Online Extra: A Snorer Speaks

Humorist Rob Simon talks about his quest to give his wife a quiet night's sleep

Humor writer and "lifelong snorer" Rob Simon estimates he has spent five years and $5,000 (including bouquets of flowers for his sleep-deprived wife) in his search for a snoring cure.

After undergoing three major operations on his nose and throat and a range of treatments, including aromatherapy, homeopathic sprays, nasal dilators, and magnet therapy, Simon still snores, though less severely.

Realizing that "everyone has a snoring story" -- as it afflicts 40% of the adult population -- Simon turned his research and personal experiences into a book, Snore No More! (Andrews McMeel, $12.95). BusinessWeek reporter Elizabeth Woyke recently spoke with Simon from his Denver home about which remedies bring relief to snorers -- and more importantly, to their significant others. (This is an extended version of the interview that appears in the September 12, 2005, issue of BusinessWeek.)

Are there any "one-size-fits-all" treatments?

Since snoring is caused by so many factors, there really is no single silver bullet to cure it -- although my wife would probably like to use a silver bullet on me every now and then.

That's why I wrote the book. It could be that you're overweight or you smoke or you have liquor at bedtime. You'll have to go through a process of elimination. And at some point, you can bring a doctor in to determine if you have any kind of structural problems in your mouth that need to be fixed.

Who's the best authority on snoring?

It depends. If you go to an ear, nose, and throat doctor, he'll probably look at surgeries and things that involve his profession. If you go to a dentist, he'll probably provide some sort of oral-medical device. If you go to a car mechanic, he'll probably say, we can put a muffler on there that will stop it. Who you seek out for help will determine what kind of cure they think is the best.

What's the cheapest and easiest cure?

Most people see an immediate reduction in snoring by learning to sleep on their side. You can train yourself to do that by buying a pocket T-shirt, then wearing it backwards and putting a tennis ball in the pocket.

Also, lose weight and don't smoke. If you ask your doctor about snoring, those are probably the three things he'll tell you to do.

What's a good strategy for people willing to invest more time and money?

The first step is to go to a sleep clinic for a polysomnogram [sleep study]. There you can determine exactly how many times you're snoring at night, how bad it is, what's causing it, and also monitor whether you're losing any oxygen or having any sleep apnea [cessation of breathing during sleep]. Also, if you do need an operation, most insurance companies will want proof from a sleep clinic that you have a medical problem.

How was your experience at a sleep clinic?

Kind of funny. I showed up at 10 p.m. At this particular sleep clinic, the room was bright white, almost like a mortuary. There were two guys who looked like vampires that put me on an operating table, wired me with electrodes, and monitored me. As soon as I fell asleep and they tracked my snoring, they woke me up and put me on another device to see if they could stop me from snoring again. It wasn't a restful experience.

What was the strangest remedy you tried?

A "Sleep Angel" -- a strap that goes over your head and keeps your mouth shut at night. You're more likely to snore if you breathe through your mouth, so it makes sense that if you keep it shut, you'll stop. But numerous times during the evening I felt like I was choking because I couldn't catch my breath.

What was the most unusual fact you discovered during your research?

That the best ear plug can only eliminate 33 decibels of noise. The average snore is between 60 and 90 decibels, so while earplugs may seem like a good solution, you still have a lot of decibels left over. I also discovered you can hear through your jawbone. So even if you've got your earplugs in and they're great, your jawbone can pick up noise vibrations. There's no way of stopping the snoring if it wants to get in.

The other thing that was kind of a wake-up call -- pardon the pun -- was that there's actual quantifiable damage to snorees [those who live with snorers]. The concept of them losing one hour of sleep a night due to snoring is an important fact to have out there. It shows that this is a serious problem, not just something that's annoying.

Does snoring have any kind of greater impact on society? Snoring and sleep deprivation cost America approximately $100 billion a year in lost productivity. But they've also created a thriving enterprise. There have been thousands of U.S. patents since 1900 for all kinds of straps, pillows, and devices designed to cure snoring. It's big business.

What has this five-year experiment to stop snoring taught you? I'm glad I was a human guinea pig. I sleep better now, I snore less, and my marriage has been saved. As long as people come up with new ideas and entrepreneurs think of new products, I'll keep experimenting. My hope is that America becomes a quieter place to live.

Are any medications ever used as a remedy?

The only over-the-counter medication I would recommend is a saline solution you spray in your nose called Ocean. If your snoring is caused by nasal irritation from pollution, allergies, or dryness, something like Ocean is a very safe, easy, and inexpensive thing to use.

There are also prescription nasal steroid sprays [such as Rhinocort and Flonase] that can help reduce nasal irritation. I recently got tested by a new ear, nose, and throat specialist, who said my snoring is probably worsened by the fact that at night, the back of my throat is getting irritated by acid reflux. So he's recommending I use a saline nasal spray, followed by a nasal steroid spray, and an antacid for my reflux.

He also wanted me to stop drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and having any kind of peppermint because they all create acid in the stomach. This may be one cure I can't do.

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