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Sleeping with a Snorer: Are Both Doomed to Bad Sleep?

Young couple in a comfortable bed in an hotel room, the young woman is frustrated, sleeping back against back

You just settled into bed, pulled up the covers and nestled your head on your pillow. Minutes later, as you’re drifting off to sleep, your eyes shoot wide open as a loud snore rumbles from your partner’s side of the bed.

With an estimated 25 percent of adults snoring regularly, and 45 percent snoring occasionally, this situation is all too common. In fact, University Hospitals sleep medicine specialist Kristin Krise, PA-C, says that for many snorers who come in to see her, the problem is bothersome enough that the snorer’s partner chooses to sleep in a separate room.

How does snoring-disrupted sleep affect the physical and mental well-being of the non-snoring bed partner? And what can they do to get a better night’s sleep? Furthermore, what can be done to help a person stop snoring? Krise answers these and other common questions about snoring and sleep.

The Effects of Disrupted Sleep

Snoring and other signs of sleep-disordered breathing such as gasping, snorting and choking can disrupt the sleep of both the individual and their partner. Adverse effects of poor sleep include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty regulating mood
  • Short- and long-term memory problems
  • Increased irritability
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Decreased motivation and productivity
  • Weakened immune system

In addition, poor sleep is linked to weight gain and a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Causes of Snoring

If your partner’s snoring is frequent and loud enough to be a problem for you, Krise recommends that the first thing you do is encourage them to see a sleep specialist. Assessment by a sleep specialist is important because persistent, loud snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA occurs when a person’s upper airway muscles repeatedly relax and partially or completely collapse, blocking the airway during sleep. OSA is associated with several medical problems, including heart conditions, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. As such, the condition should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Krise says, “If your partner snores regularly, especially if they feel they are not getting restful sleep, OSA may be the cause. Other signs of sleep apnea that you may notice include choking, gasping and pauses in breathing. The snorer may also complain of frequent awakenings or constantly ‘tossing and turning’ throughout the night.”

Risk factors for snoring include:

  • Enlarged adenoids, tonsils or tongue
  • Excess body fat/increased neck circumference, which can put pressure on the soft tissues of the upper airway
  • Use of alcohol and sedative medications (such as many sleep aids and muscle relaxers), which can relax the muscles of the upper airway, making them more prone to collapse
  • Aging, which is associated with decreased muscle tone of the upper airway
  • Nasal congestion and inflammation due to illness, allergies or airborne irritants
  • Structural differences in the mouth, nose or throat that decrease the size of the airway
  • Pregnancy, which can increase snoring due to hormonal and weight changes

What Can You Do to Get a Better Night’s Sleep When Your Bed Partner Snores?

Regardless of the cause, Krise recommends that people affected by snoring practice good sleep habits — also called “good sleep hygiene.” Good sleep hygiene can help optimize sleep and includes the following measures:

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule: Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, including on the weekends if possible.
  • Practice regular bedtime rituals: Engage in relaxing activities before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, reading or listening to music.
  • Create a sleep-friendly bedroom: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Keep naps short: Too much sleep during the day can interfere with your night sleep; if you must nap, try to limit it to less than 20 minutes.
  • Limit your screen time 1 to 2 hours before bed: The screens of cell phones, tablets, computers and televisions emit blue light, which suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that helps drive our circadian rhythm and regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
  • Get regular exercise: Regular physical activity during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Krise says, “My number one recommendation if your partner’s snoring is disruptive to your sleep is to encourage them to get evaluated so that their snoring and any related underlying condition, such as OSA, can be diagnosed and treated. In the interim, practicing good sleep hygiene and using ear plugs or a white noise machine can be helpful. If these measures fail, sleeping in a separate room may be necessary for the bed partner to get restful sleep.”

What Can the Snorer Do to Help Themselves & Their Partner?

Any time chronic snoring is loud enough to disturb either the partner’s sleep or the snorer’s sleep, the snorer should be evaluated for OSA. After initial evaluation, a sleep medicine provider will generally order an overnight sleep study.

The following measures are recommended to help with snoring:

  • Losing weight (if overweight)
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedative medications close to bedtime
  • Treating nasal congestion using medication or sinus rinses and/or nasal strips
  • Avoiding sleeping on your back

If OSA is determined to be the cause of snoring, all of the above recommendations should be continued. A sleep specialist will help determine if additional treatment is needed. The main treatments for OSA are:

  • Positive airway pressure: Most often this involves continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is the standard first line therapy for treating mild to severe OSA. CPAP therapy involves the delivery of positive air pressure through a hose that is connected to a mask and pushes air through the nose and/or mouth to keep the airway open.
  • Oral appliances: Oral appliances are form-fitting dental mouthpieces that alter the position of the jaw, tongue and soft palate to keep the airway open. They can be worn at night to help alleviate airway obstruction for some cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea. Only oral appliances made by board-certified sleep dentist should be used.
  • Surgery: Certain patients may be candidates for surgical intervention by an ear, nose and throat specialist; for example, patients who need a tonsillectomy
  • Hypoglossal nerve stimulation: Also called Inspire, hypoglossal nerve stimulation is a therapy in which a device is surgically implanted in the upper chest just below the collarbone. Inspire is used to treat carefully selected OSA patients who are unable to tolerate CPAP. The device works by stimulating muscles of the upper airway to increase muscle tone and keep the airway open.

Related Links

UH Sleep Medicine Services specializes in evaluation and treatment of pediatric and adult patients with sleep-related disorders. Accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, our experts understand that no two patients are exactly the same and will work with you and your primary care physician to customize a plan of care. Learn more about sleep medicine services at UH.