Living With a Partner Who Has Sleep Apnea

Living with a partner who has sleep apnea can be difficult.
We’re here.

2020 has been a difficult year for many.
Social distancing, loss of employment, isolation, anger, fear… it comes as no surprise that the rates of mental illness are higher than ever. It has reminded us how important our loved ones are. In other words, the need for close connection. 

But for many, being close with your partner seems challenging. It all comes down to what happens between the sheets (or what doesn’t happen). If your partner struggles with their sleep, and it’s impacting you to feel romantically bonded, this post will give you an insight into sleep apnea. Living with a partner who has sleep apnea is a journey.

Here are some tips to help you cultivate connection again.

The Symptoms To Look Out For In Your Partner (Is it Apnea?)

It’s 3am.

You wake up abruptly because of your partner’s loud snores. You have to be at work in three hours and it seems like an impossibility to fall back to sleep with the noise. In the morning you’re resentful of your partner, for keeping you up. But you feel guilty. You know it’s not their intention. Sound familiar?

If your partner struggles to sleep soundly, it will be affecting their life. Perhaps, in ways not yet connected.

These are some of the most common symptoms of poor sleep and sleep apnea, according to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Low energy levels throughout the day
  • Waking up tired and groggy
  • Brain fog
  • Impaired cognitive function that may manifest as delayed reaction time, poor memory recall, forgetfulness, short attention span
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mood disorders like anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability or a heightened emotional state
  • Frequent colds, cold sores or illness, caused by a suppressed immune system
  • Falling asleep at random points in the day, such as in a meeting
  • Physical weakness

Sleep deprivation has some serious impacts. Therefore, it should be addressed to protect your partner’s long term health. There are many causes of sleep deprivation. For instance, and the most common, sleep apnea. We’ll come onto this more later.

How Your Partner’s Sleep Apnea May be Affecting You and Your Living Situation

Aside from the effect on your partner, your partner’s sleeping struggles can also have a knock on effect for you and your relationship. Here are some of the most common side effects reported within a couple:

  • Anxiety and fear for their health
  • Feeling resentful of their mood swings
  • Annoyed by their lack of energy that manifests as laziness
  • Less physical intimacy – lower sex drive, less sexual attraction
  • Sleep deprivation due to snoring
  • Feeling disconnected

 

Well, What Does the Research Say About Sleep Apnea and Relationships?

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined the impact of sleep disorders on intimate relationships.

63% of the study participants with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) reported relationship problems. 69% reported reduced sexual desire. 46% had difficulties with sexual arousal and 29% difficulty with orgasm. 

Another study examined the impact of snoring, concluding that if severe, it can cause anger and resentment in a partner. Which may, in turn, further impact sexual function and intimacy. 

Rosalind Cartwright, PhD and the founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at Rush University, expressed in Science Daily that:

Couples who struggle with sleep apnea have a high divorce rate”. 

Why Is Sleep Apnea Related to Poor Relationships?

This, she claimed, is due to the strain on the marriage. Living with a partner who has sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation and resentment, creating a hostile home environment especially during the time of a pandemic.

It’s safe to say that when one person is chronically struggling with their sleep, it can have some major impacts. You love your partner and want them to feel like themselves again, for both your benefit. So how can you approach the issue in a compassionate way and what can you do about your partner’s sleep apnea?

Communication Between You & Your Partner is Key

If your partner’s sleep apnea symptoms aren’t addressed properly, your partner’s sleep deprivation may have long term impacts in terms of their health and your relationship. But taking the first step towards resolution can be extremely difficult.

Especially on topics pertaining to sex.

A 2019 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, looked at communication within couples about sexual intimacy.

The researchers found that more than half of all participants wanted to communicate with their partner about sex, but didn’t, to avoid hurting their partners feelings, or feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Communication is Essential

A survey with over 100 mental health professionals found that the most commonly reported predictor of divorce is communication problems.

Second up was poor conflict resolution. Suppressing your feelings in your relationship may work in the short term, but it is not a good long term solution.

Here are some tips to open up a line of communication about your partner’s sleep apnea.

Ways to Approach the Issue

We recently reached out to a psychotherapist and relationship expert, Helen Lomas, to gain an insight into the best ways to approach difficult issues within a relationship and ultimately, living with a partner who has sleep apnea.

Based on our conversation, these were the main takeaways:

1. Put Yourself In Their Shoes

It’s very easy to resent your partner for interrupting your sleep, for them not being full of life or being the partner you once knew them to be. But it’s vital to put yourself in their shoes. 

It is well-established in research that sleep deprivation causes emotional, physical and behavioral changes. Particularly when this is caused by sleep apnea, a medical condition. Your partner is struggling; they need your support, not your anger. 

When you approach the issue with your partner, think about how you would like to be told. Putting yourself in their shoes can make for a more empathetic and productive conversation.

 

2. Approach With Caution

This is no-doubt a sensitive subject, especially if it has caused arguments in the past. Approaching the topic with caution can make all the difference. During a normal conversation with your partner, gently direct the topic of conversation towards your concerns. This can drop your partners defenses and allow for some vulnerability.

3. Speak with Compassion

Helen commented,

Your partner may get defensive, but meeting this with anger will not leave room for true resolve”.

Be kind and compassionate, even if you are annoyed by your partner’s reaction. In turn, this will lead to a better outcome.

4. Be Supportive

You love and care for your partner, which is why you are with them. We all go through struggles in life – being there for your partner during the hardest times will strengthen your bond. Ultimately your goal is to find a resolution to their sleep apnea. Make it clear that you just want to support them getting better.

5. Physical touch

If sexual intimacy has been lost as a result of your partner’s sleep apnea, holding their hand, embracing them or even just a gentle touch on the arm. Above all, this can remind them that you are their partner. This act of vulnerability can help your partner do the same.

So, What Exactly is Sleep Apnea?

Firstly, sleep apnea is a respiratory sleep disorder that affects more than a quarter of US adults. Secondly, it is characterized by a blocked airway, which causes the breathing to stop. Thirdly, it interrupts sleep, causes coughing and spluttering, loud snoring and daytime sleeping. Often randomly, like in a meeting.

Check out this example that shows the difference in airways and breathing capacity.

Source: https://mundodentistry.com/sleep-apnea-snoring/

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Those most at risk include men, over 40, with a higher body weight (obesity). Other causes and risk factors may include:

  • Neck circumference
  • Narrow throat
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use

If you believe your partner has undiagnosed sleep apnea, open up a line of communication to discuss this with them and suggest reaching out to a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.

In Conclusion

Living with a partner who has sleep apnea can be challenging. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

In other words, when your partner is struggling, you are also struggling. Especially, when it comes to the knock on effects of sleep deprivation. We’re here for you.

Choose to:

  • Cultivate compassion within your relationship,
  • Help your partner through difficult times
  • And feel comfortable to express your concerns and needs.

 

Communication can help you re-connect. Give it a try.