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It’s like an orchestra in my bedroom at night—and I am not talking about violins. The symphony I listen to on a nightly basis is one of snoring. Swap out strings and woodwinds for honking and wheezing and you get the idea. Like any of you who snuggle up to a snorer at night, I am regularly exposed to what’s known as “secondhand snoring.” Remind you of secondhand smoke? It’s the same basic phenomenon: people who sleep with snorers are likely to suffer some of the same problems as snorers themselves. Anyone who sleeps with a snoring bed partner knows how frustrating and tiring it can be. It turns out, secondhand snoring can be a lot more than just irritating—it’s also unhealthful.
You’ve probably heard about the health risks that come about from snoring. That’s because most of the medical research that’s been done about the effects of snoring has looked at the risks to snorers themselves. Which makes sense, of course—except when there are two of you in the room. Then all that scientific attention to the snorers themselves starts to seem…a little incomplete. There is a small amount of scientific research that backs up what many of us know through our own experience: that those of us who sleep with snorers experience the effects of sleep deprivation too: we wake tired, we feel groggy and unfocused during the day. Especially after a bad night, we’re prone to being irritable and impatient—especially with our partners. By the time mid-afternoon rolls around, we’re looking for a couch to curl up on. Here’s a look at what scientists have discovered about the effects of snoring on bed partners. Some of it may sound familiar, and some might surprise you:
I love a good symphony, but not while I’m trying to sleep. I also want to protect my own health as well as protecting my husband’s. For the sake of both of us—and for the irreplaceable pleasure of a peaceful night’s rest—we’re making addressing his snoring a priority.
Snoring can cause frequent short awakenings throughout the night. Some of these sleep interruptions, called micro-arousals, are so brief we don’t even know they’re happening. But they’re linked to higher risk for heart disease and metabolic disease. At least in part because of these more frequent awakenings, snoring changes the way we move through the five different stages of sleep, which run from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. When we snore, we’re likely to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep, and less time in deep sleep. That’s part of the reason why a snoring habit leaves many people feeling tired and unrested after a night of sleep. Sleep apnea also causes these (and other) problems, usually to an even greater degree than snoring on its own. But increasingly, scientific studies are telling us that “simple snoring” is never really simple, and that snoring contributes to health problems, even when it isn’t associated with sleep apnea. For example, new research shows that snoring is linked to a higher risk for high blood pressure, apart from any influence of sleep apnea.
There is a range of ways to address and reduce snoring problems, from making lifestyle changes to using different devices that help you breathe better during sleep. How can you take back control of your sleep and stop snoring?
You’ve probably heard that weight loss can make a big difference for snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep experts suggest that even a modest weight loss can make a difference for snoring. And weight loss can also improve sleep apnea. (Many people who are overweight or obese have sleep apnea.)
For people with sleep apnea, CPAP is often prescribed as a treatment. CPAP is a long-standing, effective treatment for sleep apnea. It also has a long-standing issue with compliance. Research shows one of the toughest things about getting CPAP to work effectively is getting people to use the device consistently, night after night. Studies indicate many people stop using CPAP after a while—or never even start after they’re prescribed the device.
Oral mouthpieces are another scientifically proven treatment to help you stop snoring. These mouthpieces move the jaw forward, reducing the vibrations that cause snoring and restoring normal breathing. Sleep experts tell us they’re effective in helping snoring as well as in treating sleep apnea and are often an easier form of snoring and sleep apnea treatment for people to stick with than CPAP.