The first time I realised I snored was when I went on holiday with my friend K to Morocco and she woke me in the middle of the night. I had just left my job and was stressed, she was in the middle of a merger at hers and was more stressed. Why two New York City gals decided to do Morocco on a cheap and cheerful is beyond me. What we really needed was a long weekend at a Four Seasons somewhere. Alternating cocktails with spa treatments. But, as ever with me, I want to travel somewhere new and K needed a break.
By day two – K was really cross and I understood why. I once had a boyfriend who snored so loudly that I used to sleep in the lounge. Made me vile tempered the next day. And ultimately ended the relationship. My dad had also always snored – I remember my niece mimicking him when she was about 8 months old. They were taking an afternoon nap and in between Dad’s stentorian roars, we heard little baby snores: mixed with giggles.
Since Morocco I’ve been terrified of sharing a room with anyone. I woke myself snoring on a plane once, to find the guy next to me laughing almost hysterically. The kids say I only snore when I have a cold – but I am not taking any chances. Unless I am with one of them – who are capable of sleeping through a hurricane, I try to get my own room on shared holidays. Inevitably upsetting the sleeping arrangements. And undoubtedly the other holiday-ers.
Though snoring is traditionally considered something that affects middle-aged men, experts say many women fail to realise they have the condition, or the health implications it may have. “Women in particular do not like to think they snore — there’s a stigma attached to it — yet they account for 40% of snorers,’ says Dr Martin Allen, consultant physician at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, and spokesperson for the British Lung Foundation. ‘It can affect women of any age, though it is more common after the menopause.’
“After the menopause”, how biblical – as apocalyptic “after the fall”. Another indignity wrought by advancing age. Just to make damn sure no-one wants to spend the night.
‘It’s thought sleep apnea puts the body into fight or flight mode and encourages the release of hormones and chemicals in the blood that may trigger these conditions,’ says Dr Allen. ‘There is evidence to show people who don’t receive treatment for sleep apnea have an increased risk of heart attack compared to those who have. And these hormones can lead to a sustained increase in blood pressure.’Now – to me that sounds just like how the body responds to stress.
So I wondered: was my snoring stress related?
Seems it’s possible. As we age, it appears we become more sensitive to the stimulating effects of stress created hormones.“The increased prevalence of insomnia in middle-age may, in fact, be the result of deteriorating sleep mechanisms associated with increased sensitivity to arousal-producing stress hormones, such as CRH and cortisol.”So we can’t sleep because we hang onto our stress hormones.Stressful moments are important in bodily development, preparing our bodies for fight or flight situations should they ever arise.
Modern society often demands we hold our emotions in check; it just isn’t socially appropriate to punch the boss or run from a stressful meeting. And, if stress-released hormones stay in the body at higher than normal levels, for much longer than nature intended: stress can literally kill you.
Snoring can occur during all the different stages to sleep. We don’t completely understand why we sleep – (well, in my case it is to stop me turning into a psychotic, weepy monster) – but it is thought that the non-REM stages of sleep are associated with recuperation of the body and the REM stages of sleep with recuperation of the mind.
During REM sleep – the brain tries to make sense of what has happened during the day. It takes all the information and stimuli from our short-term memory – and prepares it for storage in long-term memory. Basically wiping the slate clean for the following day. While most of the action is mental – physical changes can also be seen: in brain activity, blood pressure levels, variable blood flow and altered breathing. So as our brain is processing the stress of the day: we’re experiencing it all over again. Our breathing deepens and accelerates to ready for fight or flight – and that can lead to snoring.
Research has found that women are unlikely to seek help for snoring because they are too embarrassed. The survey, (by ResMed, which manufactures sleep apnea equipment), estimates 378,000 women in the UK suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. Despite all the women in the survey declaring their everyday lives to be affected by their snoring, none said they would visit their GP to discuss the problem. Plus, most did not see snoring as a health problem.
I am always happy to ask a professional for an opinion. Most of my stress is a thing of the past anyway – so could there be another explanation? I was going to see my dentist anyway (who is also a dental surgeon) so I pitched the question at him: “If it isn’t stress and I don’t think I have sleep apnea – is there anything else could cause snoring?”
Not teeth particularly he said – but he has noticed that people who grind their teeth will often snore in his operating theatre. And most of my teeth are worn husks or implants. My dad’s too. Did the Doc support the idea of snoring and stress? “Sure”, he said, “very likely. And remember most of us don’t snore every night – it’s usually when something has been going on – too much red wine, we’ve put on weight, had a fight with someone. But there’s something else to consider – fat nostrils.”
“What? My nose is big, sure – but it is skinny and beaky. No fat there, Gustav. But, the man was spent considerable time at the business end of my nostrils – so I had to hear him out. Lately, he said – he has been encountering more people with enlarged turbinates.
These are the bits of bone covered by soft tissue just inside the nose where the nostril flares out. Their job is help to filter and warm air in the nose, and to trap dirt and dust particles. And, until I had my sinus op last year, during which my skew septum was fixed – he had noticed that I had a fat right nostril. Usually you see these in younger people who are carrying a lot of extra weight. But turbinates can enlarge due to an allergy (which causes inflammation of the tissue around the bone making it ‘fat’) or irritation such toxins in cigarette smoke. Or genetics. Which, he thought, was what had happened to me.
But, for the record, I would be happy to know I had never snored in his chair.
So there you have it: snoring can be caused by many things. Among them a medical condition, stress or fat nostrils. As to menopause being a cause? Dr Hefer laughed gaily – “never heard of that one. If you snored before, you’ll probably snore during, and after. So I doubt it. Though the hot flushes might keep you awake.”