LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Today in Your Health, who snores, why, and what you can do about it. We have team coverage of this important problem, beginning with NPR's Allison Aubrey.
Allison, good morning.
ALLISON AUBREY: Good morning. I know that you usually get to ask the questions, Steve, but I've got one for you this morning.
AUBREY: Do you snore?
INSKEEP: Do I snore?
AUBREY: Right. That's the question.
INSKEEP: That assumes that I sleep.
(Soundbite of laughter)
AUBREY: Yes, that is an assumption I'm making.
INSKEEP: Well, yes. Yes. I'm told. I don't know, but I'm told by wife.
AUBREY: You're told by your wife?
AUBREY: But it doesn't wake you up?
AUBREY: Huh, interesting. You know, it sounds similar to a couple I interviewed for this story, Brad and Pam Harries. They're in their early 50s, past their childbearing, baby stage of life. Pam told me she thought she was headed into some years of solid, uninterrupted sleep, but there was a glitch. Guess what he did?
INSKEEP: Sawing logs.
AUBREY: Absolutely. And you know what? He was blissfully unaware of it. Here's what Brad had to say when I asked him to recall the confusion when he was told that he snored. He remembers saying to his wife…
Mr. BRAD HARRIES: I'm sleeping fine. You know, why is everybody else complaining? But I would have a great deal of conversations with my family in the morning about the noise that was emanating out of our bedroom.
AUBREY: Pam Harries says she wasn't sleeping well, and neither were their four kids. But other than kicking her husband in bed, which silenced his snore temporarily, she didn't know the way to fix the problem. Talking with her friends, turned out many of them had the same issue. They discussed the same possible resolution.
Ms. PAM HARRIES: He had always said, you know, we can go to separate bedrooms, but…
But Pam went on to explain that this didn't sound like a healthy marriage. So finally she and her husband sought help. Doctors had him try a bunch of remedies, starting with saline sprays and breathing strips for his nose. The strips can physically open up space in the nasal passages, and they do bring relief to some snorers.
Mr. HARRIES: I'd used the strips on the nose. I used the sprays in the throat. I would, as a matter of procedure, basically sleep on my side to try and keep the noise down.
AUBREY: When none of these worked, Brad ended up in the office of Sonya Malekzadeh, an ear, nose and throat doctor at Georgetown University. She explained to him that by late middle age up to 50 percent of adults snore, and it tends to intensify over time
Dr. SONYA MALEKZADEH (Georgetown University): Basically what snoring is, is air passing over crowded tissues, and snoring can stem from narrow passages in your nose or it can stem from crowding in the back of your throat.
AUBREY: When Malekzadeh examined Brad Harries nose and throat, she saw what's very common - and this may sounds sort of gross: the soft tissue in the roof of his mouth was sagging and floppy. Think of it as something akin to wrinkles on the inside. Malekzadeh explains the trouble with floppy tissues is that they crowd the mouth and narrow the passages.
Dr. MALEKZADEH: And then air vibrates against those passages and that's where you get the snoring.
AUBREY: People who are overweight or drink alcohol before bed are more likely to snore. Alcohol relaxes tissues in the throat that can constrict the airway. And extra weight contributes because fat pads on both sides of the throat narrow air passages even further. That's why specialists first recommend weight loss.
But Brad Harries wasn't overweight. So Malekzadeh suggested to him a procedure called a pillar implant, which he decided to try. She does them in her office and it takes about an hour. She uses a local anesthesia, similar to what you'd get in a dentist chair. She makes one incision in the roof of the mouth. Then she inserts three matchstick-sized implants into the soft tissue.
Dr. MALEKZADEH: And when you put those implants in there, little matchsticks, they cause a reaction where the tissues get inflamed.
AUBREY: The inflammation leads to scarring of the skin. And as those scars harden up, all that floppy tissue in the roof of the mouth firms and tightens. Brad Harries says he went back to work the next day and he estimates his snoring is now about 50 percent better.
Mr. BRAD HARRY: The change has been dramatic.
AUBREY: Pam Harry says she and her husband are sleeping much more peacefully these days, and yes, in the same bed.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: True story: There are pictures of Allison Aubrey and her science desk colleague that you can try to match with recordings of their snores. That's right, NPR's enterprising Science Desk has a quiz: Match the snore to the reporter at npr.org.