You're cosy in bed, about to drift off to sleep, then the snoring starts. Hannah Frankel advises how to take action, and that doesn't mean an elbow in the perpetrator's ribs
There are few things in life quite as annoying as the rhythmic repetition of the constantly snoring partner. Maybe a pneumatic drill comes close, but at least that is not beside you in bed. The fact that the perpetrator of this racket professes to care for you is one of the great paradoxes of our time.
Marianne Davey, from Reigate in Surrey, found out the hard way when she married her husband 30 years ago. He was fit, slim and healthy; he could also snore right up there with the best of them.
"It really did ruin our lives," says Marianne, who nowadays uses her experiences to help other couples affected by snoring. "We used to take it in turns to sleep on the living room sofa, but even with all the doors shut, his snoring would wake me up and our three young daughters as well. It was just dreadful."
The couple built an extension to their house to put more space between them, but even that didn't help. Their research for a cure took them to America, where they tried a simple mouthguard designed for snoring sailors in submarines. It solved the problem overnight.
Armed with a wealth of expertise, they went on to found the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association, which is due to hold its annual "national stop snoring week" from April 21 this year.
There is no shortage of sufferers looking for help. A staggering 15 million people snore in the UK - more than two-thirds of whom are men. Although there are different types of snoring (see panel, right), it is typically caused by air rattling and vibrating the structures in the upper airway. The result can have a devastating effect on sleeping patterns, relationships and general health.
Snorers are three times more likely to suffer adverse health conditions than non-snorers, ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. And with snores reaching up to 100 decibels, the equivalent of a jet aircraft, it's no wonder that partners are suffering from excessive tiredness, headaches, gastro-intestinal irritability, nausea and palpitations.
"Teaching can be a stressful job at the best of times, so having something like hypertension or sleeplessness as a result of a snoring partner can make it that much worse," says Marianne.
Using research undertaken by the University of Surrey in 2007, Lloydspharmacy calculated that people who sleep next to snorers miss out on more than 15 days of sleep every year. That is the equivalent of losing almost two years' sleep during their lifetime.
"The most common reasons for snoring are smoking, being overweight or excessive alcohol consumption," says Marianne. "It's a good idea to tackle those three things to start out with. But if that still doesn't work, there are other options on the market now that can make a difference."
Name that snore
- The nasal snorer. Allergy may be causing nasal stuffiness. Cleanse your home of possible allergens such as feather pillows, pet hair or house dust mites.
- The mouth snorer. Try "chin-up strips" to help you keep your mouth closed during sleep.
- The tongue snorer. If you can't make a strong snoring noise with your tongue stuck out and clenched between your teeth, a mouthguard known as a "mandibular advancement device" may help. You can buy them from the association's website, www.britishsnoring.co.uk.
- The palate snorer. Your soft palate and uvula may be vibrating. A herbal spray called Rhynil will tighten the tissue of the palate, and can also be obtained through the association's website.
- Sleep apnoea. Characterised by regular heavy snoring and holding one's breath for 10 seconds or more, making patients excessively sleepy during the day. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure - a prescription cure where a special mask is used to deliver a continuous stream of air through the nose - should prevent the airway from obstructing, leading to a more settled night's sleep.