Snorers; we’ve heard them in huts, now we hear what they have to say.
“I am everybody’s nightmare,” says tramper Paul Brewer.
“I snore on my stomach, on my back, on my side, standing up – I’m just a loud snorer.”
The clamorous condition has affected Brewer – and his neighbours – since he was a young boy and he’s yet to find a solution.
“I had the back of my throat operated on, and it just had the effect of increasing the volume,” he says. “I’m louder than a D9 bulldozer. I’ve got a guy who lives three houses away who regularly comments on my snoring.”
Brewer, 64, tries to get out tramping once a month with his brother, and he leaves a trail of earplugs in his wake.
“Usually women will take the plugs but the guys won’t, and the next morning you’ll see more than a few shattered looks and comments,” he says.
Being a sonorous snorer has provided Brewer plenty of anecdotes, which he tells in good humour.
He recalls waking to an empty bunk room at a youth hostel in Switzerland, and – thinking he had slept past his 10am check out time – he jumped out of bed, only to find his bunkmates all sleeping in the hallway.
Brewer apologised, and asked why nobody had tried to wake him.
“Then a guy with a black eye stepped forward and said ‘I did’ – I’d punched him in my sleep,” he says.
While Brewer is considerate to honest hut-users, his graciousness only extends so far.
One cold night in the Tararua Ranges, he shared Alpha Hut with a group of university students.
“There was a little room off to one side, so I decided I would sleep in there until I realised I was the only person there with a hut pass,” he says. “I thought, bugger it, I’m not going to sleep in an icebox, so I slept in their room. The next morning, these budding lawyers all went off at me, until I quietly pointed out I was the only one who paid.”
Though his night noises have deprived many of sleep over the years, Brewer has rarely been met with aggression.
“I’m big enough that people just talk to me nicely,” he says.
Not so for Kreig Leitchze, who has tried everything to soothe his snoring; surgery, tablets, sprays – even a $3000 mouthguard.
His involuntary vibrations are so loud, they have ruined relationships, and Leitchze sympathises with trampers sharing a hut with him.
“I know it’s annoying – people want to go out and experience nature, and they get a forest full of chainsaws,” he says.
Leitchze tends to visit ‘out of the way’ huts to avoid being disruptive, and always carries a shelter just in case.
In a busy hut, he tries to be the last to go to bed to give others a chance to sleep, and if others are intending to stay up late, he goes to bed early so bunkmates can opt for another bunk room or grab earplugs when they hear him.
While non-snorers often gravitate towards the smallest bunk room for a better chance of sleep, Leitchze warns that conscientious snorers also opt for the smaller room, in a bid to bother fewer people.
As a last line of defence, Leitchze carries ear protection wherever he goes.
“I buy earplugs by the industrial box, and I take dozens of pairs,” he says.
When he arrives at a hut, he offers a pair to every tramper, and always leaves a handful on the table for those who change their mind in the night.
Despite his best efforts to quell the quakes, Leitchze has endured late night verbal abuse and hurled projectiles in tramping huts.
“Snorers are often the most courteous people in the hut – we know we’re putting people out, and we are very self-conscious about it,” he says.
“I try to do whatever I can, but what annoys me is the people who still yell at me in the middle of the night or throw stuff – look mate, now you’re just being a dick.”
The anxiety of keeping others awake has plagued Shelley Reive, 28, for around five years.
“Prior to that I really only shared sleeping spaces with my best friend, and if he takes out his hearing aides he can’t hear me at night so it could have been a lot longer,” she says.
“My snoring sounds like a bear growling – not a cartoon bear, but a pissed off grizzly whose cubs you’re getting too close to.”
The grizzly growls became a point of embarrassment when an ex-partner started teasing her about them – and hearing them played back exacerbated her fears.
“In the lead up to a hiking trip, I downloaded SnoreLab, an app that records you all night. I hoped to download it to ease my snore anxiety, but it made it so much worse,” she says.
The slumber rumbles have affected the way Reive approaches any group sleep situation.
“I’m already not comfortable sleeping with others, but since being told how loud I am I will always try and sleep far away from others,” she says.
This means tramping with a tent, even if there is a hut, and setting up as far away from others as possible.
“I try not to fall asleep until I hear others asleep, I always try and warn people about it, and I nag people in the morning to tell me how bad I was,” she says.
“Sleep is such a glorious thing after a long day of tramping, and to know I could be ruining everyone’s night makes me really sad.”
Sleep Clinic clinical director Dr Alex Bartle says snoring doesn’t just affect the sleep of those within earshot – it also disrupts the snorer’s sleep.
“Your body pours out adrenaline to semi wake you up to open your airway, and you can knock yourself out of your sleep cycle,” he says.
While snorers often fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night, their sleep isn’t usually as sound as non-snorers.
“It’s the quality of sleep, not the quantity of sleep that suffers,” Dr Bartle says, and consequences can include cardiovascular problems, cognitive impairment and lower testosterone levels.
Snoring often sneaks up on sleepers in later life, and can be influenced by alcohol, smoking, sleeping tablets, weight gain, allergies and abnormalities in the soft palate.
“I see a lot of people who have stopped going tramping and camping because they’ve started snoring and are embarrassed about it,” he says.
A change of lifestyle, such as losing weight or avoiding alcohol, can relieve snoring, as can a range of devices, such as nasal dilators, mouthguards and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines.
Dr Bartle says none of the remedies are overly attractive, but it won’t matter when the lights are off.
“Your partner doesn’t care what you look like, they just want you to shut up after you say goodnight,” he says.
“If your testosterone is higher, your libido goes up, so, far from being a passion killer, [remedies] actually enhance it.”