When you exchanged marriage vows and promised for better or worse, you probably weren’t imagining lying awake in bed for hours and hours each night listening to your partner snoring. If your partner snores while they snooze, you may be wondering if your partner has sleep apnea. Though snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
It’s helpful to know what to look for when you suspect your partner has sleep apnea—which is more than just snoring—but hearing excessive snoring night after night isn’t enough for a diagnosis—plus you shouldn’t attempt to diagnose your partner yourself. Having an overnight sleep study performed is the most reliable way to determine whether someone suffers from sleep apnea, but it’s worth noting that a partner can be instrumental in helping a person discover a sleep apnea diagnosis.
Around 22 million American adults have one of two types of sleep apnea, so it’s not too far-fetched to believe your partner may be one of them. If you’ve ever thought “I think my partner has sleep apnea” but aren’t sure what to do next, there are a few things to consider, including observing your partner during sleep and looking at the coverage options of your partner’s insurance policy.
What Should Partners Look For?
One of the most common signs of sleep apnea is excessive snoring, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Other common symptoms of sleep apnea include having a headache in the morning or feeling tired immediately after waking up. People with sleep apnea tend to be overweight or obese and may have a large neck size, as well. One cardinal indication of sleep apnea, aside from snoring, is noticing momentary pauses in your partner’s breathing, where he or she may stop breathing for several seconds.
The former partner of former NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal was quoted saying, “Dude, you stopped breathing in your sleep” prior to his sleep apnea diagnosis. You may be thinking, “My husband stops breathing in his sleep, too.” Wondering how to know if someone has sleep apnea? A sleep test is the only true way to determine if your partner has sleep apnea. A diagnostic test known formally as a polysomnography, a sleep study can be performed in a sleep lab or from the comforts of home with a home sleep test.
Before talking with your partner, observe their sleep behaviors to help you decide if their snoring (or other related symptoms) are cause for concern or an indication that your partner has sleep apnea. Men and women may present with differing symptoms.
What Does Sleep Apnea Sound Like?
Sleep apnea is noisy. You may hear a crescendo of long, deep snores followed by periods of no sound and then a gasp that can sound like a snort. Sleep apnea is also characterized by shallow breaths and choking noises. Not only can it be difficult to get a good night’s sleep next to a partner who snores and snorts, it can be concerning, too, since untreated sleep apnea can lead to numerous health conditions like excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, depression, and cardiovascular conditions.
How Does Sleep Apnea Impact Relationships?
It’s not uncommon for people to Google something along the lines of “sleep apnea ruining marriage.” Many studies have demonstrated that untreated sleep apnea can negatively affect relationships. Sleep apnea effects on partner can include poor sleep, daytime functioning, mood, quality of life, and relationship quality.
One study found that spouses of patients with sleep apnea are three times more likely to report insomnia symptoms, including difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep, and are twice as likely to report fatigue and daytime sleepiness even after controlling for certain factors like age and weight.
Though some partners may assume the use of a CPAP machine will be just as distracting, one study reported the CPAP machine was compared to a white noise machine and was described as “tolerable if not relaxing.”
Steps to Take If You Suspect Your Partner Has Sleep Apnea
It’s important to seek a diagnosis and treatment if you think your partner has sleep apnea, so once you’ve learned about the dangers of sleep apnea and have observed your partner’s sleep behavior enough to know there’s a strong possibility that they have sleep apnea, it’s time to approach them.
Let your partner know about your concerns and the health benefits of treating sleep apnea. By explaining the advantages of treatment for sleep apnea, like how your partner will get better sleep at night and notice fewer morning headaches, your partner may feel ready to seek help. If your partner is resistant to the idea that they may have sleep apnea, tell them you want to record their nighttime behavior; let them know if they still don’t believe they have an issue after watching the footage, you will agree to drop the discussion. Comedian Jo Koy’s mom recorded him sleeping one night while he was staying in her guest bedroom and helped him identify his need for a sleep study.
People who suffer from sleep apnea may be unaware that they stop breathing while asleep—even for a full minute or more—so being able to observe or record this behavior can be vital in helping diagnose sleep apnea. (Five breathing interruptions per hour is considered clinically significant, though some may experience as many as 100 events per hour.)
Like many medical procedures or diagnostic tests, the cost can be a big concern for your loved one and may even prohibit some from seeking help. Before ordering a sleep study, contact your insurance company to see what their coverage plans look like for diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. Additionally, finding a good sleep doctor who you and your partner trust will benefit you both if a sleep apnea diagnosis is made.
How to Encourage Sleep Therapy Compliance
Once your partner has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, encouraging compliance will be key. It will be helpful for both of you to learn how sleep therapy and CPAP equipment works, and it’s important that you provide patience and support for your partner as they adjust to wearing a mask each night.
There are several tools available to help your partner their diagnosis, including sleep apnea apps and articles on our blog that cover everything from the best sleeping position for sleep apnea to mask compatibility.
Encouraging your partner to frequently exercise and cut back on smoking, drinking, and caffeine use can help tremendously with sleep apnea treatment, too.
If you suspect your partner has sleep apnea, the best thing you can do is help them understand their nighttime behavior so you can work together in receiving a diagnosis. After a diagnosis, rallying around your partner to encourage compliance can make their sleep apnea journey easier—and finally help both of you get quality, restful sleep night after night.