For years my husband has been mentioning that I snore. I’ve generally been able to find an excuse – I have a cold, my hay fever is playing up or I am pregnant. If none of these applied, obviously he was mistaken, and it was the dog who sleeps soundly in a basket on my side of the bed snoring away contentedly. How sweet!
Recently on a girls’ weekend away with friends, though, I was mortified when my two roommates approached me about my snoring. With none of my usual denials in play (I’m in perfect health, certainly not pregnant and the dog hadn’t accompanied me), I had to face facts:
"My name is Sarah and I’m a snorer."
I lay awake most of the next night, afraid to drift off lest I disturb my friends. I arrived home tired and irritable and crossly demanded why my dear husband hadn’t made more of an effort to address my nightly noise making. His excuse? He was worried I’d react exactly the way I was now and claimed that it hasn’t ever bothered him enough to risk an explosion.
With my cheeks still burning, I made an appointment with my GP to discuss my snoring. She began by explaining that snoring is usually caused by a partial blockage of the upper airway behind the tongue. When you inhale during sleep, air enters the mouth or nose and passes across the soft palate on its way to the lungs. The back of the mouth where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula is collapsible. If this area collapses, the airway becomes narrow or blocked. The narrowed or blocked passage disturbs the airflow, which causes the soft palate and uvula to vibrate and knock against the back of the throat, causing snoring. The tonsils and adenoids may also vibrate.
"The narrower the airway is, the more the tissue vibrates, and the louder the snoring is."
She suggested that several factors may be contributing to the narrowing of my airways. Firstly, I have steadily gained weight over the years, resulting in extra fat around my throat which can contribute. I have also developed a bit of a taste for a glass of red wine before bed, which she says is definitely a factor as alcohol relaxes not only your mind, but also your body, making collapsed airways more likely. My go-to excuse – hay fever – probably is affecting my snoring and I left with a prescription for a nasal spray to clear it up. I am also getting older and it seems that the ratio of men-to-women evens out with age. The doc also discussed my stress levels, explaining that exhaustion can lead to snoring as we’re more likely to fall into a deep sleep when over-tired leading to relaxed, collapsed airways.
Her suggestion for treating my snoring includes the nasal spray, avoiding alcohol in the evening, managing my stress and losing some weight. All a lot easier said than done, but she also emphasised the fact that snoring can have long-term effects on health. Prolonged snoring has been linked to heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, mood disorders (which my husband may suggest I suffer from already) and reduced immune function leading to frequent infections. With the thought of developing any of those conditions in mind, I think committing to an alcohol-free, weight-loss plan will be much easier. She also suggested sleeping with an anti-snoring mouthpiece which will reposition my lower jaw and allow for a free-flow of air that prevents snoring. Not all that glamorous, but then neither is snoring!
The doctor also quizzed me about how tired I have been feeling during the day and suggested that if the interventions she has recommended don’t work, we may need to investigate the possibility that I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea – a more serious condition that causes a person to stop breathing for periods ranging from seconds to minutes at a time while asleep, resulting in fatigue. A scary thought, and one I hope will not turn out to be the case for me.
So armed with my medication, anti-snoring mouthpiece, stress-management techniques and commitment to a healthier lifestyle, here’s hoping that I won’t be waking my roommates up with my snoring come next girls’ weekend away.