The development of a sensor you wear in bed which, its makers claim, will silence snorers for good has helped highlight a health issue that affects millions.
Snoring has been known to ruin more than just a decent night's sleep. Marriages have been fractured by it. Neighbours have fallen out over it. In the case of one man The National spoke to, work colleagues have even refused to stay in the same hotel as someone whose snoring was so severe.
Now a new device, being trialled in the US, could bring relief to the millions of people worldwide who are victims of snoring as well as sleep apnoea, the similar but more severe condition that can cause people to stop breathing for short periods in their sleep.
The latest "cure" falls into the category of a snoring cessation gadget. It's a sensor that predicts when the sleeper is about to snore and gives them a gentle nudge - in the shape of a short sound burst through an earpiece - to stop before they start.
The device, developed in the US by Dymedix, features an iPod-sized control box with a tiny sensor attached. The sensor is stuck to a snorer's top lip using an adhesive strip. When it detects a change in the wearer's breathing pattern it sends a short burst of sound through an earpiece that should subconsciously prick them into breathing normally again - all done without waking the wearer, apparently.
It may sound like an elaborate arrangement, but for sufferers and their families anything that can combat chronic snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea is desperately welcome.
Around 40 per cent of the adult population snore, with men twice as likely to as women. The bulk of snorers (almost two thirds) are aged 50 and over. Lifestyle issues such as being overweight, eating late and being stressed can all contribute to it. It can disrupt the sleep of sufferers, triggering fatigue and anxiety during the day. At its worst, snoring can ruin lives.
The social cost can be devastating, too. Snoring has caused many a couple to spend nights apart - or else left distressed women and men sitting up in the early hours praying for some salvation from their sleeping partner's nocturnal noises.
In the past, many have turned to old wives' tales or folk remedies as a means of putting a stop to it. Sewing a tennis ball into a snorer's pyjama jacket is one of the stranger methods to be tried - not entirely without good reason either. "It's true that sleeping on your back can cause snoring in some cases, since it pulls your tongue to the back of your throat and blocks the airways," explains Marianne Davey, the co-founder of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (www.britishsnoring.co.uk). "But this idea is one of a number of impractical 'cures' attempted by people who are understandably desperate to stop snoring.
"I've also heard of snorers who've attached a peg to their nose or even Sellotape over their mouths," says Davey. "But this only goes to further restrict breathing and make snoring worse."
Other sufferers have tried going down the herbal-medicine route, taking potions based on bitter orange to open the sinus passages for maximum air flow or bromelain supplements to do the same, both with mixed results.
"I use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask to stop my sleep apnoea. It works by feeding a constant stream of air to the mask and my throat through a bedside pump," explains Chris Rogers, a former promotions manager for Honda and now spokesman for the Sleep Apnoea Trust.
"I was typical of the kind of person most likely to suffer with sleep apnoea. I'm a big guy, I was overweight, with a size 19 collar, in my early fifties, I was travelling a lot with work, eating rich meals and drinking alcohol at night. My snoring got so bad that I was kicked out of the marital bed. Colleagues even refused to sleep in the same hotel as me," explains Rogers. "I'd have power naps at work which, I didn't realise at the time, was because my body was desperately in need of sleep. With sleep apnoea your snoring and erratic breathing can wake you up 200 times in a single night.
"Only when I saw my doctor and he diagnosed sleep apnoea did I really understand the extent to which my snoring was harming me. By that point I'd developed type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and gout - all of which stemmed from the fact that the poor quality of my sleep meant my body wasn't repairing itself sufficiently."
Following his diagnosis, Rogers underwent a sleep study and was fitted with a CPAP mask. "Within a week my family noticed a difference. My snoring wasn't a problem any more, I felt more energised and was able to sleep through the night without the apnoea waking me."
In 2008, the CPAP mask gained approval by the UK's health regulatory body NICE. It has now become a highly established treatment for sufferers of obstructive sleep apnoea around the world.
"The CPAP mask is the only genuine, clinically proven cure for sleep apnoea and severe snoring," adds Davey. "It prevents the fatty tissue at the back of the throat from blocking the airways - that's what causes sufferers to snore and then wake up before they can even get into a deep sleep."
That was certainly the case for Rogers, who has no qualms about having to wear a mask to bed. "If it hadn't been for this I probably wouldn't be here now," he says.
But not every snorer suffers with sleep apnoea. The condition has several levels of severity and, as a result, there is a range of treatments available that snorers have tried, including:
"These are rubbish," insists Davey. "You move around too much in your sleep to be able to rely on an external device like this. There's no clinical evidence that these work."
"People who suffer with rhinitis, a stuffy nose made worse by house dust, have found this kind of thing helps if nasal problems are the cause of their snoring," says Davey.
"These can work very well if the snoring is caused by a nasal blockage," says Davey. "They're adhesive strips that stick on the outside of the nose and hold open your nasal passage. But they can work out quite costly over time."
"These work out more economical. They're plastic dilators which can be brilliant for keeping your nasal airways clear," says Davey.
Or mandibular advancement devices, as they're known. "They're like a mouth guard," says Davey, "they work by holding the lower jaw forward and can be very effective if your snoring is caused by the movement of your tongue in your sleep."
"These are designed to prevent the mouth falling open and so help you breathe through your nose and have been found to work well by some types of snorer," says Davey.
Both Davey and Rogers suggest that snorers and sleep apnoea sufferers seek help from sleep specialists where possible. "Over-the-counter treatments may work for some, but can be a serious waste of money if you don't know the exact cause of your snoring in the first place," says Davey.