Surviving the Nocturnal Symphony: Sleeping Peacefully When Your Partner Snores

woman can't sleep when her partner snores

Nearly half of all adults snore occasionally. Approximately 25 percent of the population snores frequently. While many factors contribute to the orchestration of this intrusive nocturnal symphony, those left in the audience often have difficulty falling asleep or are awakened by encore performances throughout the night.

If you have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night because your partner snores, you may be compelled to retreat to the quiet sanctuary of a guest room or the living room sofa.

Before you take up permanent residence down the hall, away from your grating nighttime nightingale, there are several steps you should both consider to reduce the frequency and severity of snoring or keep snoring from interrupting your sleep.

The Many Factors That Contribute to Snoring

While men are frequent targets for snoring than women, the statistics are not all that different. Forty percent of men and thirty percent of women snore. The sniffling and snorting you hear come from air flowing past tissues that relax during sleep, creating a vibration. The resulting sound can be relatively low key, or disruptive enough to result in couples sleeping in separate rooms.

Of course, the priority of minimizing snoring is to assure that both partners are getting quality sleep. To reduce the frequency and reduce the severity of snoring, consider some of the following common causes:

Allergies or Sinus Problems

Any condition that can irritate or inflame nasal passages can contribute to snoring. If your partner experiences allergy symptoms, including itchy or watery eyes, postnasal drainage, ear congestion, or sneezing during the day, you are more likely to be kept awake by snoring at night. When allergies cause snoring, an over-the-counter or prescription allergy medication could alleviate problematic snoring. If allergies are suspected, also consider the potential benefits of investing in an air purifying unit, humidifier, or hypoallergenic pillows and bedding.

Physical Structure

Having a small jaw structure or a shallow midface (measured from the base of the nose to the back of the skull) can contribute to habitual snoring. A shallow midface allows for more suction on soft tissues during inhalation, which adds to the intensity of the vibration.

Other physical traits that are known to contribute to snoring include an elongated uvula, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a narrower than average throat, narrow air passages, and a cleft palate. If enlarged adenoids or tonsils cause snoring, surgical intervention may provide welcomed relief to snorers and their partner.

Weight Gain or Excess Weight

If your partner is carrying a few extra pounds, you may have noticed that the frequency and decibel level of their snoring has increased alongside their expanding waistline. That's because weight gain can increase the amount of fatty tissue distributed around the neck and throat. The additional fat around the neckline adds pressure to the throat and contributes to snoring. When weight gain contributes to snoring, even the loss of a few pounds may be enough to decrease the severity of the nocturnal noise.

Alcohol Consumption

Many people find that indulging in alcohol helps them relax and unwind. While indulging in a cocktail or two may seem like an ideal way to unwind before bed, alcohol can contribute to snoring. Alcohol, or any medication that causes drowsiness including muscle relaxants and cold medicines, adds to the relaxation of the muscles of the tongue and throat. The relaxation of those muscles can intensify snoring. Avoiding alcohol a few hours before bed could help you sleep better as it lets your partner sleep quieter.

Differentiating Between Simple Snoring and Sleep Apnea

When snoring is keeping you from falling asleep or waking you during the night, you have an ideal opportunity to listen for the typical signs of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can increase a person's risk for developing several significant long-term health complications including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. The common symptoms that could suggest sleep apnea include:

  • Loud or frequent snoring
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Choking or gasping sounds
  • Unrefreshing sleep and daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory loss and irritability

While not everyone with sleep apnea snores, statistically about half of those who habitually snore test positive for this potentially detrimental sleep disorder. If sleep apnea is suspected, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider. Your doctor will likely recommend a polysomnogram (sleep study) to evaluate nocturnal breathing and determine an appropriate course of action.

If sleep apnea is confirmed your healthcare provider may recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or a custom oral appliance, the two most commonly prescribed treatment methods used to improve the ability to breathe during sleep. You will both sleep better by treating the condition.  

Sleeping Peacefully with a Partner Who Snores

Unless snoring is caused by sleep apnea, it is not generally harmful to the person who snores, but the sleep deprivation inflicted on sleep mates can have significant consequences. Several lifestyle modifications could help you both sleep through the night without interruption. Consider the benefits of the following suggestions:

Encourage Side Sleeping

People are more likely to snore while sleeping on their back than while sleeping on their side. The trick is to keep the snorer from reverting to their back during the night. Some suggestions to keep a back-sleeper on their side include wearing a pocketed t-shirt backward and placing a tennis ball in the pocket or investing in a body pillow to use as a wedge to keep from rolling over. Retraining a back sleeper can take some time, but is worth the effort when side-sleeping reduces snoring.

Elevate the Head of the Bed

Sleeping at a slight incline reduces the amount of pressure on the neck and throat and can help keep the tongue from blocking the airway. Elevating the bed can significantly reduce the severity of snoring. While some people are comfortable with using pillows to raise their head and shoulders, others prefer the comfort and convenience of a foam sleeping wedge. If lifting the head and shoulders seems to decrease snoring but is determined to be too uncomfortable, consider raising the head of the bed with bricks or investing in an adjustable bed frame.

Invest in White Noise

White noise is a consistent sound that can blur background noises and reduce the impact of snoring. Having a sound to focus on and blunt the effects of snoring help many non-snoring partners fall asleep easier and reduces the number of times they are awakened during the night. While some prefer investing in a white noise machine, others find it helpful to run a fan or humidifier in the bedroom. If you would prefer listening to nature sounds or music but are worried about keeping your partner awake, consider sleep headphones or a pillow speaker.

Nasal Strips, Chin Straps, and Mouthguards

There are many products available on the market designed to stop snoring, including such devices as adhesive strips that hold nasal passages open, straps worn to keep slack jaws closed, and mouthguards designed to hold the jaw in a non-snoring position. It may take a bit of experimentation, trial, and error, to find the best anti-snoring solution. If over-the-counter mouth guards seem helpful but are causing discomfort, consider asking your dentist about a custom anti-snoring mouthguard.

Sleep Peacefully, Even When Your Partner Snores

When your partner snores, it can be a source of frustration and tension, even in the healthiest relationships. Most often, snoring is merely a nuisance but can be a sign of a potentially dangerous sleep disorder, sleep apnea. You may be pleased to know that treating sleep apnea typically alleviates the symptoms and the sound.

Simple snoring is not a health concern on its own, but the sleep deprivation it causes can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. Anti-snoring devices, changes in sleep position, white noise, or a professional sleep evaluation could help you both get the quality sleep you deserve.

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