Snoring Was Destroying My Marriage; Here’s How I Finally Got Rid Of It

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Snoring was destroying my marriage; here’s how I finally got rid of it.

I was tired of being kicked out of the marital bed, so I went on a desperate search for a solution to my cacophonous snoring. Was the solution right in front of my eyes?

What can we do for you today? inquires the caring nurse at a north London hospital’s sleep unit. “I’d like to save my marriage,” I say. I’m only slightly exaggerating. Because of my snoring, my cat is more likely to sleep in the same bed as my wife than I am. My teenage daughter and her teddy bear are more likely than I to sleep with my wife.

I am one of 15 million snorers in the United Kingdom, accounting for 41.5 percent of the adult population. In fact, I’m one of the 25% of the 15 million people who snore frequently and disturb their partners’ sleep. That is, if these snorers have partners, which seems unlikely given how much pain they cause those who suffer from them.

Some nights in the last year or so, while my wife, daughter, cat, and teddy bear are upstairs in one bed giggling about something or other, I trudge sadly downstairs to the living room where I can snore without disturbing anyone. Can I please have a boo-hoo?

“There is nothing more disturbing than lying there trying to sleep and all you can hear is your partner snoring next to you,” says Dr Ellie Cannon, a GP and campaign ambassador for a leading anti-snoring nasal dilator.

I haven’t contacted all 3.75 million regular snorers to confirm this, but it seems unlikely that they are all sleeping on sofa beds. Many people, no doubt, do not have that luxury. Millions of non-snorers, mostly women, are most likely suffering in silence. They lie there, redeyed and resentful, as their snoring partners register on the Richter scale.

My sex increases the likelihood that I will snore. “Men are more likely than women to snore or have sleep apnoea,” says Pavol Surda, a consultant ENT surgeon at London Bridge hospital. “This is due to men having a larger space at the back of their throats due to their larger airways.” When we relax, our tongue falls back and fills this space; however, the larger the gap, the more likely you are to snore.

“Moreover, males tend to have a higher proportion of fat around the neck, in soft palate and the upper part of the tongue, whereas women tend to have greater fat deposition in the lower part of the airway. This is likely dictated by the levels of testosterone. Studies showed that females with overproduction of male hormones are four times more likely to snore.” Oestrogen and progesterone also provide protection against snoring and sleep apnoea. Male hormones not so much.

To summarize, men are more likely to snore than women due to their larger necks and larger holes at the back of their throats through which their tongues nocturnally loll, potentially disrupting bed partners. Unless I’ve misinterpreted the data, heterosexual prenuptial agreements should include provisions for optimal neck fatness in men.

 

But it’s not just my sex that matters when it comes to snoring. My wife has noticed my snoring has got louder in recent years. Surda explains why: “As we age, our tongue and throat muscles begin to relax and weaken, which can limit our airflow, causing us to snore.” I’m now 59; in a few years my tongue and throat muscles will, you’d think, be as helpless as a kitten up a tree. Which is grounds for divorce in my book. There is another option: “You can practise mouth and throat exercises to strengthen these muscles, which may help to reduce your snoring.” Way ahead of you, doctor: I already play the clarinet, which makes me quite the formidable kisser.

I’ve assiduously performed some throat exercises I found online. I’ve said each vowel out loud for three minutes a few times a day as if in obeisance to some invisible Henry Higgins. I’ve placed the tip of my tongue behind my top front teeth and, for three minutes a day, slid the tongue backwards. I’ve closed my mouth and pursed my lips, holding the pose for 30 seconds.

I’ve even opened my mouth and moved my lower jaw to the right and held the pose for 30 seconds, and repeated the exercise on the left. I recommend you don’t do this on public transport. Again, with my mouth open, I’ve contracted the muscle at the back of my throat, all the while looking in a mirror to see my uvula bobbing up and down. Who needs Netflix? All very entertaining. But despite these exercises, I still snored. Could anything cure me?

My father snored a lot. This does not necessarily imply that my snoring is inherited. He once told me that when he awoke on a train, all the other passengers were cowering at the other end of the compartment due to the incredible racket he was making. You may think this is fanciful, but you’ve never heard him snore. My mother, furious at the noise, crept behind him with a pair of scissors one night while he snored in an armchair.

She snipped his Bobby Charlton comb-over, a long thread of hair that measured more than 12 inches and had been known to flail uncomfortably in the Midlands breeze until it was (rightly) nipped. He was enraged, like a Black Country Samson to my mother’s Delilah. To be fair to my mother, snoozing means losing. Furthermore, when my father snored in bed, it was my mother who would wake up in the middle of the night and crash in the spare room. She self-exiled, which seems unjust.

Both my parents are dead, so I will never know if my dad’s snoring was accompanied by twitching, but mine certainly is. It has lacerated sheets, creeped out my wife and makes me feel ashamed when in the morning I learn what I’ve been doing. What is going on? “Snoring and sleep apnoea can cause periodic limb movement during sleep (PLMS), which is involuntary twitching of the lower legs or ankles while you’re asleep,” Surda says. “This is because snoring can cause these movements as part of the arousal process, which is when there is a change in brainwave activity as we shift from a deep to light sleep stage.” How sad: I remember when a night-time arousal process meant something different.

Nothing is more upsetting than lying in bed trying to sleep and all you can hear is your partner snoring next to you.

My wife wonders why snorers don’t wake themselves up. Why do they wake up everyone else but themselves? Is it because they are self-centered? Isn’t that right? “When we sleep, we can still hear, but our decision-making processes are different than when we are awake, and our brain filters out unnecessary sounds, allowing us to sleep through background noise,” Surda explains. “People do wake up from particularly loud snores, but only for a brief moment before falling back asleep.” In that light, I sound like a selfish jerk.

My wife wonders why snorers don’t wake themselves up. Why do they wake up everyone else but themselves? Is it because they are self-centered? Isn’t that right? “When we sleep, we can still hear, but our decision-making processes are different than when we are awake, and our brain filters out unnecessary sounds, allowing us to sleep through background noise,” Surda explains. “People do wake up from particularly loud snores, but only for a brief moment before falling back asleep.” In that light, I sound like a selfish jerk.

I’ve been struggling for a long time to find a solution to my snoring problem. I, like millions of others, am at a loss for what to do. I’m not overly overweight, I’m not overly stressed, and I have no trouble sleeping – I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, but I really want to fix it. Having said that, I’ve had reservations about some remedies. My brother-in-law uses a continuous positive airway pressure (Cpap) machine at night to help him sleep better. But I’m not convinced I have sleep apnoea (a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during the night, resulting in tiredness after a good night’s sleep). Furthermore, the Cpap machine costs nearly £500, and the acronym makes me nervous.It’s one diagonal line from being a Crap machine, and nobody wants that. Plus, even though it supplies much-needed nocturnal oxygen, it looks ridiculous.

I SLEEP BLISSFULLY THROUGH MY SNORING, UNAWARE THE RACKET IS GIVING MY WIFE THE NOCTURNAL PIP

Instead, I’ve tried a variety of other treatments. The first was sleeping on my side. “Sleeping on your back can cause snoring, so sleeping on your side is always recommended for a better night’s sleep,” advises Surda. “If you move or roll over a lot in your sleep, placing a pillow or wedge behind you can be a good prompt for your body to stay in that position.” Easier said than done: I’d start sleeping on my side, but within a few hours, I’d be on my back, pillows and all, snoring loudly until my wife jolted me awake.

 

Also, the sleeping-on-the-side solution became untenable when I had another age-related problem: last year, I had an eye operation for a detached retina that required me to sleep face down. As a result, I snored loudly into the mattress for several nights. It’s not a good look. Or even a pleasant sound. On the plus side, my eyesight improved even though my snoring worsened.

There is a YouTube channel called Asian Zen Lullabies that promises not only to solve sleep problems but also to prevent snoring in those who fall asleep to its soothing sounds. It was ineffective for me. But, on the other hand, I have no trouble falling asleep, whether I’m listening to Napalm Death or Radio 3’s Night Tracks. I’ve even recorded myself snoring and played it back before going to bed. It put me to sleep immediately, but did it stop my snoring? Take a wild guess.

I also tried menthol strips that you place on the roof of your mouth before you fall asleep. The idea is they dissolve as you doze, open up the air passageways and stop one snoring. But for the minty fresh breath, I might just as well have poured the money down the toilet.

I tried £18.50 plastic nostril inserts, carefully adjusting them in my nose last thing at night, and washing the mucus from them each morning. These nasal dilators are hailed by Cannon for reducing the incidence of snoring by 75%. Sadly, I’m in the incorrigible 25% and my wife is very much not among the 73% of users’ partners who reported a reduction in snoring severity. Nor did the £19.95 Rhynil anti-snoring throat spray work for me, despite boasting astringent properties from some rare leaves that purportedly help reduce palatal flutter.

I even filled in a questionnaire by the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association. No, I don’t smoke. Yes, my BMI is higher post-lockdown, but whose isn’t? I scarcely drink alcohol. I exercise regularly. Yes, I do have a beard. Hold on. What has a beard got to do with it? The only answer I’ve been able to find is that some snoring men grow beards to conceal weak or double chins. Both of these anatomical variants increases the odds of having sleep apnoea. My beard, more like George Michael stubble than Darwin’s, was not grown to hide these shortcomings.

The findings of this questionnaire? I don’t have nasal abnormalities, I don’t grind my teeth and I sometimes sleep with my mouth slightly open. I should lose a little weight. Plus, finally, a diagnosis. “Your snoring is most likely caused by a vibration at the base of the tongue and mouth breathing during sleep.” The solution? Purchasing a Tomed SomnoGuard 3 for £47.99. “This new version of the simple one-piece boil and bite Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) … ” goes the blurb. What now?

Nonetheless, I bought one, boiled it like a sachet of cod and parsley sauce from the 1970s, and then popped it in my mouth like a boxer before the bell rang. Then, as instructed, I moved my lower jaw 5mm forward, bit down hard, and pressed the plastic firmly against my teeth to create a custom-moulded fit. What is the goal? To open up partially closed airways and stop snoring by moving the jaw forward. The end result? I looked more neanderthal than ever in the mirror. And, yes, I still snore.

By this point I was imagining that I would spend the rest of my life alone on the sofa bed when, after a nearly two-year wait, I was finally given an appointment at the hospital’s sleep clinic where they promised to do what they could to save my marriage. To that end, a nurse gave me a monitoring device rather like a wrist-based fitness tracker to sleep with overnight. While I slept it measured brainwaves, as well as muscle and breathing activity.

Twelve weeks after wearing this device for one night and returning it to hospital, a letter arrived. It informed me that: my AHI was 0.6 per hour, ODI 0.9 per hour, RDI 5.7 per hour, snore index 1.7%, mean SpO2 97% and my Epworth score 9/24. I obviously had no idea what any of this meant and so went online to find out.

AHI, which stands for apnoea-hypopnoea index, shows how often my breathing stops and starts while asleep for 10 seconds or longer (apnoeas); a hypopnoea is a partial loss of breath for 10 seconds or longer. RDI stands for respiratory disturbance index, which, like the AHI, measures apnoeas and hypopnoea, but in addition, measures lower-level breathing disruptions in sleep called respiratory-effort related arousals, which aren’t as sexy as they sound. ODI means oxygen desaturation index and measures how many times an hour oxygen levels fall below a baseline, while SpO2 also measures how much oxygen there is in your blood. Oxygen levels fall during sleep because of interrupted breathing. The snore index is the number of snore events per hour. At 1.7% that doesn’t sound as though I snore very often, but, of course, as I sleep blissfully through these snore events and am completely unaware of how the racket is giving my wife and anyone else in earshot the nocturnal pip, I’m not fit to judge on the intensity of those events. One paper I read tells me the snoring can reach 100 decibels and prolonged exposure can damage hearing.

When I finally get an appointment with a respiratory consultant to explain all this data, I’m told that the snore index measures volume rather than intensity of snoring, adding that it wouldn’t surprise him if it were 45 decibels – roughly the volume of traffic. I’m told I do not suffer from sleep apnoea, nor was there evidence of sleep-disordered breathing. The Epworth score, he explains, is based on a questionnaire I filled in asking in which situations I might nod off (watching telly, reading, at the wheel of a car stuck in traffic, etc). The ranking of 9 suggests I have an average amount of sleepiness. If it were above 16, I should seek medical attention (though, you’d think, I should probably get someone else to drive me to hospital).

This is all good news but what I need is a solution to the problem. The doctor recommends I purchase a mandibular splint, which he describes as rather like a gum shield that you boil before shaping it to your mouth. But I’ve tried that sort of device, I wail. Keep trying, the hospital suggests. Using the splint for more than a few nights is necessary so you can get used to the device being in your mouth. The idea is that the splint pushes your lower jaw forward and stops your windpipe collapsing and causing obstructed breathing.

A new device on the market is also piqueing the interest of sleep experts. The eXciteOSA is unique in that it is a device worn during the day to prevent snoring at night. It stimulates your lolling tongue and collapsing windpipe electronically, ostensibly to retrain you physiologically not to snore at night. Manufacturers’ test data appears promising.

I visit eXciteOSA’s website, already prejudiced against it due to the otiose capitalised X. It appears to be an electronic version of those throat exercises that had me sounding like a modern-day Eliza Doolittle. “Sick of sleeping alone?” inquires the website. You have my word on it. A picture of a distinguished grey-haired man reading Wallpaper magazine while a gizmo resembling a cat’s extended tongue dangles goofily from his mouth is available. A glamorous woman, presumably his life partner, sits behind him in a living room devoted to what appears to be minimalist Danish design. She’s smiling, presumably not just because she’s married to a silver fox, but also because she’s getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in years.

Regardless of Wallpaper, this is the image of domestic bliss I’m looking forward to experiencing. I’m tempted to order an eXciteOSA until I realize it costs £540.

Instead, I pull out the SomnoGuard 3 and give it another shot. I wake up snoring after five nights of wearing it. Obviously, it does not work for me.

 

In despair, I choose another mandibular splint, the Stop Snoring Mouthpiece, which costs less than a tenth of the price of the eXciteORA at £44.99. Perhaps it was the spiraling Zzzzzs in the company logo that drew me in. It was more than likely the 30-day money-back guarantee if the device didn’t stop my snoring.

When this mouthguard arrives, it looks and feels exactly like the SomnoGuard 3, but instead of boiling it to fit my mouth, I simply insert it at night. I have no idea why it works better than the SomnoGuard 3, but it has for the past two weeks. I’m back in the proper bed with my wife, no longer disturbing her sleep with my snoring, though the device hardly makes me look like love’s young dream. It makes all but the most basic kissing difficult. While my wife slept the other night, I lay awake wondering if this is how our marriage will continue. Perhaps. The prospect is not as terrifying.

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