By Ellie McGrath
Love can be blind and, for a while, even deaf. I was somewhat aware that my husband-to-be had a snoring problem, but I didn't realize the extent until a friend he had traveled with presented us with an unusual wedding present: a black collar studded with little electrodes. Whenever my husband snored, he'd get a harmless electric shock that would wake him him up — with the goal of conditioning him to stop snoring altogether. After a few nights, though, my husband called for an end to the torture, pointing out that a heart attack would permanently end the snoring. Like so many other couples, our bedtime rituals became reminiscent of Monday Night Football: swift kicks, sharp elbows, and time-outs.
According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, twice as many men as women report that they snore every (or nearly every) night — 32 percent of men versus 16 percent of women. "The majority of people we see, study, and treat are men," says J. Catesby Ware, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, and professor of medicine and psychiatry at Eastern Virgina Medical School. The majority of sufferers are women.
Snoring can take a heavy toll on a relationship. A study by John Shepard, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that the bedmates of heavy snorers lose an average of one hour of sleep per night. Dr. Shepard calls the phenomenon of partners being awakened by snoring spousal arousal syndrome. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of arousal most people crave in bed. Another study released last year, from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., found that when heavy snorers with sleep apnea underwent treatment, they and their spouses reported better sex lives and a smoother relationship.
How to Tell Him
An obstruction in the airway between the nose and lungs is usually the cause. It can be swollen nasal tissue, a too-relaxed tongue, fatty deposits in the throat, or a large uvula (that kidney-shaped object hanging at the back of the mouth). Snoring tends to get worse as people age because, like so many other body parts, tissues in and around the airway start to sag. The mid-40s and up is when snoring really becomes more prevalent, Ware says.
The first hurdle in dealing with snorers is to get them to acknowledge the problem. There's usually very little perception of snoring on the part of the snorer, says Victor Hoffstein, M.D., director of Toronto's Sleep, Nose, and Sinus Clinic at St. Michael's Hospital, and coauthor of No More Snoring. A man may not believe his wife, Ware says, but he'll believe his hunting buddies when they won't sleep in the same cabin with him. I personally discovered that a tape recorder did the trick. Tempting as it may be for a wife to withdraw to the guest room, Dr. Hoffstein says, that's focusing on the symptom, not the root of the problem.