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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Snoring

I think back to a night in Vilnius in 2003. Several nights, actually. There were six of us sharing a dorm room, five men and one woman. Each night a symphony would accompany me as I drifted off to sleep, a symphony of rough hewn sounds – like ragged saws, and of soft utterances and sighs rising in silent moments. I was in a room full of snorers, and it often seemed as if they were orchestrating their snores so as to assure that I would not fall asleep. Each morning as everyone accused everyone else of snoring and waking them up, I took pride in the fact that no one came to me, that I was not considered a snorer. I was able to sit proud at the breakfast table knowing that I was the quiet one, that I was the only one in the room not guilty of tearing open the night with a cacophony of noise.

Whatever pride I took in this distinction was always short-lived. As breakfast ended and everyone else left the hostel for whatever activities would occupy their day, I shuffled back to bed, thankful for the silence in the bedroom, and thankful for the fact that their were no windows. I could sleep and snore in peace.

Yes, I am a snorer. I am not proud of this fact. I try to tell myself that it is not my fault. I have no control over it. I tell myself I should be thankful it is just snoring that I have to cope with. I don’t have to deal with sleep-walking, or some unnatural attraction that I desperately try to ignore but cannot deny. I am a snorer, like millions of other people out there. It is a natural affliction. Still, I feel shame.

Part of being a budget traveler means sleeping in whatever cheap accommodation comes your way. This often means sharing rooms with strangers. Sometimes, this can lead to uncomfortable situations that make it hard to sleep. In an earlier post I mentioned waking up to find a man’s hand down my pants, and then to lie in bed listening to the sounds of him masturbating. Usually the situations are not this bad. Perhaps there is a couple in the room trying to hide the fact that they are having sex. Perhaps there is someone who has recently had something stolen, leaving you on your guard, not quite willing to nod off. Most likely, there is someone (or more than one) snoring. It becomes a race to beat them to sleep.

I have shared rooms with some truly prolific snorers. On one occasion a man was so loud that the rest of us got out of bed, played cards, and shook our heads in near admiration at the quality and depth of sound that he produced. Most often, when faced with a champion snorer, I am left to toss and turn in bed, wishing I could sleep wishing I didn’t hate ear plugs so much. As I lie awake I think of all the things that I would like to say to the person. In the end, though, what can you say?

“Hey man, you snore really loudly.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that.”

This is exactly what I have said when people have told me I snore. Yeah, I’m sorry. I am. And then I spent the rest of the morning wishing that it was not the case, that I had a bit of disposable cash to get an operation to take care of the problem. The fact is, I don’t. I snore. Do you think I’m proud of this? Do you think I like that I sound like a possessed chain-saw when I sleep?

The worst feeling comes when sharing a room with women, or with people that I know, but don’t know well. Whether it is when sharing a dorm room with women I have never met, or a bed with a woman for the first time, I am left with a terrible feeling of anticipation. I pray that I will not snore. I do everything I can think of to prevent it. I suck on some throat drops and sleep on my side. I put my head under the pillow and will my mouth to stay shut. Sometimes my preparations work. I just don’t fall asleep, and thus don’t snore. The other times, well, I thank those who are polite enough not too mention my dirty secret.

Last spring, the parents of the class that I taught decided we should have a class outing as a way to bring the kids even closer together, to give them a lasting memory of their time in pre-school. We left on a Saturday morning and came back on Sunday. The overnight stay was nerve-racking. I shared a room with two students and their moms and dads. What would they say when they heard me? I had a picture of the two girls in the room telling the other students.

“Teacher Alan makes all of these funny noises when he sleeps.”
“He is really loud. My mom threw a pillow at him and he still didn’t wake up.”

And on Monday the children would share the news with all of the other students at school and soon children would be asking me to make my funny noises for their amusement.
As it turned out, one of the kids snored and so did the two fathers in the room. Still, the following morning, one of the mothers said something to me in Chinese. I did not understand it explicitly, but I am pretty sure that it was all about snoring.

My dad is a snorer. I used to make fun of him because of it. He is a big-time snorer, though. A professional. My parents’ bedroom is at the back of the house and I have heard him all the way at the front. If their bedroom door is closed, and my bedroom door is closed, I can still hear him - a rhythmic (if colossal) rising and falling wave of noise, occasionally punctured by a strangled choking sound before starting up again. I wonder: is there where I am heading? Or worse, it this where I am already at? This massive volume of noise?

Whenever Natalia spends the night, my first question in the morning is not “How are you today?” or “How did you sleep?” It is not even “Did I snore?” No, now it has come to this “How bad was it?” The usual reply:

“I could hear you through my earplugs.”

Yikes. This is one area in which I differ with my dad. I may be following in his footsteps - on my way to becoming a force in the snoring world – but I do not deny my snoring. I’ve heard my dad deny snoring a thousand times, and perhaps all of his denial has affected the way I feel about snoring, instilled the shame I feel. But why should he deny it? Why should I deny it? Why should anyone? We can’t help it! Do you think we choose to be snorers? Do we choose to have society look down on us? Do we choose to harm the relationships we have with those closest to us? No. This is biology at work.

I have come to accept the fact that I snore. I don’t like it, mind you, but this is who I am. I have come out of the snoring closet. I dream of the day that I walk into a surgeon’s office a snorer and walk out a quiet and peaceful sleeper. The day will come. Until then, I will not keep myself awake out of fear for the coming storm of noise. I will snore loudly, offending the unplugged ears of all those around me. I will apologize for the fact, but (attempt to) feel no shame. I will be me.


Last night Natalia mentioned something she had read in an Argentine newspaper during the day. It was an article about snoring and sex. A study showed that snoring has a terribly adverse affect on the sex lives of those afflicted. Many couples end up sleeping in separate rooms because of the snoring, and on average, the study found, snorers only had sex once a month. When she told me about this I got to thinking about my issues with snoring and realized that perhaps I should make it a greater priority to have some surgery to get it fixed. Once a month!


Anonymous Natalia said...

I only hope you do not become your dad. I've heard that kind of thunderstorm like snorings and I don't think I can live with it.
I wish that I don't need to use earplugs to sleep every night.
If I'm not wrong, there are some drops or some pads for that. Something we have to find out about, today.

11:06 AM  

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