Creature Comforts: Lullaby and goodnight

PHOTOS PROVIDED Walter, Miriam and Kevin nap with their toys.

My teenagers are champion sleepers. On weekends and holidays when there are no morning obligations, these two humans have been known to sleep through the night and into the afternoon of the following day — 12 hours straight, and more. Alarms are useless. Parental yelling, jostling or threats have zero effect (other than causing the sleeper to change positions and groan, then fall back to sleep.) Our dogs enthusiastically accept their mission to “wake ’em up!” leaping onto beds and walking all over the intended wake-ees, licking faces … and then, curl up, and go to sleep, too. Sigh.

I used to sleep like that, but then I quit and became a mother. Now, I toss and turn, awakened by any tiny sound, weird smells, or, apparently, ripples in The Force. It does not help that my husband snores like a malfunctioning chainsaw being used to slice through a side of beef. His guttural sputtering and snorks can be heard two floors away, and from behind closed doors. When he chooses to wear his prescribed CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, he sleeps quietly and disturbs no one. I imagine he also gets a more restful night’s sleep, as the machine remembers to breathe for him when he forgets. Breathing is much healthier than not breathing, and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, CPAP machines can be a bit restrictive, what with the mask and tubes, and my husband is known to remove his part-way through the night, instantly resuming his snoring until morning. He claims no knowledge of having done any of this. He still refuses to believe he snores.

I have recently, on occasion, woken myself snoring! Not proud, just honest. So far, it appears my snoring hasn’t annoyed anyone but me. I have taken to wearing a super-attractive Breathe Right strip across the bridge of my nose each night. I think it helps — I don’t wake myself snoring when I remember to wear one, anyway.

Snoring is by no means normal or healthy, and animals do it, too. It is caused by a partially obstructed airway. It can be temporary, say with nasal congestion, and relieved by decongestants or antihistamines. It can be more of an ongoing problem, too. When we sleep, everything relaxes, including the tissues in the back of the nose and throat, and in some individuals, this can cause a partial airway collapse or obstruction, preventing normal breathing.

Among one of the highest risk factors for snoring is being overweight. The extra tissue in the neck can cause a positional issue with breathing when sleeping. Happily, weight loss can be curative in these patients.

Some people have structural problems that can lead to snoring, like a deviated nasal septum. Animals with shorter, “pushed-in” noses like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats, can have a myriad of structural problems with their airways: they often have abnormally small nares (nose holes), an over-long soft palate, which hangs down the back of the throat, and soft tracheal (windpipe) cartilage that can narrow or collapse on itself when the animal inhales. These issues make breathing hard, awake or asleep.

Some snorers (animal or human) also have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is the cessation of breathing while sleeping. One would think the snorer would wake up if they can’t breathe. Truth is, they do. Snorers are known to wake up many times a night, but go right back to sleep, often being unaware that this is happening, but feeling tired and irritable, even after many hours of sleep. Thing is, if the snoring interferes with reaching deep, REM sleep, the brain has trouble recharging and refreshing itself, which can cause long-term fatigue, headaches, forgetfulness, impaired judgement, you name it. Snoring and sleep apnea can deprive the body of oxygen chronically, cause high blood pressure and chronic stress, having negative effects on the immune system, circulatory system and the limbic system (brain function primarily responsible for emotions, memories and arousal/awareness). Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, and it’s horrible.

Most animals would not tolerate a CPAP machine. Breathe Right strips won’t work for these guys, either. The only option for severely affected patients with obstructive airway diseases is specialty surgery, to open the airways in whatever ways are needed. Make the nose holes bigger, trim the over-long soft palate tissue away, place surgical stents into the trachea to help hold it open. Essentially, therapeutic plastic surgery for animals.

The first step in affecting a cure is to admit there’s a problem. If someone tells you your snoring is bothering them, get help — you’ll be glad you did. And if your dog’s loud snoring keeps you awake at night, it might be good to have your veterinarian check that out, too.