Sunday, February 4, 2007

Public Service Announcement

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 ( that is pretty helpful and gives more info if you think you might suffer from sleep apnea.


wunelle said...

I'm curious about this. I've always snored a bit, and more when (like now) my weight is up. But I'm not aware that my snoring is causing problems to me or Susan.

But Susan's brother is dealing with the same thing, and the CPAP didn't do much for him. So they're looking at surgery, I guess.

So here's hoping this has permanently solved your problem. Do you feel better rested? Or is it mostly the dreams that differentiate the before and after sleeps?

Jeffy said...

I was not suffering many obvious symptoms from my poor sleep, so I have not seen a big change. I do feel a bit better rested, but only a little bit.

My snoring was bad enough to keep Becky awake many nights, and she did think that I was not breathing right.

Given that apnea is pretty bad for the heart it seems worth correcting even if I don't see any big benefits (beyond making it easier for Becky to get a enough sleep). Plus, the mask is actually quite comfortable, so there is not really any downside to the whole deal.

Too bad that it has not panned out for Susan's brother, the CPAP is a nice easy fix when it works.

Dzesika said...

Good point. As someone who (*ahem*) has only very recently had to get used to sleeping near someone of similar snorey-proclivities, I was kind of wondering about this sort of thing. Thanks for bringing it up.

Now how to bring up the matter myself with any sort of delicacy ...?

Jeffy said...

Dzesika - I suspect that your odds of success when you bring it up depend on whether the snorer is male or female. Men don't usually mind talking about their snoring - some are even oddly proud of their ability. Women, however, are another story altogether. They often seem to not want to even admit that they might snore, much less talk about what else they might be doing while they snore.

Good luck.

Joshua said...

You mentioned that the mask is comfortable: do you sleep on your side or back? It would seem that if you sleep on your side it woudl get in the way.

Plus, and maybe I am still very young, it would seem that mask would get in the way of spontanious morning relations.

Still, glad to hear your apnea is going away, and you are resting properly.

Jeffy said...

joshua - I generally prefer to sleep on my back, and that is one of the joys of having the CPAP - I get to do that once again. I used to get shoved onto a side to try to minimize the snoring. Now that I make no noise I can return to my preferred position.

I do spend a little bit of time on my side, and even then the mask isn't really in the way, but I have to be a bit careful.

The mask snaps right off, so it is not an impediment at all. Plus, my odds are better with a well-rested spouse than with one who just managed to get to sleep.

The only difficulty that the system presents is when talking. With all that air blowing into your nose it is almost impossible speak. The minute you open your mouth the air rushes out. I can manage a few understandable words, but not much.