Surviving Snoring as a Couple
Thursday, April 27, 2023
You’re probably all too aware if your spouse or partner suffers from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea occurs when the flow of air (aka breathing) is blocked during sleep. The resulting snoring, gasping and other sounds associated with trying to wake oneself up to breathe can be annoying or frightening. Usually both.
After years of elbowing your partner awake, nudging them to roll over on their stomach to stop snoring when sleeping on their back or buying multiple devices promising a cure, you might be sleeping in separate bedrooms.
It's called a sleep divorce, and it’s a cutesy name for a genuine problem. A 2013 study showed that when couples got poor sleep, they argued more and appreciated each other less. A more recent study showed that sleep problems and marital problems tend to occur at the same time. With arguments and conflicts listed as the third leading cause of divorce in the United States, it makes sense for couples to take snoring seriously. While chronic loud or long-term snoring increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other health problems over time, poor sleep quality results in tiredness, irritability and difficulty concentrating the very next day.
Over time resentment builds in both parties. Non-snorers resent their partner for sleepless nights, and snorers resent their partner for trying to force a solution. Often a person’s snoring is treated as a joke, and the snorer, the butt of the joke.
Is the gold standard therapy tarnished?
Use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device is often seen as the gold standard therapy for OSA sufferers. However, a May 2022 study reviewed in the journal Healthcare reported that up to 50% of patients with OSA refuse CPAP or stop using it within the first week. Patients cite dry mouth, claustrophobia, irritation from the mask and even annoyance or ridicule from the partner who is trying to get used to the look and sound of the machine as reasons for stopping therapy.
It seems simple, but the cure for CPAP non-compliance is increasingly related to the couple themselves. Becoming more of a team, with targeted and ongoing coaching from a nurse or other medical professional, makes a difference. Learning techniques to encourage a partner’s regular use of CPAP, including using humor to deflect embarrassment, helps couples celebrate the increased energy, lessening of depression and better quality of life that comes with treating chronic disease – together.