Sleepless With a Snorer
Survey Finds Snorer, Partner Both Worse for Wear
By Jim Morelli, RPh
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Dr. Dominique S. Walton
Oct. 26, 2000 -- Some women are being put through the wringer -- by going to bed. They are coupled with snorers, and now there is research to back up the claim that snoring is more than just noisy. It also can be bad for your health.
Researchers at the Sleep Disorders Center in Avesta, Sweden, surveyed 500 women living with men who were referred to a sleep disorders center because of snoring. They found more than 10% of these women were dragging through the day because they couldn't get enough sleep. Even worse, the researchers say, the affected women also suffered a level of frustration because the problem of living with a snorer is sometimes not taken seriously by others.
But at sleep centers, it is. Last fall, doctors at the Mayo Clinic studied 10 couples in which the husband suffered from obstructive sleep apnea -- a medical condition characterized by heavy snoring. They found that when the snoring was corrected through use of a breathing device worn as a mask during sleep, the women picked up an average of about an hour's worth of extra sleep per night. The study also concluded that is the possible amount of sleep women lose because of a snoring partner.
And, sleep experts say, it's nothing to laugh about.
"Snoring itself occurs in one-fourth to one-third of the American population," says William Kohler, MD, of The Sleep Center in Billings, Montana. "Snoring is a reflection of turbulence of air flow in the nasal passages to the top of the lungs. Anything in there can raise vibration, which can manifest as snoring."
Kohler adds that women bunking with a snorer can suffer in two ways. First, they may be tired all the time -- with all the misery that that brings. Secondly, long-term sleep deprivation may bring on more serious medical problems. "There is a study that indicates a higher incidence of fibromyalgia [a syndrome characterized by chronic pain and fatigue] in women whose husbands snore," he says.
Fortunately, some women fight through their own fatigue and get to the root of the problem: Men.
"A lot of men are not concerned with the health consequences of snoring until the wife says, 'I've had it. I'm out of here,'" says W. McDowell Anderson, MD, director of the James A. Haley Sleep Laboratory at the Tampa, Fla., Veterans Affairs Hospital. Kohler adds, "Most of my patients are brought in by their spouse. They don't know why they're here. They don't want to be here."
The main reason they are there, he says, is because snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. "About 3% to 5% of Americans have obstructive sleep apnea -- where they have snoring and the airway collapses," Kohler says. "That is a serious medical condition. If a person snores, [he or she] should be medically evaluated." However, not everyone who snores has obstructive sleep apnea.
Such snorers who stop breathing for short periods run a high risk of developing high blood pressure and even having a heart attack or stroke, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Plus, they may be sleepier during the daytime than they realize. "The men often don't bother doing anything about their sleepiness because they don't realize it's coming on -- until the wife complains or they have an accident," Anderson says.
Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is effective, but not always easy to complete. Obese patients are often instructed to lose weight -- though you don't have to be overweight to develop sleep apnea. Putting a halt to smoking and drinking helps, as does changing sleep position.
Anderson says great results can also be had with the mask method, which keeps the airway open through a continuous airflow. But compliance is a problem because the device can be awkward to use. Finally, there are varying degrees of surgery -- some of which mainly relieve snoring, but others are specifically targeted at obstructive sleep apnea.
There is, of course, an easier solution for women suffering with a snorer: Move to another bedroom. But Anderson says that can be enormously disruptive: "Certainly for men whose wives have decided not to sleep in the same room, it can be devastating. And they're willing to do almost anything."