In My Family, Snoring Has Pretty Much Always Been a Spectator Sport

In my family, snoring has pretty much always been a spectator sport

Along about the time football players began putting those little pieces of tape on their noses, I busted mine. I was out logging one afternoon when a rotten limb fell off a tree and hit me so hard that I knew right away it was an emergency room situation.

Not long after the doctor fixed me up, I awoke from my customary afternoon nap to find my wife and baby granddaughter staring at me with amazement. "You don't snore anymore," my wife said. "We have been standing here for ten minutes waiting for you to snore and you never once did." The physician had not only repaired my nose, it turned out; he had eliminated my snoring, as well.

I had mixed feelings about that. Napping and snoring go way back in my family, as does the tradition of bringing babies into the napping area to marvel at the racket. One of my earliest memories is of my mother carrying me in her arms to stand in the doorway of my grandfather's office, where he was napping on the sofa, so that I would know where all that noise was coming from.

I was impressed, but it was nothing new to me. Momma herself could shake the dirt dauber nests out from under the eaves of the house. She generated such a commotion that sometimes she even woke herself up. She would give out with an extra-loud snort, sit bolt upright in bed and irritatedly demand information from any bystanders.

I realize, of course, that we Whites do not have a monopoly on snoring. Sleep specialists at the Harvard Medical School report that one out of every four adults snores regularly and nearly half of us snore occasionally. Most people, unlike my relatives, are intolerant of snoring, and their contempt drives many of the afflicted to seek out cures. Over the years, hundreds of gimmicks and gadgets have been advertised.

One device enables you to attach a little machine to your teeth; the vibrations from snoring activate a mechanism that gags you and wakes you up. Some snorers have a tennis ball sewn into their pajama shirt to discourage them from sleeping on their backs. Others use an extra pillow or prop up the head of their bed a few inches, a ploy that helps keep the air passage clear.

Then there are those little pieces of tape I mentioned earlier. Snorers (and football players) stick them across their noses to increase the volume of air taken in through the nose and reduce the volume taken in through the mouth.

Snorers are willing to spend money on these devices mainly to placate their sleeping partners. Apparently many non-snorers don't understand how easy it is to become accustomed to a constant environmental stimulus. I once knew an old woman who got habituated to the shriek of a smoke detector that malfunctioned for more than a week. At first, she beat at the offending instrument with a broom handle but was unable to knock it down. (I knew this was true because, when I visited her, I could see thousands of dents on the ceiling, some remarkably far from the target.) Next she tried sleeping on the porch, but it was cold out there, so eventually she moved back inside. "What the heck," she finally decided. "It wasn't no worse than a big cricket." Or, she might have added, a loud snorer.

My mother's grandmother was legendary. She had some friends who used to come out to her house in the country for a get-together every now and then. They would have coffee, take a walk in the garden and then go into the music room to play the piano and sing. A bunch of servants fixed lunch and served it in the dining room. Afterward the ladies would retire to separate bedrooms for a nap. My great-grandmother's room was at the far opposite end of that big house from the kitchen, but the servants down there could still hear her snoring. That was their cue to go ahead and eat up what was left of the tiny sandwiches and the frenched green beans and drink the little sip of wine that was left over. The descendants of those feast-removers told me the cue was so loud that the people who were out working in the fields would stop what they were doing and comment.

But my mother's father was the champion. As soon as he got through with his lunch, he would wander off looking for a good place to lie down. Sometimes he would go out in the yard and find, according to the season, a sunny spot on the grass or some shade under a bush. He would lie flat on his back and fall asleep. Pretty soon the caterpillars would be shaken from the leaves they were eating. The earthworms would come up to get rid of the itch from the vibration of the dirt against their integuments. If it was dry, sand would sift down into the doodlebug holes, and the bugs would begin to throw it back out. We children would stand in the dappled shade and marvel at it all.

For a while after my nose job, I felt badly about being silenced. I was the only one left who had inherited the snoring trait. Then one afternoon I was awakened from my silent nap by a new noise in the bed beside mine. I lay in a waking-up daze and listened carefully. It certainly did sound familiar. Finally I decided to take a peek, and sure enough, there was my baby granddaughter taking her own after-lunch nap. I lay back down and dropped off easily for a few minutes more.

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