Like many men (and some women) I snore when I sleep. As anyone who has slept in the same house as me can attest, I am quite good at it (ok, REALLY good at it). My wife suffered with this noise every night for many years, until recently, when my snoring was shut off entirely. What we did not realize was that all that time I was suffering too, but in a different and more insidious way.
The end of my snoring came when we decided that it was time to see what could be done to stop the noise. Not only did we need to solve the noise problem so that my wife could sleep better, but we were both concerned about health problems that can result from sleep apnea, which often occur along with snoring. When a person suffers from sleep apnea he stops breathing while sleeping, and after a short time will wake enough to catch his breath and drop back to sleep. This can happen many times a night. Not only does this cause the obvious problem of a sleep deficit, it has also been found recently to be quite hard on the heart (as well as other organs that don't like being starved for oxygen).
The usual diagnostic procedure is a sleep study. I went in for my sleep study last winter. It was quite the experience. The study is conducted during an overnight stay at a hospital. I was wired up with electrodes to monitor my heart rhythm, my brain waves, my eye movements, my pulse rate, my blood oxygen level, and my leg muscle movements. I then got to sleep while being watched and listened to by technicians.
Halfway through the night the tech woke me up to make a change in my setup. He left all of my electrodes in place, and also hooked me up to a device called a CPAP (which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). A CPAP is a small air compressor that is connected to a mask over the nose (usually, sometimes other masks are used). It blows air into the airway, which can keep soft tissue in the throat from relaxing and closing off the throat, which is what stops the breathing.
In the morning a physician looked over the data and filled me in. For the first half of the night I stopped breathing about 60 times an hour. Since I was constantly waking enough to resume breathing I spent none of that time in the deeper levels of sleep, including the deepest REM sleep. After getting attached to the CPAP I did not stop breathing any more times, and I spent most of the rest of the night in the deeper levels of sleep, including REM sleep.
A few days later I had my own CPAP machine to use every night. Now I don't snore anymore, but I sound a bit like Darth Vader. The biggest surprise for me was realizing that for many years I almost never managed to get any REM sleep, and so I never dreamed. I had always just assumed that I didn't recall my dreams once I woke up. Now I dream every night, and my wife happily sleeps in near silence.
Here is an example of what a mask like mine looks like:
So, if you snore, or someone you sleep with snores, it is probably worth getting it checked out. Even if you don't suffer from sleep apnea, it is very likely that the snoring can be treated fairly easily. If you do suffer from sleep apnea it is probably causing you a fair amount of harm, without you even noticing. One of the companies that sells CPAP systems has a website (www.healthysleep.com) that is pretty helpful and gives more info if you think you might suffer from sleep apnea.