Tell anyone he or she snores loudly and the immediate response will be an emphatic “I do not!”
That reaction is not always a denial of their snoring problem. A lot of loud snorers are not aware that they snore. They may keep other people awake with their loud snores but they won’t wake themselves up from all that racket. Yes, even though their snores can reach more than 100 decibels – the loud roar of a Boeing 747 before landing or a power lawn mower – they do not wake up because of it.
There are a number of reasons for this. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 40% of adult males snore and most of them are not aware of their snoring problems. Snoring in itself is not a problem but it can lead to more serious problems like increased risk for heart diseases and cognitive decline.
So, why do people not wake up to the sound of their own snoring?
Despite all the racket they are making in their sleep, their loud snores do not wake them up. Is it because they are deaf to their own snores?
The answer, to put it simply, is no. But there are a few reasons why people do not wake up to the sound of their own snoring, and they are listed below.
- They’re in the stage of deep sleep.
People have different sensitivities to sounds at different stages of sleep. A person in a deep slow wave sleep stage will not awaken from loud sounds, even noises as loud as a jackhammer being used nearby.
Snorers do wake up from time to time due to their own snoring. They just do not realize it or remember it when they wake up the next day.
A particularly big snort will wake the person up, but only for a few seconds. That very short span of time is not enough to fully awaken the person and have that waking episode be registered on the conscious brain. This explanation is put forth by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on why people think they do not wake up to the sound of their snoring.
This quick sleep interruption may seem too short to make any profound impact on sleep. However, these seemingly harmless sleep disturbances can increase sleepiness during the day, along with low energy levels and other symptoms of sleep disturbance.
- The brain is selective to noise disturbances when one is asleep.
Another reason for not waking up to the sound of one’s own snore is that the brain is selective when it comes to sensory information it encounters. It does not always respond to every stimulus it encounters. Responses, when they do happen, are not always of the same intensity.
The brain has the capacity to collect information and process it, determining which one warrants immediate attention and which ones are better ignored. The ones that the brain recognizes as a potential threat to life are the ones given the most attention, with the most immediate or intense response. Those that are not deemed as life-threatening are either left alone or responded to in a less intense manner.
For example, people will wake up to the gentle mention of their name but not to their raucous snoring. They will immediately snap to attention when they hear a window breaking but not to the sound of their own snores.
Again, this is because the brain selects what to react to and to what degree, according to Dr. Meir Kryger of the Yale University School of Medicine. If the brain thinks that the sound is urgent or life-threatening, then it will wake the person up. If the brain decides that the sound is not threatening, it will tune it out. That’s how the brain treats snoring.
However, in case of sleep apnea (inadequate oxygen supply during sleep), the brain detects low oxygen levels related to snoring. It will wake the person up for a few seconds to readjust position and improve airflow.
- The brain tunes out continuous sound while one is asleep.
Take a look at people who have problems falling and staying asleep. One solution is for them to listen to soothing music to lull them to sleep. Some sleep experts even recommend playing the music on loop to keep an individual in a state of slumber. That’s because the brain recognizes the music as a continuous sound, deems it harmless, and thus doesn’t “bug” the person to wake up. That’s how sound and sleep work.
Snoring is considered a continuous sound. The brain has the tendency to tune out repeated, persistent stimuli such as snoring. It’s a natural response in order to give the brain peace to be able to fall asleep.
This natural response helps in optimizing and streamlining brain functions. The brain tunes out certain repetitive stimuli so it can concentrate its efforts on more important things. At first, the brain will pay attention to a stimulus. It will observe and see if that stimulus is potentially threatening. If not, then the brain will reduce the attention it gives. If the stimulus persists, the brain will eventually ignore it because it’s not that important.
Tuning out is a natural response to reduce the amount of stimuli that the brain has to process. This explanation was presented by Dr. Raj Kakar, the director of Dallas Center for Sleeping Disorders. Dr. Kakar went on to explain that a snorer’s brain has become so used to the snore that the brain is no longer giving it much attention.
The reasons stated above are just some of the attempts made to discover the reasons behind why snoring doesn’t wake up the snorer. Further research still needs to be done to pinpoint the exact causes. Still, one thing is important: Snoring can be harmful to the snorer and the people around him. Aside from the aforementioned increased risk of cognitive decline and heart diseases, being exposed to the loud sounds of snoring (90 decibels or more) for more than 8 hours can cause permanent ear damage, according to the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). That’s why it’s important to seek help once one is aware that he or she has a snoring problem.