Snoring. It’s funny…right? It looks funny. It for sure sounds funny! Unless you’re trying to sleep at the time.
Just about every television comedy series has had at least one episode on snoring. MASH; Mike and Molly; Seinfeld; Friends; I Love Lucy; etc. On Modern Family, the incomparably gorgeous, Gloria, played by Sofia Vergara, snores so bad when she’s pregnant that her husband Jay pretends to go on a business trip just so he can stay at a local hotel and get some sleep! (By the way, MANY if not most women will snore during their third trimester.)
You may have felt like Jay a few nights; or perhaps a few hundred nights. Of course the more typical situation is that the man is snoring and the wife is either kept awake or just “lives with it.”
So we know that snoring and sleep apnea can greatly affect a person’s quality of sleep and their health overall, but what about the sleep and health of their bed partner? If your bed partner snores could this actually screw up your sleep? Is there such a thing as “second hand sleep apnea” (for those of you not familiar with the phrase “second hand smoke” this will not be nearly as funny. To the rest of us it’s hilarious!).
A group of scientists, at least one of whom must have been sleeping with someone who snored, decided to test the hypothesis that snoring and sleep apnea could affect a bed partner’s sleep. In 1999 a study was performed at the Mayo Clinic where they took 10 married couples and brought them in for a sleep study. The man in each of these couples was suspected of having sleep apnea. They wired up the snoring man AND the innocent bystander woman and studied both of them, while they slept…in the same bed of course. What they found was more than a little surprising, and if you’re sleeping next to a snorer (or you are a snorer and are sleeping next to someone) you should take these results VERY seriously.
What they found was that the sleep of the wife was nearly as screwed up as the sleep of the sleep apneic, snoring husband! Keep in mind that some of these couples had been together for over 20 years! The scientists commented that these women had “been habituated” to the sound of the snoring for many years; meaning they were totally used to it.
Here’s the cool and exciting part. Half way through the night they woke up the snoring guy and put him on CPAP, eliminating the snoring. They then continued watching the couple sleep for the rest of the night. They found a significant improvement in the quality of the man’s sleep, as would be expected with treatment of the sleep apnea. However, they ALSO found a significant improvement in the quality of the woman’s sleep…by treating her husband’s sleep apnea! They summarized their data by saying that treating the bed partner’s sleep apnea improved the quality of the spouse’s sleep so much, it was equivalent to getting AN EXTRA HOUR OF SLEEP A NIGHT!!! What would you do for an extra hour of sleep a night??!! (Killing your bed partner is NOT necessary…they just need simple treatment!)
Now let’s take this a bit further. I am not aware of scientific evidence to back this up, but let’s walk over to our common sense corner for a moment. If a person’s sleep is being interrupted continuously by their bed partner’s snoring, night after night, what type of negative health consequences could that have? While they wouldn’t have the decreased oxygen issues that sleep apnea typically has, they would tend to have decreased deep sleep and REM sleep. If you do not have good quality deep sleep your body doesn’t heal as well, various hormones get screwed up (like ghrelin and leptin that are responsible for feeling hungry and feeling full…can you say “weight gain?!”), and you don’t feel physically rested. If you don’t get enough REM sleep you may have memory or concentration issues and feel “mentally tired.”
In other words, if you are sleeping next to someone who snores and/or has sleep apnea, you could have many of the symptoms and problems of someone with sleep apnea, without actually having sleep apnea! Indeed, you would have “second hand sleep apnea!”
So your options are to 1. Get a non-snoring bed partner; 2. Sleep in separate bedrooms (did you know that 30-40% of couples report sleeping in separate rooms!!); 3. Wear really good ear plugs; 4. Or get your bed partner diagnosed and treated.
Options 1-3 will help the non-snoring bed partner sleep better, but they won’t do anything for the sleep apneic. If you are the non-snorer, hopefully you care enough about your bed partner to actually get them help! If you are the snorer, hopefully you care enough about your bed partner to get yourself helped!
So the next time you hear someone talking about their snoring bed partner, and everyone is yucking it up sharing their own significant snorer stories, remember that second hand sleep apnea is no laughing matter, and both the snorer and their bed partner are suffering…needlessly.
About the Author
Jamison Spencer, DMD, MS is the director of the Center for Sleep Apnea and TMJ in Boise, Idaho and Denver, Colorado. The Center for Sleep Apnea and TMJ is the only accredited dental sleep medicine center in Idaho. He is the past president of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain and a Diplomate of American Board of Craniofacial Pain and the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. Dr. Spencer is married to his soulmate of 22 years, Jennifer, and they live with their 6 children in Eagle, Idaho. When Dr. Spencer isn't helping patients, consulting dentists or lecturing you will likely find him skiing or boating with his family.