Once upon a time, I had to sleep in a bunkhouse on a women’s retreat. As per usual, in a group sleeping situation, I did not sleep well. I sensed rustling around in the room all night. It was hot, and I was uncomfortable — as it turned out, with good reason. When I woke up, one of the women in my group was glaring at me.
“Damn Laurie, you snore,” she said. “I didn’t sleep at all last night. Thanks a lot.”
My face went red. I felt deep embarrassment.
Of course I knew this would happen. I had asked for my own sleeping space, as snorers frequently do, and was shot down. There was nowhere else to put me. I had told the organizers what the problem might be, and they blew it off.
They never should have. It typically ends well for no one.
This happened again, on a trip to Vietnam after a day-long journey. Again, I’d warned my professors that I might bother my roommate. No one listened. Anger ensued, and I was left feeling like I’d committed a crime.
My crime? I snore. I don’t do it on purpose, but I do it, and I really can’t do much to stop it.
Man, it feels good to finally let this out.
I snore because I have a cleft palate and sleep apnea. I’ve long since had the repairs done to help me eat, breathe and speak normally, but there is only so much that can be done with an inherently broken mouth. My palate, from my gumline to the back of my throat, is a little leaky in places — like a patched tire, or a hose with some duct tape around it. Not to mention that my surgeries occurred 40 years ago. What time does to all of us, it has gone and done to me. Gravity is not a face’s friend. It is not a snorer’s, either.
At best, I snore a little, and at worst, a lot. It has affected relationships both platonic and romantic (hint: snoring isn’t sexy), cost me money because I almost always choose single-occupancy rooms on trips rather than endure the outcomes of bunking up.
Snoring really isn’t healthy, either. It’s the result of obstructed breathing, which is obviously not a great thing.
What is snoring not? Contrary to what some (admittedly freshly sleep-deprived) co-sleepers may say, it’s not a voluntary act devised by the snorer to ruin lives and relationships. It is not a choice. It is not something I’m committed to continuing because I want to. Believe me, I’d stop if I could.
Except I’m really not sure that I can. When snoring was really causing trouble, such that I was experiencing morning headaches and jolting myself awake at night, I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who sent me for a sleep study. Diagnosis: severe sleep apnea. I got the mask meant to help me breathe better all night long (hint: sleep apnea isn’t sexy, either). I took it home, and promptly refused to wear it. I asked my doctor if an uvulectomy was an option — a procedure where he’d snip off the uvula that hangs at the back of the throat and provides that heavy metal concert-level reverb that is perfect snoring fodder. He said that he wouldn’t “touch the back of my palate for a million dollars” because of the risk of, from what I could gather, my whole shaky structure caving in.
Bummed, I reported back to my boyfriend at the time, a light sleeper who booted me to the couch on a number of occasions. He pled fear for my health and asked me to get a second opinion. I pled exhaustion from trying to solve a problem that made me feel like broken equipment, and never dealt with it again.
I wish I had more answers. I know very well that snoring is an irritant, and that disrupted sleep in shared spaces is a relationship and family problem. I know that partners who are otherwise loving and accepting of all kinds of behaviors can be driven mad by the noise that snoring makes, and that even intellectually understanding that it’s not a person’s fault can’t prevent emotional reactions. Humans are humans.
And on the rare occasions when I’ve been exposed to someone else’s snoring that is — per my ex’s recording of my nighttime noises — worse than mine, I’ve been flooded with anxiety anew. Because oh my God, is that what I sound like? I mean, how could anyone ever sleep with me? Maybe it is worth revisiting that horrible mask if this is the alternative.
And then I table it, because for some reason, I just do.
There is good news, lately. I’ve lost weight, which helps the snoring situation. I quit drinking, for completely unrelated reasons, and it turns out that no alcohol, ever, is good for lessening the severity of snoring, among its many other health benefits.
These recent developments don’t mean that the problem is solved. Once a snorer, it seems, means always a snorer, at least for hard cases like mine. And writing this down has me thinking that maybe it’s time to go seek that second opinion, a decade later, just to see if anything’s changed, because medical advances, and all. Maybe the doctor who wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot scalpel has something else up his sleeve now.
But whether that’s true or not, even just saying it out loud helps, for now. I snore. And I’m sorry. I don’t like it either, but I just do.