Backyard, Be Less Stupid, Sex, The Latest — December 27, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Why Doesn’t My Snoring Wake Me Up?

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snore while sleepingAccording to the latest statistics, nearly 40% of adult men snore. And that number nears 100% for adult men who play husbands with a hot wife on a sitcom. Think “The King of Queens,” for example.

If you are a chronic snorer, you are likely to experience excessive tiredness as a result of not sleeping and increased risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease —  depending on the snoring’s severity. And it one case in particular — Tom Cruise’s — snoring was responsible for the break up of his marriage. I’m kidding. It was his nutty religion, Scientology.

And if you’re one of the 40% of adult men who snore, you likely have just one question: Why is my wife lying? I don’t snore.

OK, two questions. The second being, why doesn’t my snoring wake me up?

Red arrow = location of throat narrowing. Green arrow = chicken wing.
Red arrow = location of throat narrowing. Green arrow = chicken wing stuck.

Before I answer that question, let’s briefly rewind.

The noise you hear from snoring happens when the airway in the back of your throat narrows or constricts when you’re in the prone position. Then as air headed for your lungs passes over the now narrowed opening — it’s met with resistance — and the throat’s soft tissue vibrates, resulting in the familiar sounds we associate with snoring. In other words, your windpipe can collapse or become obstructed by, well, the fat in your neck, making it harder for you to breath. And as you suck in air, the space it would ordinarily fill in the back of your throat when you’re standing, is now narrowed and causing the soft tissue to vibrate and make that sound.

While snoring more commonly affects the overweight, there are some men who have a structural “problem”, meaning a naturally occurring narrowing of the throat, which causes them to snore, unrelated to their weight.

Doctors worry that severe snorers may also be suffering from apnea, a dangerous and potentially deadly condition in which the throat narrows so much so that you are momentarily deprived of oxygen while C02 builds up in your blood stream — because not only is oxygen in short supply coming in, C02 is not getting out. Snorers with severe apnea often times find themselves waking up gasping for air. People with milder cases of apnea may only wake themselves up just a bit — not enough to remember in the morning — but enough to severely disrupt the much needed sleep cycle.

If you think you are suffering from apnea, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor ASAP!

OK. Now the answer to the question, why doesn’t my own snoring wake me up? For the answer, we turn to a professional:

“Our nervous system is continuously bombarded with information that it uses to control the many processes that keep us alive and healthy and out of danger. For example it receives information from sensors that measure oxygen and carbon dioxide to regulate breathing. The brain also handles sensory information so that we can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell and are able to respond to these sensations. When we sleep, the brain continues to process vital information (for example, breathing is still controlled) but it ignores the information from the sensory organs. We are disengaged from our sensations. The information is still bombarding the nervous system, but brain centers actively filter the information. – Dr. Meir Kryger, Yale University of Medicine

In other words, while we’re sleeping, significant parts of the brain are sleeping, too. Doctors refer to this prolonged cycle of sleep, when the brain shuts down nearly entirely as, “Gary Busey-ing.”

Anyway — yes, during sleep, the brain continues to tell the heart to beat and the lungs to breath, but, in order to get some rest, as well, the brain ignores some sensory observations that it thinks are not life threatening. For example, you stay asleep while you are snoring, or if you doze off with the TV on, but if the brain senses danger like a fire alarm, you wake up. Or if the brain senses a lion rustling in the bush just outside your tent, you wake up. Or, when your brain discovers your 3 year old child has entered your bedroom to tell you about the monster under her bed, you immediately snap to attention — unable to go back to bed for a day. Perhaps even two.

So — now you know why you don’t hear your own snoring. And why it doesn’t wake you up. And, if you want more unbiased facts and information that could also save your life, as well as save you time and money, check out our 6-hour series, starring Brad Sherwood (Whose Line is it Anyway?), Chris Tallman (Reno: 911, The Sarah Silverman Show) and Mark DeCarlo (Travel Channel) and featuring scientists from UCLA, Fermi Lab and Cedars Sinai Medical Center, among many others.

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