were factored in. I was "juiced," but unlike Jose Canseco, my production of snoring, not home runs, increased. I had several operations, including one in which the back of my mouth was reshaped with lasers and my nasal passages enlarged with acid. My otolaryngologist (commonly called an ear, nose and throat doc) fixed my deviated septum, and when that didn't work, removed my uvula before I even knew where it was. In all, I've probably spent $5,000 trying to mitigate the problem (which doesn't include the cost of flowers or hotel rooms with an extra bed designed to get me back in my wife's good graces).
Trying these cures led me to write a book, Snore No More! Remedies and Relief for Snorers and Snorees Everywhere (Andrews McMeel Publishing, www.snorebook.com), one of the first to address the concerns of both members of a snoring couple. My search has taught me more about my nose and its sonic capacity than I ever imagined. Here is what I've learned.
Snoring Nation: It's a Big Problem
Roughly 90 million Americans snore every night, according to sleep researchers. In Colorado, an estimated 1.4 million people saw logs. They snore in Denver, Grand Junction and Pueblo. And it's not just an American thing: In all likelihood, much of the adult population snores, so that means there are almost two billion snorers around the world. A sample of foreign words related to snoring reveals that they often have an onomatopoeic quality:
Dutch snurken, snorken, knorren, ronken, geronk, gesnurk
Pig Latin oringsnay
Real Latin stertere
Why should we care? First, because snoring can be a symptom of something more serious and potentially life-threatening -- sleep apnea -- during which you actually stop breathing for a few seconds hundreds of times during the night. Sleep apnea is dangerous because over time, the build-up of breath-shortages can lead to oxygen deprivation and things like strokes and heart attacks. Signs of sleep apnea include being woken by your own cacophony, the sensation of gagging while sleeping and daily fatigue or unexpected dozing during the day.
Second, even benign non-apnea snoring can cause sleep deprivation. Sleep loss can lead to headaches, anger, irritability, forgetfulness and loss of sex drive and motor skills. This is not just a minor inconvenience. Sleep deprivation causes more than $100 billion in lost productivity, car accidents, medical expenses, sick leave and property damage every year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit National Sleep Foundation. Disasters such as the Challenger space shuttle crash and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl had roots in exhaustion.
Finally, midnight wheezing damages relationships. People break up, fight, divorce -- even murder -- when there is snoring. Children and pets snore, too. When children snore, it's usually a sign that their tonsils or adenoids are enlarged; they often outgrow this or have the stuff taken out. When pets snore, it's typically because they are overweight -- too much processed Alpo or Kitty Gourmet and not enough exercise. (If your tropical fish snore, then get out of the house. You have the wrong kind of fish.)
Why People Snore
People snore because they can't help themselves.
Snoring is caused when the soft tissues in the back of the mouth and nose relax during sleep, and then, with every incoming breath through the mouth, flap like a sail in the wind. In musical terms, these soft tissues act like the reed of an oboe -- only instead of creating harmony, they create noise. The resulting noise can be loud. An average snore, as measured in decibels, is as loud as a truck in heavy traffic; an above-average snore is equal to a New York City subway; the world's loudest snore is noisier than a 747 jet taking off.