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How Sleep Affects Relationships


If you’re sharing a bed but not getting a good night’s sleep, it could negatively impact your relationship. Read on to see if separate beds or a trip to the doctor are steps you should consider.

By Mark Amundsen

hristina, 30, from Minneapolis, MN, has a problem in the bedroom. “My boyfriend snores loudly; it’s so deafening that I cannot for the life of me sleep. Once I told him in a sarcastic way (but I was kind of serious), ‘I don’t ever think I could marry you unless you get rid of your snoring problem.’ Another time, I tried to wake him up when he was snoring so loudly that I couldn’t talk over his snoring because
He woke up and I asked him to stop snoring.
it was louder than a scream... and that’s what I ended up doing: screaming at the top of my lungs. He woke up and I asked him to stop snoring. He didn’t take that too well. He said, ‘I can’t help it,’ and then he walked out of the bedroom.”

Snoring is just one sleep problem that can play havoc with relationships. The most common, in fact, may be not getting enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), only about 4 out of 10 Americans report getting a good night’s sleep regularly. And in 2009, a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) discovered that the quality of sleep couples get is intrinsically linked to the quality of their relationships: “Results indicate that, on a day to day basis, couples’ relationship quality affects their sleep, and their sleep also affects their subsequent relationship functioning. For men, better sleep (as indicated by diary-based sleep efficiency) was associated with more positive ratings of relationship quality the next day. For women, negative partner interactions during the day were associated with poorer sleep efficiency for both themselves and their partner that night.”

It’s not surprising that poor sleep leads to cranky couples; according to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, poor sleep leads to excessive daytime fatigue, falling asleep in inappropriate places and circumstances, inability to concentrate and impairment of motor skills and cognition. And car crashes: More than 100,000 a year are caused by falling asleep at the wheel, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): “In addition to the high risk of automobile crashes, sleepiness can cause difficulties with learning, memory, thinking, and feelings, which may lead to poor school and work performance and difficulty with relationships.” No wonder couples are less fond of each other when they’re tired!

Insomnia can be a problem all on its own or simply a byproduct — if it is due to your partner snoring loudly, that is. But if you’re losing sleep and don’t know why, a doctor can help or refer you to a sleep study clinic. (Search the database of available sleep centers at www.sleepcenters.org.) Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA, says, “A number of sleep problems will affect the bed partner, leading to a high percentage of couples who end up sleeping in separate rooms. If you’re not in the same bed… not much else is happening, either.”

Some of these problems are common and some are rare, but all should be brought to your doctor’s attention if they are affecting you. With more than 70 known sleep disorders identified by the NIH, bear in mind that this is an introductory course:

Insomnia
According to the NSF, if you cannot resolve your inability to sleep yourself, there are treatment options available: sleep aids, for example, but these shouldn’t be used for longer than 10-14 days
Insomnia can be a problem all on its own or simply a byproduct.
(follow the instructions!). You doctor may suggest relaxation techniques, cognitive therapy, or refer you to a sleep study or clinic.

Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
“Snoring is the #1 medical cause of divorce as well as breaking up cohabitational relationships,” says Jordan S. Josephson, M.D., author of Sinus Relief Now: The Groundbreaking 5-Step Program for Sinus, Allergy, and Asthma Sufferers (www.sinusreliefnow.com) and sinus specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, NY. Although snoring is often used as a comic device in the media, Josephson says that “snoring is no laughing matter. It’s caused by multifaceted problems; generally, airway obstruction anywhere between the tip of the nose to the back of the throat.”

Of course, many snorers insist that they are innocent because they’ve never heard it. “A husband and wife came in,” says Josephson, “and he says he doesn’t snore. She says, ‘Why do you think you’ve been sleeping on the couch for the last 16 years?’” But suppose you are aware of it; then what should you do? “If you’re overweight, you need to lose some,” suggests Josephson. “It helps both snoring and sleep apnea. If your nose is congested, see a board-certified specialist or an otolaryngologist who specializes in these issues. It could require an operation. You may still snore, though — get thoroughly assessed to determine the causes and fix them all.”

Josephson has seen patients whose snoring was caused by nasal blockage due to injury and many suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which is a serious issue. Says the NIH: “Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. These episodes cause temporary drops in blood oxygen and increases in carbon dioxide levels, which lead to frequent partial arousals from sleep. Limitations in upper-airway dimensions are typically associated with chronic, loud snoring. The frequent arousals result in ineffective sleep and account for the chronic sleep deprivation and the resultant excessive daytime sleepiness that is a major hallmark of this condition. Additional effects include morning headaches, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart-rhythm disorders, stroke and decreased life expectancy.”

So if, like Christina, your partner snores, recommend a trip to the ENT. “Back in mid-2000s, they were selling homes with two master bedrooms,” says Josephson. “But you have to resolve the problem, not avoid it. I’d say, ‘Great, so he’ll die in the other bedroom.’ If your partner has been unsuccessfully treated in the past, explain that there are new treatment combinations, better diagnoses. Explain that it affecting both of you — and volunteer to go with your partner.” Aside from constant sleepiness, crankiness, and the possibility of death, says Josephson, “it literally can end a relationship. If you get no sleep at all while sharing a bed, a breakup could soon follow.”

How Sleep Affects Relationships, Page Two

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