Gerry Farrell: The A-Zzzzz of snoring cures

Snoring can affect the sleep of you and your partner. Picture: Esme Allen
Snoring can affect the sleep of you and your partner. Picture: Esme Allen
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My big pal Les had been on tour in Ireland with his rugby mates. The après-rugby had been rowdier than the game itself.

As he came down the hotel stairs for breakfast the wee red-haired concierge was waiting for him.

“Did you have a good night, sorr?”

“Er, I think so.”

“How are you feeling now, sorr?”

“Not too bad, considering how much Guinness I poured down my neck. I’m just a wee bit sore around the top of my body. Maybe a bit of bruising from the rucking and scrummaging.”

“The rucking and scrummaging, is it sorr? I don’t think so. I was on duty about four in the morning when I heard a noise like two big Galway pigs making love. I followed the sound round the corner and there you were lying on your back snoring, half-in and half-out of the lift, with the automatic doors opening and shutting on your rib cage.”

I never imagined that years later I’d be the one with the snoring problem.

My wife’s a lovely woman but she needs her sleep. My snoring soon started to wipe the smile off her face. She was worried about me, too. I would suddenly stop breathing for a few seconds then wake up, splutter, gasp . . . and start snoring again.

This is called OSA – Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – my doctor told me. The muscles around your airway get floppy and block the flow of air. In many ways it can upset the snorer as badly as their long-suffering other half. If you don’t get enough sleep at night you wake up knackered and you feel tired all day.

Weeks came and went as I waited for my appointment at Edinburgh’s famous sleep clinic. I had plenty of time to read up on OSA – or Obnoxious Snoring Ailment as my missus re-christened it. The typical sufferer is an overweight, middle-aged male with a big neck who wakes up exhausted with a sore throat and a headache. How flattered I felt when I read that description. Then I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.

I hadn’t taken much persuading to get my snoring sorted. Zsuzsa, who is from Budapest, told me there is an operation they do there where they snip a bit of flesh out of your throat. Ouch. That got me looking round for a cure that didn’t sound so brutal.

I was very taken with a product called Snore No More till I saw what was in the box – a boxing glove on a stick for your partner to pummel you with. Another “Guaranteed Cure For Snoring” turned out to be an electric collar that gave you a nasty shock every time you started snoring.

On Coronation Street, Deirdre’s cure for Ken’s noisy adenoids was a bra with a tennis ball in each cup to be strapped to his back so he would be forced to turn on to his side. I’ll try most things but I draw the line at wearing a bra to bed.

The folk at the sleep lab offered me something rather more technical: a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) breathing machine. It pumps air down your pipe through a mask all night, keeping your airway open. For many snorers this is the end of their troubles but CPAP and I were uncomfortable bedfellows. I took the machine back and signed up for what the nurses said was my last chance: a Mandibular Repositioner Appliance. It’s a soft, tailor-made, silicon gum shield you put in your mouth just before you go to sleep. It forces your lower jaw out, opening your airways. And guess what? It works. I just slept three nights without snoring.

I’d like to thank the NHS, the staff at the sleep lab and Professor James McDonald, the twinkly consultant orthodontist who had it made for me. Now the only reminders of my snoring are the recordings Zsuzsa made on her phone to shock me into fixing it. They might come in handy if we ever need an audio track of a warthog wallowing in a mudhole.

My little robot writer’s doing fine . . so far

It says “Gerry Farrell” in big blue letters above this column. There’s also a photo of me with my missing tooth retouched back in by Zsuzsa to save on dental bills.

This creates the impression in your minds that I actually think up my own stories and string the words together myself, tapping them on to a keyboard with two of my sausage fingers.

Is it even possible that I don’t? Could you instinctively tell the difference between the scribblings of a flesh-and-blood journalist and the outpourings of a pre-programmed random word generator?

As it turns out, many of us can’t. For several months now, Associated Press has been using robots to write stories. They publish 3000 of these every quarter and that number’s only going to rise.

These auto-hacks have cute names, too. The Los Angeles Times uses one called Quakebot to report on earthquakes. Last Monday, Ken Schwenke, an LA Times journalist and programmer, was shaken awake by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and ran to his computer where a brief report about the quake was already written and waiting in the system. He hit the “Publish” button and that’s how the LA Times became the first media outlet to break the news of the quake.

“I think we had the story up in three minutes,” said Schwenke.

Well that’s good, isn’t it? A clever journalist could have his own army of slave-bots combing the internet, sifting through all the stuff out there while he sleeps, bringing back the juiciest morsels, earning cash for column inches. The way it’s going, you could soon have your own pet crew of story-ants, helping you to post bite-sized bulletins of your life on Facebook – how fat your cat’s getting; the slow but steady progress you’re making with your toenail fungus; regular updates on how beautiful and clever your children are.

The only problem I can foresee is that the software could become corrupted and tweezle dibitty dibit fizz-tonk nyurp nyurp eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee nunk nunk fa-dump.