Like a lot of boys, I grew up sharing a bedroom with my older brother. And for the majority of that time, we coexisted in relative harmony. (Being barely more than a year apart in age helped, I think.) Barring the occasional argument—an inevitability when sharing such close quarters—our altercations were few and far between. That is, until a dark specter emerged in our mid teenage years and forever interrupted the peace in our bedroom: my brother’s snoring problem.
To call it a “problem” is generous on my part—words like “massacre” or “onslaught” are probably more accurate. (Referring to it as “his” problem may also be misleading, as it never really bothered him.) And, both frustratingly and confusingly, this issue seemed like it developed overnight and only continued to worsen with the passage of time.
Some nights I would compare the tones he emitted to those of a chainsaw hacking down a tree, while others he sounded more like an angry mountain lion preparing to attack. Still others, the sounds were reminiscent of heavy machinery in disrepair: a low rumble punctuated by an occasional shrieking, piercing whine. To this day it’s hard for me to understand how a supposedly healthy human body can produce noises like these, and with such variety.
His repertoire was as impressive as it was disruptive. Just when I thought I’d learned every noise he was capable of making and slowly learned to tune them out, he’d come up with something new. Dying elephant? (Check.) Jackhammer? (Yep, haven’t heard that one before.) Fighter jet taking off? (Seriously, how are you still alive, let alone still asleep? Are you even breathing?)
As someone who had always struggled with falling and staying asleep my whole life, these additional distractions frequently proved too much for me. I tried earplugs, but they were uncomfortable and prevented me from waking up to my morning alarm for school. I tried going to bed before him, but would inevitably wake up when he came in and started his nightly sadistic symphony. I tried taking melatonin, chamomile, valerian and countless other sleep-promoting products, but his snoring overpowered them all.
Oftentimes I would find myself exasperatedly groping around in the darkness around my bed, looking for objects to throw at him in hopes of waking him up and silencing the beast. However, these attempts proved futile more often than not; even when the objects connected with their intended target, he would simply roll over and continue his aural attack from a more protected position. I was losing the snore war in spectacular fashion. It was time to regroup.
The science behind the snoring
According to the Mayo Clinic, snoring can be caused by a handful of factors. Some people are more predisposed to it simply because of the shape of their mouths and sinuses, while others snore because of allergies or other breathing issues, like sleep apnea. Alcohol consumption before bed can also play a role, as can an individual’s weight.
The National Sleep Foundation lists snoring among the most common sleep issues, affecting roughly 90 million American adults, and 37 million on a regular basis. While males and those who are overweight are statistically the most likely to snore during sleep, this problem affects women (and their bed partners) as well.
But what actually causes the awful, grating snoring sound that we’re all so familiar with? As it turns out, the culprit is the uvula, the triangular piece of tissue that hangs from the soft palate.
In snorers, the uvula is either longer than those in non-snorers, or becomes relaxed enough at night to either fully or partially block the sleeper’s airways. This causes the throat tissues to vibrate, thus producing sound.
So what was causing my brother’s snoring problem? And why did it seem to come on so suddenly? And more importantly, can his uvula ever be stopped?
Until next time: sleep well, be well and live well!