How To Sleep Better When Your Sweetie…Is A Snorer

( — There are many different effects of snoring. Not only can it hurt the snorer…it can also hurt the person who has to endure those horrible sounds every night — as well as wreck havoc on the entire relationship.

Why People Snore

For the most part, people don’t have much control over their snoring, which is caused by a throat airway blockage. When sleeping, tissue in the throat begins to relax as the body relaxes — particularly while lying on the back. The deeper the sleep, the more relaxed a person becomes. This blockage is what causes the loud “snores.”

To no one’s surprise, the largest group of run-of-the-mill snorers is middle-aged and older men. As we age, we lose muscle tone everywhere, including in our palates, which become flabby and thus more susceptible to vibration. Allergies or being overweight can also contribute to snoring. Drinking alcohol before bedtime, which relaxes the muscles in the airway, is another potential cause. Or you may simply have been born to snore.

“Some people have larger tongues or palates than others, or thick necks or a weak glossopharygeal nerve (which helps control the tongue), says Ralph Pascualy, MD, medical director of the Swedish Sleep Medicine Institute in Seattle. “It’s often many factors that interact in different ways.”

Statistics from the National Sleep Foundation about snoring and sleep apnea say 90 million Americans are affected by snoring. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that:

• 24% of couples sleep in separate rooms and many couples who sleep separately are reluctant to discuss it.

• More than a third of respondents admit that their partner’s disruptive sleep habits have affected the quality of their relationship.

• 17-23% (two in five) indicated that their intimate/sexual relationships had been affected because they were too sleepy.

• 51-62% agreed that not getting enough sleep impacts their relationships with family or friends.

How Snoring Can Damage A Relationship

Snoring is a “big relationship divider,” said Dr. Laura Berman, a relationship and sex therapist in Chicago. She said snoring creates frustration and resentment on both sides: the snorers, who can’t help it, and those suffering next to them. Complications can include “low energy from not getting enough revitalizing sleep, making you grumpy, less communicative and having less sexual energy,” she said.

Though it’s not the snorer’s intentions to snore and destroy their own sleep quality, snoring is still extremely annoying, and can ruin the sleep of the person lying next to them. And two cranky, exhausted people is not exactly the formula for an ideal relationship:

• Snoring causes disturbances in the snorer’s sleep. The loud noise created from the blocked airway can also pull them out of a deep sleep.

• When you don’t cycle through all of the sleep stages, you may wake up feeling tired, stressed and irritable.

• Sleep is as important for your well-being as it is for maintaining a good relationship. Snoring can actually make a person resent you for your loud noises, even though they do understand you’re not doing it on purpose. Lashing out and increased fighting can be a natural result.

How to Fix the Problem

Beyond a regular nudge to make the snorer roll over and stop snoring, and sleeping in separate rooms as a temporary solution to the problem, potential remedies can include anything from earplugs to surgery. In addition to making an appointment with a doctor for advice, and to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on, a few snoring solutions include:

• Making lifestyle changes. Snoring has been linked to being both overweight and out of shape, so working on those two issues can have the payoff of improving your sleep. Losing weight and exercising can help improve muscle tone, even in your palate. Avoiding alcohol before bedtime may help, too.

• Changing sleep position. For some people, the problem is purely positional, meaning they only snore when lying on their backs. If this is the case for you, you might find that arranging your pillows creatively keeps you on your side. Some people even wear a special shirt with a pocket in the back to hold a tennis ball that pokes them when they try to roll over onto their backs.

• Propping your head up with an extra pillow. Why? This opens your airway more, which prevents the back of the throat from collapsing and causing snoring. You can also try raising the head of your bed.

• Using a humidifier. If a cold or congestion is the snoring culprit, one way to clear things up is to run a humidifier in your bedroom at night. This encourages your sinuses to drain, shrinking nasal mucous and improving airflow to reduce snoring. Smearing some Vicks VapoRub on your chest at night will help open your nasal passages too, easing your snoring.

• Relieving snoring with nasal strips or other over-the-counter (OTC) products. If you snore, but don’t have underlying sinus problems or coughing, it may help to try an OTC nasal strip, such as Breathe Right. These adhesive strips pull open the nasal passages so they’re less narrow, giving you better airflow. Talk to a doctor or a pharmacist about products that may work for you.

Talking to a dentist about oral devices. Dental appliances that hold the tongue and jaw in such a way that the airway remains open have been found to be quite effective for benign snorers, with success rates ranging from 50%–80%. What’s key, say experts, is to have one custom-made by a dentist, rather than buying an over-the-counter version or one from the Internet.

Undergoing surgery. As a last resort, there are several surgical procedures doctors can perform to increase the size of your airways. In some cases it’s just a matter of fixing a structural problem such as a deviated septum or removing adenoids. Other techniques include placing implants in the palate, which stimulate the formation of scar tissue and reduce snoring, or removing the uvula. Both of these procedures have a success rate of around 50%, though the long-term benefits are not yet known.

The Severe Side of Snoring

Since snorers rarely wake themselves, their bed partners play a critical role in making sure they get help when needed. Very commonly, people with severe snoring symptoms are brought to the doctor by their spouses.

“If you notice that your partner is snorting, gasping or puffing, or if the snoring isn’t steady, but goes up and down in volume, they should be evaluated for sleep apnea,” says Dr. Pascualy. Most primary care physicians don’t routinely ask about sleep habits, so it’s important to bring the topic up yourself and get a referral to a sleep specialist, if necessary.

Relief Does Exist!

The best way to patch a rocky relationship due to disturbances during sleep is to schedule an appointment with your doctor, and sleep in separate rooms until more information about the condition is available, as well as following some of the above treatment options.

Other than health and personal relationship issues, snoring can cause problems with work and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion can cause a person to become unfocused and lose motivation to exercise. When you are tired, you also tend to eat more, and weight gain may increase your snoring. The situation can quickly become a vicious cycle for the snorer.

Fortunately, many solutions do exist to help snorers…and their significant others. Not all work for everyone, but through trial and error and consultation with a physician, you may find a snoring cure that works for you.