I’m sleeping with a grizzly bear—how your BED PARTNER’s snores can affect your health!
In many bedrooms across the country (and world), there is a competition. Sometimes it’s a battle for the blankets. Other times it’s a tiff over the temperature. But on any given night, in as many as 50% of bedrooms, it’s a fight to fall asleep first. He or she who falls asleep first, wins. There is no trophy for the winner in this game. Instead, the prize is: NOT having to listen to the other partner snore. All. Night. Long.
The ability to sleep through the night with a snoring bed partner is actually pretty rare. When someone in the family snores, no one gets much sleep. The non-snoring partner goes to bed with a human and is awakened to the sound of a grizzly bear or a chainsaw (worst case is a bear WITH a chainsaw) sleeping next to them. And now they are doing anything BUT sleeping. They try earplugs, but they don’t stop the noise. They throw a hard elbow to their partner’s ribs, but that only helps for a few minutes. They might even kick their partner out of bed or move to the couch themselves. All of these might be temporary fixes but none are long term solutions.
So what’s the big deal? Why is it so bad to have a snoring bed partner? There are 2 big ways that having a bed partner with snoring or sleep apnea is harmful to the non-snoring bed partner. Poor sleep quality will not only affect the physical and mental health of the non-snoring partner, but it can also be detrimental to the couple’s relationship.
For 40+ years, we have known that secondhand smoke is deadly. Even though only one person is actually smoking the cigarettes, the other family members are exposed to the smoke and are at high risk for lung disease and cancer. Similarly, secondhand sleep apnea can also cause severe problems. As shown in earlier chapters, sleep disorders have serious and deadly health consequences. Although having a snoring bed partner doesn’t cause you to have pauses in breathing or drops in oxygen levels, it does cause major sleep disruption. Chronic sleep disruption and/or deprivation can easily lead to weight gain and mood disorders, such as anxiety and/or depression. It also causes excessive daytime sleepiness, which is the leading cause for car accidents and poor job performance.
In addition to serious physical and mental health risks, permanent damage can be done to the relationship between the partners. Sleep disruption can lead to moodiness, anger and conflict that extend well beyond the walls of the bedroom. Tired and cranky people are quicker to disagree or respond in anger, often saying things they don’t really mean or wouldn’t normally say. But like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, hurtful words cannot be taken back once they are said. Many of these couples end up in costly therapy or counseling.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.” ~Anthony Burgess
Dr. Oz told a story on The Today Show about “Sleep Divorce,” where couples sleep in different rooms in order to get more restful sleep. As mentioned in the previous chapter, The National Sleep Foundation reports that up to 25% of American couples are already sleeping in separate rooms, and even more wish they were. But who enters into a long-term relationship with the goal of sleeping in different bedrooms? Intimacy can suffer when physical walls are between partners, thus setting the stage for emotional walls to develop. And though it may help temporarily, this physical separation is more of a band-aid rather than a solution to the underlying problem.
Worst-case scenario? Your partner awakens you because they are having a sleep apnea-induced heart attack. Or you wake up in the morning to find they’ve passed in their sleep. Both are very real possibilities for someone with sleep apnea. That’s a nightmare no one should have to live, and yet it happens all the time.
When a person is snoring or has sleep apnea, everyone suffers: the one doing the snoring, the one hearing the snoring, and the relationship between them. But there is great news! There are easy and effective ways to treat it; resulting in everyone getting deep and restful sleep, which not only saves lives but also relationships.