Breathing easy can be a question of life or death
Quiet things down in the bedroom. For you, and for your partner. It is paradise to feel a romantic and emotional attachment to your partner so intense that it seems they send a quiver through your very terrestrial existence.It is quite another to have your Richter rocked by a vicious vibration of the tissue located in their soft palate. You can love the man; it’s hard to love his snoring, though. About 45 percent of the general population snores at least some of the time. I would feel safe assuming that most of the remaining 55 percent wishes they would do something about it.
Snoring has several causes, some genetic, some preventable. It also has consequences, some of which can be life threatening.
Dr. François Cloutier is an otolaryngologist and head-and-neck surgeon at the Pierre-Boucher Hospital just south of Montreal. He is also one of several specialists at the Greater Montreal Sleep Clinic.
He says it’s important to identify whether your snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, which would mean your body is being deprived of some of its vital oxygen flow every time your head hits the pillow.
“People with sleep apnea will have more strokes, more heart disease; it’s also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. They are also more prone to depression and dementia,” says Cloutier.
“They are at a greater risk of falling asleep while driving (there are people who [have] died while driving because they have sleep apnea). They can also get diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Those consequences are far graver than the annoyance at being poked by one’s partner because of a cacophony reminiscent of a sea lion.
The good news is it may not be your fault. Snoring can be triggered by large tonsils, a large tongue, a smaller airway, or any number of genetic factors, although Cloutier warns that obesity is one main trigger.
“When you have obesity of the neck, there is fat which settles on your neck, but also fat which is distributed on the tongue. When you are trying to get to sleep, you have less muscle tonus, so everything starts to compress, your airway starts to get smaller, and your tongue can fall back into the back of your throat.”
Dr. Laurie Betito is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in sexuality. She has been a sex and marriage counsellor for more than 30 years and host of the popular evening talk show Passion on Montreal’s CJAD 800 AM for the past two decades. She says it is only natural that snuffling through the night would detract from romance.
“Fatigue, stress, and anger are the three killers of desire; the three main ones. So sleep has to factor into all of this.”
Betito referred me to a 2017 study showing that a majority of people would choose a good night’s sleep over sex. (I was shocked that the study noted some of its respondents admitted to falling asleep during sex! In those cases, which appointment is made first, at Dr. Cloutier’s clinic or on Dr. Betito’s couch?!)
Snoring, as an act, can discourage flirtation because, as Betito points out, it’s simply unattractive. “In that moment when you’re woken up and you’re looking over at a snoring spouse, and you just want to throttle that spouse, you’re not feeling amorous. You’re not thinking, ‘Look how sweet that is, listen to those cute little sounds.’”
Fear not, snorers. You are not doomed to the inevitability of a life alone awaiting a cardiovascular crisis. There are painless solutions available to you. The first step is to undergo an evaluation—not a judgment, an evaluation.
This can be done through your local hospital or a sleep clinic similar to Cloutier’s. These visits, when done properly, will consist of a thorough exam of your head and neck, and may eventually include overnight monitoring which can be done either at home or in a more clinical setting.
Traditional medicine is filled with remedies for occasional or non-severe snoring, often by relieving congestion. While conventional nasal sprays do the same, they can have a rebound effect that worsens congestion.
The natural remedies and treatments below are meant to help loosen, thin, and remove congestion and/or moisturize nasal and throat passages. Some of these substances also have natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.
Once the cause of the snoring is identified, the solutions can range from a small appliance that is worn overnight, to minor surgery, to a continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) machine—a small mask worn over the nose and mouth at night.
A friend of mine wears one; he even travels with it. “After not feeling right for several months, my doctor sent me to be tested for sleep apnea,” he says. “The specialist told me my situation was so dire that if I did not get treated, I could expect to suffer a major cardiac event within the next year or two.
“The CPAP completely changed my life. I have more energy, and I finally understand what it means to have a good night’s sleep.”
Not only do snorers owe it to themselves to tackle the problem, but Betito says it’s a proper show of faith to your partner.
“If you have a partner who is snoring like crazy and refuses to do something about it when there is something to be done, that will bring them in [to]. That will create the problem. But if they are going for a sleep study, if they’re wearing an apnea machine, that means they care enough.”
Betito says there is no shame in, even temporarily, sleeping in separate bedrooms. “If those couples maintain connection, if they make dates for sex, and then they go off on their own, they get the best of both worlds. They get a good night’s sleep, and they get to have their date for whatever.”
In fact, more and more couples (who can afford it) are insisting their new homes include two master suites. See? Compromise is the key to romance.
Rather than moving the earth with your airway eruptions, take an afternoon and evaluate your situation before, as the immortal Carole King says, “It’s too late, baby.”
Kenny Bodanis is the author of the book, What Do I Do While You’re Pregnant? (2015). His blog, MenGetPregnantToo.com, focuses on the shifting gender roles in parenting as well as challenges facing both children and parents.