Ever fallen asleep at your desk or felt yourself nodding off on the highway? Is hitting the snooze button five times and drinking your weight in coffee still not enough to prop you up through your day? There are many reasons Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, but one good reason could be lying in bed right next to you: a snoring spouse.
According to the TODAY “Snooze or Lose” Sleep Survey, 33 percent of adults says a spouse or significant other has disturbed their sleep over the past year.
Richmond, Virginia, painter Tracey St. Peter dealt with her husband Kevin Murphy’s supersonic snoring for their first 18 years together. After being woken up for the third or fourth time at night, she says, “I would literally scream out, ‘I’m going to go deaf—you’re a monster!’” But just as he slept through his own snores, her howls fell on deaf ears.
Days were as bad as nights, as St. Peter found herself increasingly irritable without really knowing why. Dr. Shelby Harris director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City says that crankiness is only one of the side effects that comes from not getting enough sleep. “It can also lead to poor memory function, and a whole host of health issues, including diabetes,” she says.
In order to save your sleep—and possibly your relationship—we polled some sleep and snoring experts to find out how one can successfully live with a sleeping one-man-band with the help of tennis balls (yes, tennis balls) a video camera and a little bit of Zen.
“Try not to see the sound as the annoying noise of someone snoring. Instead, think of it as the sound of someone you love breathing,” suggests an entry on WikiHow. Anyone who has ever tried to get some shut-eye while the person next to them blasted nose trombone is rolling their eyes right now, but Joy Martina, Ph.D and co-author of the upcoming book "Sleep your Fat Away," says that learning to embrace the snore isn’t so far-fetched. She suggests hypnosis can help the non-snoring partner actually find the sounds soothing rather than infuriating. “Most people like sleeping next to the sound of waves,” she says. “The snoring also comes in waves. So through hypnosis, you can give people the suggestion that every time they hear their spouse snores, it lulls them into deeper sleep.”
While this might be a dicey topic to broach with your beloved, persuading them to lose a few pounds may help quiet them down. Dr. Andrew Westwood, an assistant professor of clinical neurology specializing in sleep disorders at Columbia University Medical Center, says “some people who snore haven’t always snored— they’ve gained weight and then they start. So if over the last year they’ve gained 20 pounds, then losing that weight is probably going to solve the problem.”
Roll Them Over
“Some people only snore when they’re on their back,” says Robert Turner a counselor at the Rose Sleep Disorder Center. "So there are lots of mechanisms for keeping people off their back.” Some of these mechanisms include a shove in the night, but you can also sew a tennis ball into the back of a T-shirt to discourage back-sleeping.
Open those Passageways
They won’t work for everyone, but Dr. Westwood has suggested Theravent, an over-the-counter “snore strip” for non-chronic snorers.
Dr. Harris has had good results with patients who wear earplugs to block the noise, but not everyone finds them physically comfortable and others won’t wear them because they’re afraid they’ll miss the sounds they need to hear, such as their alarm clock or child’s cries. In that case, she suggests, “If the person refuses to get treatment, sleeping in separate rooms will make everyone less irritable together during the day.” Turner agrees with the separate bedroom solution. “Our society tends to believe that if you don’t sleep in the same room, that it somehow indicates that there’s a problem with the relationship, and that’s not the case at all.”
Let’s go to the Videotape!
Though St. Peter was often tempted to record her husband's snores and then play it back to him, she always resisted, thinking he would be horrified by the cacophony. But Dr. Westwood says it can be quite helpful. “I have a couple patients who’ve done that, and then if they can hear themselves and the dramatic noises they’re making, it can frighten them enough to get help.”
Speaking of getting help. . . .
One thing that every expert polled agreed on, was that if you are sleeping with a chronic, loud snorer, it’s imperative to get them evaluated for sleep apnea, which can lead to heart problems, strokes, diabetes, and a host of other unpleasantness. Besides snoring, there are other issues such as drowsiness during the day, irritability, and lack of focus.
Indeed, St. Peter’s husband was unconvinced of just how bad it was until his boss insisted he take time off work and get his health in check, after noting that Kevin was increasingly forgetful and sleepy on the job. “He told me, ‘I just can’t have you getting in a car and crashing and dying,’” Murphy said.
Unwilling to put his job at risk, Murphy went in for a sleep evaluation and was immediately diagnosed with sleep apnea. He says, “I avoided being tested for so many years, because I just assumed I could never sleep with a machine on my face, but I was wrong.”
The machine Murphy is talking about is called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device, which increases the air pressure in the throat, so the wearer breathes easier—and more quietly. As a bonus, the hum of the machine acts as a sort of white noise machine for his wife. “I find it soothing,” she says.
The difference was immediate and dramatic. “We’re both much happier now,” St. Peter laughs, her relief audible. Murphy agrees. “I can actually live a real life again. I’ve had it about a month now, and I haven’t fallen asleep in the middle of the day, I’m not drowsy driving . . . I thought the medicine would be worse than the cure and it wasn’t.”
Because when it comes down to it, all the tennis balls, affirmations, and nasal strips in the world won’t make as much of a difference as nipping the sound at its source. Westwood has seen it hundreds of times in his studies. “We’re like relationship counselors,” he laughs.