When I tried to fall asleep in a cramped DOC hut on the side of the Whanganui River, I heard a lot of different sounds.

The rustling of sleeping bags. The gushing river. A lone mosquito and a cheeky morepork in the distance.

Oh, and the symphony of snores. 

There were your chill mouthbreathers. The rumbling white noise snorers. And then one person in the other room who genuinely sounded like he needed urgent medical attention. 

“The sounds coming out of that room,” a friend laughed the next morning. “Fucking wild.”

Snoring etiquette is something we have to navigate more often in summer. Whether it’s at a music festival with friends or plane trips with strangers. 

So should snorers feel bad about snoring in public? If you’re really shocking, should you just opt out of the trip or get your own room? Or should everyone else just get some earplugs and get over it? 

So many questions that need answers.

Snoring on a bender

Gus Bell, George Bourke and Jack Gow are three mates in their 30s who spent a week partying together on Great Barrier Island over New Year's. As expected, this meant sleeping in close quarters on whatever surface you could find. 

Gus and George both preface that they never used to be snorers, but whether it’s certain sleeping positions or certain substances - they’ve been snoring up a storm.

“Sometimes I feel like I'm still awake and then I get woken up by people saying ‘you are really fucking loud’,” George says. 

“I’d be so angry because it's like ‘What do I do? I don't even know that I'm snoring. I literally have no idea what I'm doing’,” he laughs. “But I’ve been on the other end and what else do you do? I don’t like throwing pillows at Gus.”

“Were you throwing pillows at me the other night?” Gus says. “George was on the floor last night snoring his ass off and we didn’t even touch him. We let him fucking breathe. Whereas you threw a pillow at my face.”

“I can hear them both just going hammer and tong,” Jack says. “It’s like a lawn mower that’s not cutting the grass properly.”

“But you were snoring last night too,” George says.

“We’ve all been snoring massively. This is the thing. Everybody snores more when you’re on the piss.”

Alcohol and snoring

Angela Campbell is an associate professor at WellSleep Centre, an Otago University sleep clinic. She says snoring is always worse after a night of drinking because alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant. 

“You have lots of muscles around your neck and when they are relaxed too much then your airways will get smaller and you will get the vibration of snoring,” she says.

While cutting out alcohol before bed will help, she says it’s probably not a realistic solution when you’re on a bender. So what do you do about it? Do you wake a snorer?

I don't think there's any harm in giving them a little prod,” she says. “Especially if that makes them roll over.”

“When you're on your back, you've got the forces of the muscles around the airway pushing in and you’ve got your jaw which is pushing back. But when you’re on your side you don’t have those same effects of gravity on the airways so there’s a lot more room for air to pass through.”

Jack says waking up a snorer is “100% allowed” and a kick to the leg is the most effective technique he’s come across. 

But Gus and George say rolling someone over on their side is the best way to handle a snorer. 

“If you wake up to someone rolling you over, you instantly know why they are moving you and you can get back to sleep pretty easily,” Gus says. “But if someone throws something it’s just rude.”

Snoring etiquette: where you are and who you’re with

Healy Jones and Bianca Clothier-Spence, two 26 year olds living in Auckland, say there is different snoring etiquette for different relationships and situations.

“I think if it’s your partner who snores the rules are different,” Healy says. 

“You're allowed to be pissed off if it's a recurring thing. So waking up a partner to roll them over is completely okay and you should work out a long-term solution.”

“But it’s completely different if it's a one-night stand for example and they keep you up all night. You chose to be there and you don’t really owe each other anything, so you just have to suck it up.”

Bianca says camping or festivals are safe spaces for snorers. “You're surrounded by a bunch of different noises and no one goes to a festival expecting to have a good night's sleep. But if you're keeping someone up every night, you need to sort it out.”

When it comes to snoring in public, Healy says the snorer could give people a heads up.

“Everyone deserves to have fun and have a good time, so you can’t make a stranger feel bad for snoring.  They have just as much right to be there as everyone else. But just try to mitigate it as much as you can, if you are going to keep a whole hut up, give them a heads up, have some extra ear plugs, wear those mouthguards, move yourself to the back of the room where it doesn’t disturb as many people. Or let people know so they can get to sleep first.

“I think it's about being considerate,” she says.

Bianca says we also need to normalise couples sleeping in separate rooms if they can’t sleep well together. 

Sleeping in separate rooms can have a stigma attached to it because it’s seen as something your parents do after an argument, she says.

“It’s strange how funny people get about it. But I don’t see the problem. There are people madly in love, living their lives but they happily sleep in different rooms. It could save a relationship because otherwise you’re just losing sleep and getting angry at someone.”

What else can we do about snoring? 

Here are snoring specialist Angela Campbell’s suggestions:

Use an extra pillow: “We call it upper body elevation, so it’s not just your head being elevated, it’s your chest too. So have one pillow under your back and then two under your head. If you’re on an angle, it means that the airways are less likely to start collapsing and vibrating, which is the snoring.”

Golf ball trick: “If you have problems with your partner rolling back on their back, you can do a simple adjustment to their pyjamas by sewing a little pocket on the back and putting something really small and hard like a golf ball. Basically what it means is when they roll over onto their back, it's really uncomfortable. So they roll back on their side again.”

Try mouthguards: “Mouthguards are good because they are designed to fit over your top and bottom teeth and pull your lower jaw forward a little bit to make the airway a little bit bigger at the back of your throat so you get more airflow. 

But we also have to remember, if you're sleeping with something on your teeth for eight hours every night, you may notice teeth movement. So it’s important to chat with your dentist first and get a mouthguard custom-made, not just a stock standard one that may not fit properly.”

Avoid mouth taping: “I’m not a fan because if your nasal path is obstructed, and you take your other air passage out - you’re not leaving much to breathe with. Without any sort of professional input, I wouldn't recommend it at all.”

Losing weight: “When we get a bit older or put on some weight, we end up with little fat pads around our neck muscles. These can push down on the airway so we get snoring. So if it’s possible, losing a few kilos can help too.”

Surgery can be an option: “If you are worried about snoring and thinking about a permanent fix, an Ear Nose and Throat doctor may recommend surgery. One thing we do see happen is people with really big tonsils snore. So sometimes taking your tonsils out creates more space in the back of your airways.”

Talk to your GP about sleep apnoea: “If you find yourself gasping, choking, having pauses in your breath, trying to catch your breath during the night or feeling sleepy throughout the day - these are all red flags for sleep apnoea and you should see your GP about this. 

“Sleep apnoea is a serious sleep disorder but is often left undiagnosed because snoring is common and there is also a stigma around it so people don’t want to talk about it. 

“But when it comes to chronic sleep apnoea we know it can have long-term side effects on cardiovascular health, so it’s really important to take this seriously.”

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