10 Tips for a Spouse With Sleep Disorders

Tired of tossing and turning because your partner has a sleep disorder? Here are 10 ways to rest easy – and save your relationship.

A snoring spouse doesn’t mean you have to spend your nights sleeping on the couch. Here is a list of 10 steps you can take to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Talk about it. To avoid relationship strife, have an open, honest dialogue with your partner about the problem, says Michael Nolledo, MD, medical director of the Institute for Sleep Medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, N.J.
  • Get proof of the problem. Many people are in denial about their sleep disorder, since they are not aware that it is going on during the night. “Sometimes it helps to videotape the behavior, so that the spouse can understand the severity of the condition,” says Dr. Nadkarni.
  • Rely on the advice of a doctor. Due to the embarrassment over sleep disorders, many people try to solve the problem on their own. But Philip Alapat, MD, medical director of the Baylor College of Medicine Sleep Center in Houston, says it’s best to see a sleep specialist. “Try to refrain from trying something your friend did or coming up with diagnoses from the Internet,” he says. Dr. Nolledo also stresses the importance of seeing a sleep specialist to better understand your situation. “Encourage the spouse or partner to follow the sleep specialist’s recommendations and continue providing support and positive feedback along the way,” he adds.
  • Encourage apnea-reducing practices. In addition to diagnosis and assistance from a doctor, you can encourage your partner to try other practices that can improve sleep apnea, says Sally Ibrahim, MD, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center in Ohio. “If sleep apnea is potentially a problem, encourage not only a sleep study, but other measures that may help, such as sleeping on the side, avoiding alcohol, weight loss, and avoidance of drugs that may make sleep apnea worse, like muscle relaxants and narcotics,” she says.
  • Optimize your bedroom. Sometimes, simple steps like optimizing the bedroom for sleep are important. Matthew Edlund, MD, author of The Power of Rest and The Body Clock Advantage, says that this can include making the room dark, cool, and quiet; making the bed and every aspect of it as comfortable as possible; and removing all electronics or reminders of work.
  • Opt for a short-term solution. If the snoring is so bad that you just can’t sleep, Dr. Ibrahim says that it’s okay to set up another sleeping area for yourself, as long as you resolve that it’s only a short-term solution. “If snoring is a problem to the point that you need to leave the room, then I would suggest a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is present,” she says. “In the meantime, it is reasonable to stay away from such noise.”
  • Keep the bedroom safe. If sleepwalking or a similar type of “parasomnia” is the disorder that your partner is experiencing, it’s critical to make the room as safe as possible for you and your spouse, advises Ibrahim. “If sleep walking or acting out dreams is a problem, make the bedroom environment safe,” she says. “Keep shades on windows and keep sharp objects and other potentially harmful things away from the bed.”
  • Evaluate your internal clocks separately. In some instances, you and your partner just might not be meant to go to bed at the same time. That’s when you need to adjust your schedule to what works for each of you, says Dr. Edlund. “Figure out if it’s a body clock problem,” he says. For example, if your partner is an owl and you’re a lark, you need different bed times.
  • Make sleep peaceful. Sleep is supposed to be a relaxing activity, not a stressful one. Edlund has a few tips that can make bedtime enjoyable again. “Try to make sleep fun — talk about dreams, engage in cuddling, and ‘pre-dream,’ where you imagine what kinds of dreams you’d like to have,” he says.
  • Be patient. Sometimes solving a partner’s sleep disorder can be a marathon rather than a sprint. It’s important to be supportive of your partner as he goes through the process. Your support will ultimately help him succeed. “Do not give up with one failed attempt at therapy,” says Dr. Alapat. “Often, appropriate therapy does not result in an immediate cure. Rather, slow but steady progress should be the general expectation.”

Sleep should be a restful time for couples, a time to unwind and rejuvenate for the next day’s activities. By dealing with problem sleep, you will be heading off possibly more serious sleep-related issues.

By Wyatt Myers – Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH