How to Stop a Snoring Man
Half of adult men snore. Here are the common causes and cures.
Not everyone who snores is apneic, says Strollo, who is also the chief of
the sleep medicine laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. But there's a
continuum between snoring and apnea, and if you snore for enough years, you can
become apneic. Sleep specialists define apnea by the number of times a person
wakes per hour -- five is often the number given -- but also by the degree of
Although good sleep is probably as important as good diet and exercise to
overall health, it's a latecomer to medicine. In 1956, C.S. Burwell, MD,
characterized sleep apnea as the "Pickwickian Syndrome" in honor of Joe, the
Fat Boy, a character in Dickens's Pickwick Papers who "goes on errands
fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table."
Doctors didn't get into the business of diagnosing the condition until the
1970s. Even now, only about 10% of primary physicians ask questions about
sleep, and as a result, an estimated 90% of sleep apnea goes undiagnosed and
The typical sleep apnea patient is an overweight, middle-aged man. Among men
with a more healthy physique, sleep apnea seems to occur disproportionately in
people of Asian descent, possibly because of the shape of their faces,
according to Collop.
Luckily, there is an effective therapy for sleep apnea. Unluckily, it's a
rather ungainly apparatus that makes the wearer look like a brain-damaged
hospital patient. It's called
CPAP, for continuous positive airway pressure, and it consists of an air
hose attached to a mask that's fastened around the head and blows air through
The device was introduced in 1981 and remains the standard of care for
treating breathing problems during sleep. "I can almost guarantee that CPAP
will cure almost anybody with sleep apnea -- if they wear it," says Collop.
"They feel better usually the first night, and within two or three weeks
they've shaken off sleep deprivation. The problem is to get people to wear it
Improvements of the sleep apnea machine have made the generator smaller and
quieter, able to vary the air pressure depending on the patient's breathing
patterns, and able to humidify the air to prevent dehydration in the airway.
Currently, the device is about the size of half a loaf of bread, and can easily
be taken on trips. Chin straps keep the mask in place during sleep (although
they also make it look like you're wearing a bandage that holds your head
together). In studies, compliance ranges from 50% to 60%.
treatments for snoring and sleep apnea include weight loss, antihistamines
to clear the sinuses, nasal dilators, and avoidance of alcohol at night.
Snorers are also encouraged to change their sleep posture to avoid lying on
their backs. Sometimes doctors recommend a variety of oral appliances, similar
to an orthodontic retainer, which may improve airway pressure.