Sometimes I snore like a steam shovel, other times more like a teakettle.
This "gentle, unromantic music of the nose," as William Makepeace Thackeray
called it, is the nighttime soundtrack in many homes. For most of us, snoring
is no more than an irritant to those trying to sleep within range. But for 12
million American men, the cause of snoring is an invisible, though
not-so-silent, epidemic -- obstructive sleep apnea, a cessation of breathing
We snore -- about half of adult men snore, according to studies -- for one
of two reasons. Mostly we snore because our airways narrow in sleep, creating
resistance in the passageways that connect our nose and mouth to the lungs. The
narrower the tube, the greater amount of pressure needed to establish enough
flow. The fatter we are -- and in particular, the thicker our necks -- the more
pressure there is on the airways, and the more they tend to collapse as we
Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is
his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for
its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of
all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious
gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.
A small percentage of men have a structural problem, a small jaw or a
"shallow midface" -- the area between your nostrils and the back of your head
-- which can cause snoring even in thin men. In either case, the more suction
pressure on the soft tissues of the mouth, the more vibration and the more
"If there's enough pressure, you collapse the airway and obstruct it,"
explains Patrick Strollo, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University
of Pittsburgh. An obstructed airway means your lungs aren't getting enough
oxygen. If your blood oxygen level plummets when your airway is blocked, a
message is sent to your brain to wake you up so you can breath again.
Sleep is a foreign country to the sleeper. You can't see yourself sleep, or
hear yourself snore. The typical apneic -- a person with apnea -- will wake up
dozens or even hundreds of times each night without knowing it.
"Usually it's the wife or girlfriend who brings them in, horrified by what
they see when these men are asleep," says Nancy Collop, MD, a pulmonologist and
director of the sleep clinic at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.
"The patients themselves are often unaware of sleep apnea -- it's pretty
unusual for a patient to wake up complaining of not breathing. All they realize
is that no matter how much they sleep, they can't get good sleep."