To Sleep; Perchance To Snore

My wife Carol began snoring sometime during her pregnancy with our son Josh, so that means it was almost thirty years ago that our sleep patterns were first disturbed. When I say “our sleep patterns,” I mean “my sleep pattern.” She tends to sleep through the commotion. My favorite comment is when she denies she’s been snoring because, “I’m not even asleep yet.” Well, if there’s such a thing as waking dreams, then I guess there can be waking snoring.

At first, I’d gently and affectionately rub her back to interrupt the noise and lull her back into a quieter rest. Over the years, the volume, intensity and duration became increasingly cacophonous, so that gentle touch became a more muscular, less empathy-driven approach. I’d shake her shoulder, and if that didn’t work sometimes I’d put my hand on her back and push. Rarely, however, were any of these efforts successful in the long term (defined as “at least two hours of relative quiet”). As her snoring became more persistent, and my efforts to quell it provided a decreasing return on investment, I finally moved out of our bed together and started to sleep in the guest room, eliminating the disturbance for both of us. This caused some feelings of abandonment, so every now and then I’d spend the night back in the queen-size to reinstate the cuddling, spooning, and general sense of togetherness that sleeping separately undermined. Rarely, however, would we make it through an entire night in the same bed. At some point when one of my REM cycles was near an end, her snoring would slice through the thin membrane of near-consciousness and wake me up. I’d lie there, frustrated and pounding the pillow, and finally move down the hall back into my own sleep sanctum.

I tried earplugs but found them uncomfortable – I’d fall asleep, but wake up after ninety minutes or so feeling as though balloons were in my ears, about to pop. I found if I went to bed first, it sometimes gave me a chance to fall asleep before Carol climbed into bed, and occasionally I’d make it through a good portion of the night not hearing her – but only one out of every five or six evenings. We tried various “white noise” strategies with no greater success. At one point, my wife asked her doctor if anything could be done to treat her snoring. After an examination, he said there were two courses of treatment – either surgery to remove her uvula or examination in a sleep clinic since she exhibited the classic symptoms of sleep apnea. She dismissed the idea of surgery (I agreed), and instead spent a night in the sleep clinic under observation (during which I slept soundly). A few days later she picked up a CPAP machine, a device designed to keep her airway open while sleeping and thereby eliminate the snoring. However, the machine made quite a racket of its own, and the mask she had to wear left her skin grooved and irritated in the morning. The CPAP went to the back of our closet, and the snoring resumed.

Several years ago, I accepted a job offer that would move us to Boston. I came up first, staying in a studio apartment on my own until Carol was ready to leave her job and make the transition. Ironically, in my Boston apartment I finally got comfortable sleeping with earplugs, since my studio was next to the Mass Pike and across from the Back Bay train station. Between relentless traffic noise and early morning train arrivals, earplugs were required if I were to sleep at all. After several months we were finally reunited in our new city and a larger (and quieter) loft apartment in the South End. Now that I was earpluggable, we resumed sleeping in the same bed, with greater success. There were still some nights when I was restless, or Carol’s snoring was so extreme that I would move to a small bed tucked beneath the loft stairs, but usually we were able to make it through the night together. Our son, then age twenty, decided to stay behind when Carol moved north, but six months later decided to come to Boston to be closer to us and so stayed “temporarily” in our loft. It turned out to be a six-month residency. Josh slept in that little bed under the stairs, so I was forced to remain in the loft regardless of my restlessness or that night’s decibel level. Now that my option to relocate was eliminated, it seemed Carol’s snoring intensified. I’m sure that was just my perception, but still… even the earplugs didn’t help.

Our son has since moved into his own apartment, and we’ve moved from the loft to a much larger two-bedroom space in Cambridge. Except when we have overnight company visiting, the guest room is “my room”. Our relationship is still a little unsettled by not always sleeping together after so many years as a happy and loving couple, but we’ve come to the realization that we get along better during our waking hours together when we’re both well-rested from the night before.

In those first months in Boston, shortly after Josh came to stay with us, Carol went out of town for a few days to attend a conference. I had the loft bedroom all to myself and looked forward to a few nights’ worth of deep, quiet sleep. I woke up after a very satisfactory slumber the first morning after she’d left and went downstairs to get ready for work. My son began to rouse after I came down. I asked him how he’d slept and he mumbled, “Not very well.” When I asked him why not, he raised himself on one elbow, glared at me from beneath heavy eyelids, and said, “Because you SNORED ALL NIGHT.”

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