Mary Kenny: I'd scarcely ever thought about snoring until I shared a room with a friend on our holidays
I know that snoring can cause conflict in marriages and relationships, because I've heard people complain about it. "I have to sleep in the spare room - his snoring is intolerable!" "We've tried every remedy - but the snoring goes on... awful!" But now I have discovered that it can prompt tensions even in friendships. And the revelation hasn't been a pleasant one for me.
This is what happened. Last month, I went on a short European city break with an old friend, Laura. She's very nice, cultivated, interested in the arts, and has a great sense of humour: like me, she's a widow. We often visit the theatre together and we get along well.
The budget package trip involved a shared bedroom with twin beds.
All went well at the beginning, and we had a lovely first day looking at beautiful paintings, one of the purposes of the trip. But then, came the problem.
"Mary!" cried Laura from across the hotel bedroom.
"Stop snoring! I can't get a wink of sleep!"
"Do I snore?" I asked innocently. I wasn't aware of that.
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Never remember having any snoring complaints before. Well, maybe occasionally my late husband would suggest I should sleep on my side, to reduce the odd sleep-snort that might occur. But it was never an issue. I told Laura I'd try not to snore, and set off for bye-byes again. "Mary!" came the repeated cry. "You're snoring again!"
"Look - I'm trying not to!" I said, suspecting that it was Laura's fault for being an exceptionally light sleeper. She also couldn't bear the sound of a ticking alarm-clock in a bedroom.
I set about auto-hypnotising myself not to snore. "I won't snore, I won't snore, I won't snore." But apparently, I still did, although I am completely unaware of this reflex - I'm asleep, after all!
The next day, I suggested we shop for some ear plugs. So we ventured into a pharmacy and I endeavoured to explain in my halting German what was required. "Things - in ears - to stop noise too loud".
Various ear plugs were offered and one set was chosen.
After another day gazing on more Renaissance paintings and visiting stunning Rococo palaces, the same nocturnal pattern recurred. "Mary! Stop snoring!" The ear plugs were totally ineffective.
Oh dear. What could I do about this? A separate room wasn't part of the city break package. Moreover, Laura started off on a more depressing discourse about what snoring might mean. It could be a sign of sleep apnea - when you're at risk of forgetting to breathe. It could be an indication of all sorts of health problems.
"You should book into a sleeping clinic," Laura suggested, a little heartlessly. "Get a diagnosis of why you have this snoring problem."
Do I have a snoring 'problem'? Surely, it's whoever happens to be in earshot who has the problem. Yet she had me concerned.
Laura heard that one way to halt snoring was to bark like a dog at the snorer. She tried barking like a dog. It woke me up, but then, it seems, I went back to the snoring.
I wondered if she was exaggerating her apparent insomnia caused by my snoring. I awoke during the night and saw that she was sleeping away contentedly. I also noted that she sometimes talked in her sleep. So I got something of my own back. "Don't you realise you talk in your sleep? Gobbledegook, too!"
Laura also speculated that the evolutionary reason for snoring came from some primitive part of the brain - the bit left over from our reptile ancestors - as an aggressive reflex to keep away predators.
Besides a sleep clinic, maybe I needed a shrink.
I'm the kind of person who nods off as soon as hitting the pillow, but now I started feeling nervous about falling asleep at all. As soon as I'd drop off, I'd probably snore, and I was depriving someone else of their slumber. Anxiety now replaced my normally easy shut-eye.
The issue cast a shadow over the shared trip, and awakened in me - ironically - issues that I hadn't before contemplated.
I began researching snoring, and it seems that it can be linked to obesity, pregnancy, alcohol, lung disease, ageing, medication, heart problems, blood pressure, the threat of stroke and any number of ear, nose, throat illnesses and deformities. Snoring can also be a symptom of the approach of death. (Thanks a bunch!)
The internet is awash with alleged cures and remedies, which indicates that countless numbers of people must be seeking help with snoring.
You can get medical strips and special pillows and nasal sprays and nose-clips and a mask which looks like something out of a kinky sex manual.
Although the snoring question was extremely bothersome, one shouldn't let a spate of snoring spoil a friendship, and it won't. But for the next city break abroad, with any companion, it has to be separate bedrooms. How, I wondered, did folk manage in times gone by when sharing beds, let alone bedrooms, was the norm?
On the flight home, Laura said: "You should record yourself during a night's sleep, and so you can listen to yourself snoring." That, as Lord Palmerston said about dying, is the last thing I shall do.