“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” – Anthony Burgess
I blame the comics.
If a character in a comic strip or a cartoon sequence is asleep, more often than not they are snoring, a long line of Zs lazily drifting into the air. As a result, most of us have grown up to think of snoring as part and parcel of sleep.
In Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we smile at the endearing range of noises that Sleepy, Doc, Happy, Sneezy, Dopey and Bashful emit as they kip. Grumpy is disturbed by the racket, but we don’t for a minute entertain the possibility that all the noise might be the cause of his moodiness.
Indeed, if we respond to snoring at all, it’s usually to laugh. Few of us see snoring as a sleep disorder, let alone one that can have serious, even life-threatening consequences. Purrings, occasional gurgles and gentle buzzes during sleep might not seem like too much of a concern, but when these become persistent snorts, whistles and stentorian raspings, snoring is harder to ignore, particularly if you are the other person in bed. But beyond the devastating impact that persistent snoring can have on relationships, it’s dangerous too. The data on snoring are noisy. In some sleep labs snoring is not measured at all. In others, the clinician will scribble down a single, subjective estimate of its severity. In others, a microphone will record snoring episodes and their severity and map them onto the architecture of the patient’s sleep. So the prevalence of snoring depends on who you listen to. In some studies, just 1 in 20 adult men and 1 in 50 adult women are snorers. In another, where the snoring box is obviously more readily ticked, more than 8 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women snore.
Whatever the true prevalence of snoring, it lies at the thin end of a big, fat wedge, just one of many forms of what sleep clinicians refer to as “sleep disordered breathing.” All of them, including snoring, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome, can have serious consequences for health.
Published with permission from Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest.