The war on snoring heats up.That steam engine in your bed is bad for your health, worse for your marriage

The war on snoring heats up.That steam engine in your bed is bad for your health, worse for your marriage

We’re often told that celebrities are just like us, and in some respects, that’s true: a great number of them snore in their sleep. Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter don’t just have separate bedrooms; they live in separate (but adjoining) London homes, partly because of Burton’s noisy sleeping. “Tim does snore, and that’s an element,” she told the U.K. Radio Times about their arrangement. Judge Judy has a separate room built off the master suite of her Connecticut mansion that’s just for snorers—a “snoratorium,” although she insists that it’s not just for her husband, and that she snores as well. Tom Cruise reportedly has a snoratorium too, where wife Katie Holmes can stow him when he’s keeping her awake.

Special snoring rooms are actually becoming de rigueur in many upscale homes. Jim Toy, principal at False Creek Design Group Ltd. in Vancouver, says his firm has designed a number of homes with adjacent sleeping quarters, or smaller retreat areas built off the main bedroom, that clients request “for, among other things, the snoring issue.” Some even ask that these rooms be lined with acoustic insulation and “literally be soundproofed,” he says. In a 2007 survey from the U.S. National Association of Home Builders, experts predicted that over 60 per cent of new upscale homes would have dual master bedrooms by 2015. Those expectations dipped after the recession, but on the “upper end of the scale,” Toy says, clients are still keen on having an extra snoring room. “It used to be his-and-hers bathrooms, his-and-hers closets, and his-and-hers offices,” designer Tom Scheerer recently told House Beautiful. “Now, everyone wants a snoratorium.”

Snoring is extraordinarily common. It tends to get worse as we age, partly because of weight gain, says Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary. Given the fact that our population is getting older—and heavier, too, as obesity rates rise—snoring could soon reach epidemic proportions. In a recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 per cent of people said they snored. (Of course, some people don’t realize they do, or will deny it when confronted.) About 858,900 adult Canadians say they’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a more serious problem in which a person’s breathing briefly pauses, disturbing sleep until they start breathing normally again; people with sleep apnea almost always snore. Marketers are clearly aware of these numbers, evidenced by the growing range of products that claim to “cure” snoring—from nasal sprays to chin straps, special pillows and everything in between.

According to Samuels, snoring occurs when tissues at the back of the throat relax and start “flopping in the wind” as a person breathes. Beyond obesity, it can be caused by anything from a deviated septum (which is apparently Tim Burton’s problem) to congestion from chronic allergies or a cold. Age brings changes to the tone of upper airway muscles, which can aggravate snoring, Samuels says, and alcohol and muscle relaxants might make it worse, too. While sleep apnea is associated with serious health conditions, like hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, those who simply snore with no apnea can wake up and “feel like a million bucks,” he says. In his lab, he measures his patients’ snores with a decibel meter, and while many of them are in the 20 to 30 range, some can get as loud as 60 decibels. “That’s really loud,” he says—about the same as a conversation, and most people probably wouldn’t sleep too well lying next to someone who talked endlessly through the night. For that reason, he adds, “it’s often the partner I am more concerned about.”

Wives who’ve been kept awake by their husbands seem especially prone to crankiness the next day: U.S. researchers have found that married couples’ interactions are impacted by the wife having had a bad sleep the night before; a husband’s poor sleep didn’t have the same effect. Karen Hirscheimer, a Toronto couples therapist, says that sleep issues will often come up in her practice. “It’s the very basic stuff, like having trouble sleeping in the same bed because one person snores, or the other is a tosser,” she says. “When people aren’t getting enough sleep, there’s more friction.”

One person’s snores might have an impact beyond the bedroom. A recent Danish study concluded that snoring places a heavy burden on society as a whole: people who snore violently (especially those with sleep apnea and obesity-related respiratory difficulties) need more health care, are more often unemployed, and have lower incomes than healthy people, they noted, adding that “every violent snorer costs society €705,” or about $960.

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