Marriage and sleep

Happily married women report fewer sleep problems and men who get a good night sleep get along better with their partners. These findings came out of studies conducted by Dr Wendy Troxel in 2009 and 2010. Sharing a bed with a spouse or partner offers comfort and calm and eases many people into sleep.

However, for a few, a sleep partner means disruptions and noise instead of a would-be a good night sleep. According to a 2001 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, unhappy married couples are likely to sleep fewer hours than happy couples. A bad sleep quality might be a sign of unhappy marriage. If one bed partner is having a hard time getting a good night sleep, the marriage can become strained. Many wives (husbands) get resentful because of the repetitive snores of their husbands (wives), night after night. One day, a man called my sleep clinic asking to be seen TODAY because if he doesn’t do something about the snoring by the end of the week, his wife is divorcing him. We got him in, took care of his sleep apnea which was causing the snoring and the marriage was saved.

Here are typical sleep disorders that we see in clinic and which affect the quality of sleep in couples

  1. Acting out Dream; REM behavioral disorder (RBD): During sleep, some men kick, punch and yell without awareness of their behavior and it scares their wives- rightly so because some got injured, even seriously. Since this disorder is more common in men than women (9 out of 10 affected individuals are men), women are the ones who typically get punched and kicked. The poor husbands feel very guilty. This is unintentional. If you or your bed partner has these issues, you need to talk to your doctor and be referred to a sleep specialist, preferably who is also a neurologist. The doctor should be familiar with RBD. They need to review your medications (some make it worse). It is a manageable disorder with specific medications. For safety reasons, the bed partner needs to sleep in a separate bed (same room ok) until the disorder is managed properly.
  2.  Restless legs or jerking legs while asleep is disruptive to you and your partner. You might have restless legs syndrome or your snoring or sleep apnea can also cause leg or body jerks. Get checked out for either one. You might need a sleep study.
  3.  Sleep apnea: If you snore, your bed partner might not be happy because of the repetitive noise that you make which makes their sleep restless and so they are tired during the day. It is best to seek treatment to get rid of the snoring for your own sake (it causes many health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease) and for the sake for you bed partner.

If your doctor told you that you have sleep apnea and you need to use CPAP which requires a mask placed on your nose and mouth, you might think how great it is that you finally can get a good night sleep, but you have reservations about using it because of how it might affect your romantic life. Few women have told me that they are reluctant to use it because of how they appear to their husbands; a young man was dating and was worried about the CPAP killing his prospects for the date.

My recommendations in this situation:

  •  Is snoring sexy?  Being tired and groggy is not fun and sleep apnea has been linked to lower libido in men. I can understand the mask and tubing being not sexy. That is where you need to know your other options for treating sleep apnea or snoring.
  • Consider the oral appliance therapy. It is an effective therapy for snoring and the mild to moderate sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor about it.
  • In mild cases of sleep apnea, sleeping on your side might be helpful if the sleep study shows that the back position makes it worse. You can use a pillow or a special shirt that keeps you on your side.
  • Weight loss can diminish or alleviate the sleep apnea.
  • If you really need to treat the sleep apnea and the mask is the only option and still feel self conscious, it is best to open the subject with your bed partner. Remember, a good night of sleep without sleep apnea gives you rest, better mood, controls your weight, reduces your vascular risk and gives you a better skin tone- all of them sound sexy.

 Recommendations for better sleep with a bed partner

  • Share your concerns with your bed partner. They might be suffering from similar issues.
  • If you believe your partner has sleep apnea (symptoms of snoring, stops breathing, sleep y during the day), you need to discuss the need to see their doctor to get tested and treated. It is probably a good idea for you to learn about the long and short term consequences of untreated sleep apnea (decreased libido, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, fatigue) and the treatment options before you talk to your spouse. They might not want to seek help initially but with repeated voicing of concern, they will.
  • Share tips for good sleep habits. Talk to your spouse about the importance of sleeping better and feeling better. Make sleep a topic of conversation.
  • If you have sleep problems, seek help so you and they can sleep better.