Dealing with a partner who snores
If you’ve ever spent a sleepless night counting sheep while your partner snores, you may have found yourself briefly dreaming of the single life.
You wouldn’t be alone — in a 2022 survey, two in five respondents said they had ended a relationship over sleep incompatibility. And even if you’re able to overcome the interruptions with a white noise machine or earplugs, the repercussions in romantic relationships can reverberate long after sunrise.
Snoring is hardly a benign nuisance. Research suggests that poor sleep of any kind can lead to stress and interpersonal conflict between romantic partners. A 2016 study from the Journal of Psychophysiology found that people who slept poorly underperformed on tests that measure empathy, setting couples up to struggle when conflict inevitably arises.
Interrupted sleep can also indirectly stress relationship satisfaction by causing financial disruption and unemployment. A 2021 study found that people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a serious condition with snoring as a common symptom, are more likely than others to be let go from their jobs.
Relationship troubles are often the trigger that brings patients to Albany ENT and Allergy Services Sleep Specialist Dr. Siobhan Kuhar, Ph.D., and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine (DABSM).
“Many times, because I’m a sleep physician, patients are coming in to see me because at least one of the bed partners is perhaps beyond snoring but actually gasping awake or waking up poorly rested,” Kuhar says. “It will come to the point where people are no longer sleeping in the same bed because of it, and this will provide the motivation for the person to come in and be evaluated.”
One partner may be the chief snorer, but there’s often enough blame to go around. In fact, a proliferation of smartphone apps built to detect snoring, with names like SnoreLab and SleepWatch, suggest that plenty of partners out there are determined to prove to their significant others that they’re not so innocent, after all.
“At least half the time, you’ll hear from the person in the hot seat that their bed partner also snores,” Kuhar says.
While people can sometimes feel defensive about snoring, she emphasizes that it’s only a symptom rather than a personal shortcoming. Sleep disturbances are a normal — if frustrating — part of aging. “Snoring certainly does get worse as we get older,” she says.
Reduced muscle tone and weight gain are common culprits, causing the airway to become obstructed. Orthopedic pain can also limit individuals’ options for sleep positions, making it harder to compensate for breathing troubles. And any kind of obstruction that prevents comfortable breathing through the nose, from allergies to a deviated septum, can also contribute.
“When the mouth opens, the tongue actually falls further back,” Kuhar explains. “That’s most often the cause of that loud vibratory sound that we associate with snoring.”
The good news is that while there are a multitude of causes for snoring, it is often treatable. The first step is for the snorer to visit a doctor. Snoring can be a sign of more serious conditions, such as OSA. Once that’s been ruled out, your specialist can also check your nasal pathways for obstructions and test for allergies, especially to dust mites, which tend to concentrate in sleeping areas.
Caring for your health might also do wonders for your relationship. As Kuhar likes to say: “When I treat one person’s sleep disorder, I treat two people’s sleep problem.”
Anyone can try one of the multitude of do-it-yourself solutions, even if they haven’t yet pinpointed the underlying cause of the snoring. Dr. Kuhar recommends the following:
- If it’s comfortable, try sleeping on your side, or with your shoulders elevated.
- Cleanse your nasal lining with saline spray or rinse to wash away irritants.
- Consider environmental controls such as mattress covers and air filters to reduce allergens.
- Keep track of weight gain, which can influence the severity of snoring.
- Use adhesive nasal strips to hold the airway open.
- Try an over-the-counter mandibular advancement device, or “snore guard.”
Facts and Figures
Photo of couple in bed: iStockphoto.com/Wavebreakmedia.