Snore fest: A nightly event at the Daverios

Creature Comforts

My husband’s snoring has affected my sleep quality for years, because when he’s snoring, I’m not sleeping. He snores pretty much every minute he’s asleep. In bed, on the couch, slumped over the dining room table, behind the wheel of his car (parked, of course), he can sleep anywhere, just about anytime.

Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t snore non-stop. There are times when he’s silent, because he’s stopped breathing completely, quietly choking to death for a minute or so, followed by a horrific gasping snore, and then some more snoring. It’s awful to witness, and were it not for his special CPAP (aka “continuous positive airway pressure”) machine, which keeps him quiet and breathing consistently all night, nobody in my home would sleep very well [at all] with him nearby. His is the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard, until we adopted our newest dog, Marty.

Marty wins the prize for the loudest, wettest, sloppiest snoring of any creature in the whole known universe. I’m having a plaque engraved so he can display it on his trophy wall. Marty sleeps in my lap whenever I sit down, but he is relegated to his own bed downstairs at nighttime for one obvious reason: my sanity.

When we sleep, we relax, as do most of our skeletal muscles. In some people and animals, the relaxation in the back of the mouth and throat is so profound, that these areas narrow or even collapse with every breath. The vibrating noises of snoring come from these tissues basically flapping in the breeze — the noisier the snoring, usually the more pronounced the problem.

Marty has two snore-inducing problems. First and foremost, he’s obese. Obese animals and people are prone to snoring and sleep apnea because of the extra fatty tissue in the neck and inside the abdomen. The neck fat contributes to the collapse of the normal structures in the airway; the belly fat prevents good, deep lung expansion because of all the extra pressure on the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and is responsible for most of our breathing.)

Marty’s second problem is also structural: he has an elongated soft palate. Plainly said, the roof of his mouth is too long in the back, and hangs down into his throat. When he sleeps and is relaxed, all the muscles in his throat lose their normal tension, and all this tissue becomes floppy, getting in the way of his breathing. I’ve noticed if he sleeps in certain positions, his snoring is lessened or even non-existent, which is true for many people who snore. This is the reason special pillows and fancy beds are on the market to prop up a person’s head and shoulders in an attempt to reduce snoring.

Besides the obvious annoying noise, why is snoring so bad? Snoring prevents deep sleep. If it occurs many times through a normal sleep cycle, snoring causes sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a form of TORTURE. It makes a person sluggish in mind and body, forgetful, irritable, and eventually crazy.

Sleep apnea occurs when breathing actually stops at intervals during sleep. Dangerous and scary? YES! Breathing is an excellent activity and I highly recommend it be done regularly. Sleep-deprived snorers often are completely unaware of their sleep apnea, seeming to sleep right through it, though never really reaching deep sleep because of it. This is why sleep apnea sufferers can fall asleep so easily — their bodies are crying out for restful sleep that never comes.

Sleep apnea contributes to headaches, fatigue, hypertension, and may lead to a heart attack or sudden death in people. In animals, it’s likely to have similar side effects, though asking them how they feel is a bit troublesome, as is determining the cause of sudden death, since autopsies are infrequently performed in pets.

The animals most commonly affected with snoring and sleep apnea are brachycephalic breeds like pugs, Old English Bulldogs, Pekingese, Persian cats, to name a few. Their markedly shortened facial features lend themselves to structural problems such as stenotic nares (tiny nose-holes), elongated soft palate, laryngeal collapse, laryngeal paralysis, tracheal collapse. A tendency toward obesity adds fuel to the fire. Each of these problems makes breathing normally when AWAKE a chore, and when asleep, a nightmare (so to speak.) If severe enough, some of these patients need surgical intervention to correct their problems. Sorry, Breathe Right Strips are a no-go.

Marty’s weight loss program marches on, and we are hoping as he drops the weight, he will breathe easier while sleeping. If he continues to snore loudly after he reaches his target weight, surgery may be in his future, after all. Too bad he can’t use the CPAP machine.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.

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