They Snooze, You Lose

What's the biggest obstacle to keeping attendees fully engaged at meetings? Is it an overloaded agenda? Think again. Socially disruptive snoring may be what's really preventing many meeting attendees from giving their full attention.

The numbers don't lie. Some 120 million Americans snore—upwards of 40 percent of the population—and approximately 80 percent of married couples sleep apart occasionally because of the problem. What has yet to be documented, however, is the number of people who attend meetings, conferences, or corporate retreats and are forced to share a room with a snorer—then have their productivity levels plummet due to lack of sleep.

Even the most well-planned meeting or staff getaway can ultimately fail if there are snorers in the crowd who are robbing their roommates of much needed rest. You can probably identify a few snorers by the way they doze off during a conference. More than likely they got a poor night's sleep themselves.

"I suffered greatly from having to room with a snorer at a conference, and that led directly to poor daytime concentration and fatigue," says Robert Salti, an account representative for the Straumann Company, an Andover, MD-based medical equipment supplier. "I've been through both room changes and roommate changes at various events, due to snoring. Once, after two days with a snorer, I told my manager, Paul Philo, that I was going to get a private room and charge my corporate account. He agreed with me, thankfully, and allowed the change."

When asked about this incident and others like it, Philo concludes "it makes no sense to gather a group of people from across the country at great expense to discuss important company business, only to have someone nod off because they are not getting sufficient sleep due to snoring."

Here are several strategies that can help minimize the effect snorers have on your meeting:

• Be mindful of the problem and anticipate it will be an issue. An estimated 59 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea (an obstructed airway that causes periodic lapses in breathing during sleep); most of them have not been diagnosed. Untreated sleep apnics often snore loudly and exhibit daytime sleepiness.

• Manage accommodations with sleep breathing disorders in mind. Pair those with disorders in the same or adjoining/adjacent rooms.

• Offer private rooms for participants with a diagnosed sleep breathing disorder, even if it means increasing the cost. What you gain in productivity will more than make up for the additional expenditure.

• Create the right environment. Allow participants to openly report a problem. Ask how participants have been sleeping during the meeting.

• Be sensitive to complaints and don't brush them off as being a minor nuisance.

• Educate on avoidance. If appropriate accommodations can't be made, provide tips on preventing snoring in the attendee's meeting packet, such as:

1. Avoid alcohol four hours before going to bed.
2. Avoid heavy foods three hours before bed.
3. Avoid sedating antihistamines and tranquilizers.
4. Avoid long, exhausting meetings that adjourn near bedtime.
5. Avoid sleeping on your back if possible, and sleep on your side if sharing a room. This can be done with pillows, and special shirts that have a tennis ball sewn on the backside.
6. Avoid being sedentary for long periods of time. Regular breaks and intervals for fresh air keep participants rested.
7. Avoid smoking and allergens known to produce allergic congestion.

No Pain, but Much Gained

What also can be expressed to snorers is that there are new, minimally invasive techniques to reduce or perhaps terminate snoring. For instance, the Pillar Procedure uses small inserts in the soft palate. The procedure takes just a few minutes in the doctor's office, and there's no downtime. Radiofrequency of the tongue is similar in that there's no downtime and minimal discomfort. Both of these are great options for those that have tried CPAP, the pressurized air masks that are just plain uncomfortable and inconvenient to travel with.

Meeting planners and attendees should begin talking about snoring issues and treatment options. It may be a little odd at first, but in the end this will bring relief to almost every individual who attends and encourage many to get the help they need. Additionally, it gives the meeting or event you have planned that much more chance to succeed.

Dr. Kayem graduated from the University of Ottawa School of Medicine in Canada in 1987; he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada (F.R.C.S.C.). In 2007, he and his associate, Michelle Putnam, M.D., launched The Snoring and Apnea Center of California, in Los Angeles. Dr. Kayem has published articles in major peer-reviewed journals and is a team physician for the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL. You can learn more about snoring and sleep apnea at www.snoring911.com.

Originally published July 1, 2008

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