All sound, but no sleep!


A person’s snoring often evokes laughter and is brushed aside as something one has to live with. A. Radhakrishnan tells us about the serious health implications of snoring, and why it has to be treated. ?

Good similes for someone who snores loudly range from ‘snores like a buzz saw’; ‘snores like a wart hog’; ‘elephant in heat, now there’s a blast from the past’; ‘snores like a chainsaw fighting a grizzly bear driving a bulldozer’; ‘snoring like a trouper’; ‘snoring like a freight train’; ‘snores like a congested walrus’; ‘snores like a fire-breathing dragon with a head cold’, etc.

An article I recall beautifully put it… ‘Like musicians, snorers are judged on range and projection. Many have only one note, but make up for the lack of variety with volume, while others have an extensive repertoire of sound. They can go from a barely perceptible hiss to the standard grunting to squeaks, squawks and high-pitched whistles and many are capable of making sounds only a barn animal in distress could replicate.

‘They have a perfect sense of timing, which is extraordinary. It is almost like they wait to start up at the exact moment that the snoree is about to fall asleep. No self-respecting snorer however will readily admit that they snore. Every once in a while the snorer is so loud that he/she will wake him/ herself up, followed by a few seconds of semi-conscious embarrassment!’.

It is also a verified fact that two snorers will never find one another. If you snore, it is unlikely you will find yourself another snorer spouse or partner to love and cohabitate with.

Snoring, sleep apnea et al
A study conducted in Britain found that the average married adult loses around 730 hours sleep a year because of the partner’s snoring and fidgeting. Husbands and wives are typically deprived of two hours a night – four years over a 50-year marriage as a result. It was traditionally believed that snoring indicated sound sleep, but it is now proven that ‘it is sound, but no sleep’.

When we fall asleep, muscles in the upper airway relax and this causes the breathing passage to become narrow, as air tries to pass through the narrowed upper airways. They vibrate, making the sound of snoring. When it worsens, these passages get blocked – often hundreds of time every night… this is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

Some sleepy stories

  • Sleeping on the job can prove costly. A burglary suspect in the U.S blew his cover when he got so comfortable in his hiding spot the he dozed off and began snoring, loud enough for the police to find him inside a restaurant.
  • To 37-year-old Mumbai resident and builder, Amit Verma, snoring became a public, not private nuisance and turned out to be an embarrassment. He would alternate between flying and travelling by train to his projects several times a month. Most journeys would turn into a nightmare for his fellow passengers. When he dozed off, often they’d shake and jerk him wake. His constant victim, his wife, admitted to it being a sundown misery which she grudgingly accepted. But one night she found him gasping for breath. ‘The thought that he may suffocate and never wake up scared me’, she recalls. This coupled with growing fatigue, convinced Verma he needed help. A victim of OSA and at 104 kilos, he was at a higher risk. What saved him was the Coblation therapy method.
  • Tired of choking in his sleep due to apnea, 35-year-old Raipur Vikas Kalia underwent a highly rare and unconventional surgery, to remove the extra flesh from his tongue.
  • The wife was complaining that she couldn’t sleep with my snoring. So I went to the Pharmacist and bought this new snoring mask, it`s great! You can wrap it on your wife’s face and you can’t hear her complain.
  • ‘My snoring kept me awake last night’ complained a man. His friend replied, ‘You silly man why didn’t you sleep in another room?’
  • Often there is confusion between snoring and OSA, which we are discussing here, and can be a potential, life-threatening disease. Twelve adults in 100 in India suffer from it and are found in all age groups and genders.

    Snoring is a loud sound made while breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea is a true breathing obstruction, in which the sleeper can wake up in the middle of the night choking or gasping for breath. He/she has to wake up to begin breathing again. Such a person wakes up many times a night to regain breathing. Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. Snoring by itself does not involve the cessation of breathing.

    Thus the OSA sufferer often is not aware of the apnea episodes during the night, and it is often family members who witness those periods. Starting with snoring heavily soon after falling asleep, which gets louder, it is then interrupted by a long silent period during which there is no breathing. This is followed by a loud snort and gasp, as the person attempts to breath. The pattern repeats. Many people wake up unrefreshed in the morning and feel sleepy or drowsy throughout the day, and this is called Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS).

    When muscles are too relaxed, oxygen levels drop. Children have larger tonsils and adenoids; stuffy or blocked nose requires extra effort to pull air through. Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat and nasal deformities like a deviated septum, etc., can cause obstructed breathing. Snoring can also be hereditary.

    Snoring lowers oxygen supply to vital organs of the body during sleep which results in irregular heart functions, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, depression and stroke, morning headaches, increased daytime tiredness, waking up from sleep gasping for air, unexplained weight gain, etc.

    The fallout of disrupted sleep
    Disrupted sleep can increase psychological problems. Poor sleep has adverse effects on relationships with diminishing positive feelings,, causing indifferences between individuals. Hence, Sleep Divorce has become a growing trend, as more couples are choosing to sleep in separate rooms for a number of reasons. This robs them of intimacy, sexual and emotional bonding.

    Children too get affected by one’s snoring habit, if you are co-sleeping, disrupting their sleep which results in poor memory, concentration, academic and sports performance, underachievement and changed behaviour.

    People in stressful jobs are prone to sleep apnea syndrome. They may also act grumpy, impatient or irritable, be forgetful, fall asleep while working, reading or watching TV, feel sleepy or even fall asleep while driving and have hard-to-treat headaches. They also tend to wake up frequently to urinate, have dry mouth or sore throat on waking up, and suffer from insomnia, depression/anxiety, increased blood pressure and frequent heartburn.

    Complications of untreated OSA are that it will lead to uncontrolled hypertension, heart failure or other heart diseases, diabetes, stroke, weight gain or obesity, depression or sexual disorders and accidents.

    Snoring is an irritant and it has to be controlled. It is critical to create and maintain strong, healthy and compatible sleep habits and adjust your lifestyle to get better and soundless sleep. Losing weight; exercising regularly; sleeping on your side – the tongue does not fall back; avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills (these increase relaxation of throat and tongue muscles, which makes snoring more likely); clearing your nasal passages through nasal and throat sprays; using a device that resembles a baby’s pacifier that works by pulling peoples tongues forward while they are asleep so that their airways remain clear, yoga, behavioural therapies, machine and dental appliances surgically removing tissues and blocks and radio frequency and laser treatment.. all help. If your snoring is nose-centric, nasal strips are needed.

    There are websites with details of a variety of treatments you can try at home, including pillow, snore calm products, mouth guards, nasal strips and dilators, as well as mouth breathing devices. The practice of Neti, an ancient method practised for centuries by yogis does purify the path right from nostrils to the throat. Maintain a healthy weight and diet, avoid alcohol before going to bed, and quit or cut down on smoking.
    Surgery of the airway is advised in younger patients and those with congenital airway defects. A proper detailed diagnostic workup which includes Polysomnography (sleep study) followed by DISE (Drug Induced Sleep Endoscopy) to find the type and site of airway obstruction during sleep, is mandatory.

    So do not take snoring lightly. Be aware and get rid of it.



    A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, poet, short story writer who loves to make friends and make them smile.