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When is my partner's snoring more than annoying?

Mar 11, 2016
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Tamara Kaye Sellman, RPSGT, CCSH
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sleep apnea, my husband's snoring, snoring, husband snoring

snoring_man_cartoon.jpgRemember, as a child, watching cartoons and seeing the creative, charming ways in which snoring was depicted? People floating above their beds with the inhale, landing softly with the exhale... the cute whistling noises and soft rattles reimagined into amusing songs?

That's probably not the way your bedpartner snores.

If only the charming, harmless snoring depicted in cartoons could replace the ugly, dangerous reality of sleep-disordered breathing.

We hear the laments about snoring bedpartners at the sleep center all the time and thoroughly appreciate the frustration that comes of living with a loved one who snores or has other breathing issues while they sleep. Most people who snore do not realize they snore, so it's very easy for them to deny it even happens. 

The sound of the snoring may not be the only thing that is off-putting... The sleep deprivation you endure night after night, being a captive audience, is no small thing either.

Time to take action

You have probably discussed this problem with your spouse or partner already. And they have likely denied it's a problem, or become defensive about it. Or, if they admit they snore, they may brush it off as nothing to worry about. 

Sounds like your partner probably watched the same cartoons you did as a kid.

But here's the problem -  at least 50% of snorers ALSO have obstructive sleep apnea, a serious medical problem that requires treatment. And even if it is only snoring, medical research has pointed to increased risks for chronic health issues if it's left untreated.

What is snoring? 

In essence, snoring is your throat trying to be a musical instrument: as air flows through a narrow airway, the walls start to vibrate, resulting in a variety of noises: whistling, groaning, growling, or rumbling. The tone and loudness of snoring depends on various factors including the shape of the throat, the depth of breathing, and whether air is passing mostly through the nose, mouth or both. 

Snoring tends to be loudest when sleeping on the back. This is why a wife's go-to response to her husband's snoring is to shove, nudge, or poke him until he turns over. Sadly, some people snore in all body positions, so simply rolling over is not a foolproof exit strategy for either spouse.

Is snoring harmless?

Snoring is never normal. Snoring signifies that there is a bottleneck somewhere in the upper airway. We were not meant to snore.

People who are chronic snorers often suspect something is wrong, but they can't quite put their finger on what it is. They wake up groggy, have raw throats or cottonmouth, feel grumpy, can't concentrate, forget things, suffer from low libido, or feel like they could nap all day long.

Sleep deprivation can also be a concern for snorers, who often experience broken-up sleep (also known as sleep fragmentation); untreated snoring can lead to sleep deprivation and a growing sleep debt that becomes difficult to "pay off."

And remember: untreated snoring is not a one-way street. For spouses and bedpartners, these same risks and challenges also come into play...

...especially when watching a partner suffocating in his sleep, night after night. 

When snoring is actually sleep apnea

Snoring is often rhythmic and, if soft enough, may be tolerable for a while. Throw in some lengthy breathing pauses, however, and you find yourself panicked that he's going to choke and die in his sleep. Pauses that last at least 10 seconds and are followed by gasping, deep (and often noisy) breaths, throat clearing, coughing, swallowing, or snorting are exactly what an episode of sleep apnea looks like.  

In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), not only is there the noise of snoring to deal with, but evidence of an obstruction blocking airflow partially or completely. Very little to no air is getting into or out of the lungs during this time. 

Over the space of a night, recurrent apnea episodes lead to oxygen deprivation. Our bodies need a steady supply of oxygen; without it, our brains, heart, major organs, muscles, nervous system—every last little bit of cellular function we need to sustain it all—suffers.   

If apnea is present nightly for weeks, months or years, chronic health problems may arise. The list is long: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, cancer, obesity, and much more have been associated with untreated OSA. 

How to help your husband (and yourself)

  • Urge him to read this post to show him that snoring needs to be assessed by a healthcare professional.
  • Ask him to pay one visit to his primary care physician to address your concerns to make you "feel better." Chances are, the discussion will evolve into awareness that he needs a sleep assessment.
  • If he is tired all day, suggest that it's his snoring that's keeping him from enjoying time with his children or hobbies.
  • Tell him you think he'd be in a better mood if he slept better and that you want your old husband back, the one who was good-natured and energetic.
  • If things are not going well at work, remind him that quality sleep can alleviate problems with focusing, concentration, problem solving, or energy while on the job. 
  • If he's concerned about his sex drive, tell him even Arianna Huffington thinks the secret to a healthy sex life is not a little pill, but a good night of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Employ his loved ones to support your efforts. When more than one person complains of another's snoring, it's easier to cajole the snorer into accepting the truth.
  • Record your husband's snoring using audio and/or visual recording devices. Audio alone can convince some to curb their snoring, but video can capture episodes of apneas, which are hard for anybody to watch. 
  • Look after yourself. As the wife of a snorer, you are subject to something called "spousal arousal" (and not in a good way). You need your sleep, too! Use ear plugs, a white noise machine, or noise-canceling earphones to drown out his snoring. A drastic move to a second bedroom sends a strong message as well. Maybe if he sees you taking these measures, he will change his attitude and get help. 


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