It's no surprise that sleeping with a snorer can make your own sleep quality suffer— and it can also affect your health. Partners of snorers often experience fatigue and drowsiness on a regular basis, and they may even be at risk for some hearing loss.
Understanding what causes snoring may make you more empathetic towards your partner — and our tips for sleeping with a snorer may help you get the sleep you need.
Snoring occurs when air doesn't flow freely through the nose and throat during sleep. The vibrations of the air cause loose nasal and throat tissue to vibrate, which creates the well-known snoring sounds.
Many conditions can cause or exacerbate snoring. As you get older, the tissue in the throat becomes less toned and wobbles easier. People who are overweight or who carry excess weight around the throat are also more prone to snoring. Those who use tranquilizers or smoke and drink alcohol frequently also end up with relaxed throat tissue and, as a result, snoring.
Other factors can also precipitate snoring. Men are more likely to snore than women because their air passages are naturally narrower. In addition, if you have a stuffy nose, perhaps due to allergies, airways can become blocked, which results in snoring.
Snoring can also be a sign of more serious conditions. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is interrupted frequently during the night. If you notice that your snoring partner is exhausted during the day or gasping or choking during sleep, make a doctor's appointment to check for this potentially dangerous condition. Sleep apnea treatment often involves using a CPAP machine, which may reduce snoring in addition to ensuring a steady airflow.
It's not fun to lose sleep because of your snoring partner, but sleep deprivation is actually more serious than just having a hard time getting up in the morning. The mental impairment you experience as a result of disturbed sleep is the equivalent to being mildly intoxicated. Over time, chronic lack of sleep can harm your brain and increase the chances of depression, weight gain, stroke, dementia, and heart disease. It also has negative effects on your immune system.
If your partner snores due to sleep apnea, you may be suffering sleep loss as significant as they are. Studies from the Mayo Clinic show that the sleeping partners of snorers awaken an average of 21 times per hour.
Snoring also has a negative effect on relationships. In some countries, it's as high as the third leading cause of divorce, and in Finland, one-third of the sleep partners of snorers reported relationship problems caused by the snoring.
Even if your relationship stays intact, your quality of life is likely to suffer when your partner snores. Treating snoring and sleep apnea has been shown to drastically increase partners' quality of life scores. And the physical effects of sleeping with a snorer can also be significant. A small study from 2003 found that snorers' sleep partners showed noise-induced hearing loss over time.
When dealing with a snorer, you have two pathways to take — help your partner stop snoring and find ways to sleep, even if the snoring continues. Here are a few suggestions that may help:
If clogged nasal passages are the cause of your partner's snoring, elevating their head may help them breathe more easily (and stop snoring). Give them a thick pillow to raise their head, or place some wedges below your mattress.
Because extra weight can contribute to the loose flesh that encourages snoring, helping your partner lose weight can reap benefits for both of you. Work together to get adequate daily exercise and cook healthy meals.
You're more likely to snore if you sleep on your back because the tongue relaxes, impeding the airway. Finding ways to keep your partner sleeping on their side may help decrease snoring. Prop a pillow behind their back or incorporate some kind of nudge into their nightclothes to keep them from rolling onto their back (some people recommend sewing a tennis ball into the back of pajamas).
White noise doesn't block the sound of snoring completely. Instead, it masks the sounds by blending the snoring in with the audible frequencies emitted by the machine. If you play this soft, consistent sound every night as you fall asleep, you may not notice your partner's snores.
If your bedroom air stays moist during the night, your partner's nasal and throat membranes are less likely to become irritated and swollen.
Wearing nasal strips designed to help breathing can help your partner breathe more clearly during the night. Your partner can also clear their stuffy nose by using a neti pot, saline rinses of the nasal passages, or nightly use of a nasal decongestant.
If allergies cause your partner's nasal congestion, their snoring may be exacerbated by dust mites lurking in your pillows. Clean or change your pillows a couple of times a year to combat this problem.
If flabby throat muscles cause your partner's snoring, doing exercises to strengthen and firm up those muscles can make a big difference each night. Consider doing them together as a new kind of workout.
If that snoring just doesn't stop, a good pair of earplugs can help you get the sleep you deserve. Simple foam earplugs may be enough. If you need something more robust, look for earplugs specially designed to be comfortable while you sleep.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.