As an extremely light sleeper, I tend to be somewhat of a jerkhead about how much sleep I get every night. And so I’ve been blessed with a partner who only kind of snores when she’s very tired and falls asleep on the couch. However, we’re both genetically predisposed to snoring — both our parents are bona fide loggers, so I’m slightly worried about how it’ll impact our relationship when our youthful jowls grow loose and collapse into our airways.
On the occasion that I snore, she will kick me awake and tell me. When she snores, I say nothing and pretend it never happened — she’ll deny it anyway.
And she’s not the only lady in denial of her snoring. In a two-year sleep study that evaluated measured snoring intensity versus self-reported snoring intensity in 1,913 people, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found a majority of women deny it outright.
“Although no difference in snoring intensity was found between sexes, women tend to underreport the fact that they snore and to underestimate the loudness of their snoring,” the study finds.
In other words, much like blasting farts, women snore just as violently as men, but they believe themselves to be non-snorers. Specifically, the study says, 36.5 percent of women who reported themselves as non-snorers “turned out to have severe or very severe snoring intensity.”
On its face, this is funny — haha, you’re just as gross as I am! — but it actually leads to major problems. The study concludes that social stigmas lead women to underreport their snoring, which leads to misdiagnosis by physicians.
With raised awareness and social acceptance that women snore just as loud and often as men, more women might be accurately diagnosed with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which can lead to daytime fatigue, depression, chronic pain and headaches.
Beyond the health benefits, having an honest conversation with your log-sawin’ spouse could be the first step in managing marital problems before they begin.
Take Adam E., a 39-year-old Denver man who, in 2010, desperately took to r/AskReddit looking for advice.
“My wife snores, so I can’t fall asleep. This is a pretty regular occurrence. Sometimes I can fall asleep quick enough that it doesn’t bother me, but on nights like tonight there’s nothing I can do except sleep on the couch,” he writes. “I don’t know how my friends and relatives deal with it, because I really don’t want to embarrass my wife.”
He adds, “I love my wife, but I’m so […] frustrated with this… I’ve never snored. Never been with a girl who snored. And I have a terrible time falling asleep.”
At the time of posting, Adam and his wife had only been married 11 months, but they’d been together for five years before that. I followed up with Adam to see how things are going today.
What a saga. Somehow, he tells me, he never realized she was a snorer.
“She’s been snoring since she was a little kid, at least that’s what she told me,” he explains. “For some reason, I didn’t know she snored until after we got married. We spent the night together when we were dating, but we didn’t live together until after we got married. I don’t know how I missed it.”
Soon, Adam developed insomnia and felt the need to address it. He doesn’t quite remember how he brought it up, but says it came up in conversation — and since she’d already accepted her snoring since childhood, he says, “she was surprised when I brought it up after we were married and living together.”
So, the couple tried a bunch of home remedies. “She tried nose strips, but peeling them off every morning made her nose hurt; I wore earplugs for a while; she tried sleeping on her side… but nothing worked,” he says. Eventually they bit the bullet and decided to sleep in different beds.
Today, nine years into their marriage, Adam and his wife are still together — “and she still snores,” he says. So how do you bring up snoring to someone who carries society’s shame of being a snorer? I asked some sleep experts to find out.
Snore Your Way to Divorce
Christine Hansen, executive sleep coach at Sleep Like a Boss, says the social expectations of snoring are “a serious problem, as it can also lead to sleep deprivation of the person who isn’t snoring.”
Hansen points to a study that found people who sleep with a snoring partner actually suffer from one hour of sleep deprivation. So by sleeping with a snorer, both partners end up being sleep-deprived.
She adds that one solution to this problem — simply sleeping in different rooms — is almost never put into practice, thanks to the social norms of sleeping in the same bed as your partner. “I know a lot of households that are suffering from this… they don’t want to have two separate bedrooms, even though they know that they would sleep better, and they do sleep better when they are not sleeping together,” she tells me.
“But for some reason we still believe that sleeping in one bed as a couple is defining your relationship… like if you don’t [sleep in the same bed], people interpret it as having a bad marriage, even though it really isn’t. It’s just a social norm; it doesn’t have anything to do with how much you love your partner.”
This is the case for Adam and his wife: “[Her snoring] has affected our relationship. She feels guilty about her snoring — and self-conscious. I feel guilty that I can’t sleep in the same bed with her. We both feel guilty about it. The couple now has a 4-year-old daughter, and explaining the situation to her gives them anxiety. “She might one day ask why we don’t sleep in the same bed. I don’t know how we’ll answer. It’s a weird situation, and I wish I could sleep in the same bed as her.”
Snore Your Way to Death
Bill Fish, certified sleep-science coach and founder of sleep-science website Tuck.com, adds that the physical problems with snoring are just as bad — and more prevalent than you’d expect. “We should be just as concerned with the quality of our sleep as the quantity,” he tells me. “Each night our bodies and mind have to go through the four stages of sleep to complete a sleep cycle. … If your snoring or your partner’s are waking you up on a nightly basis, it should be addressed immediately, as it is impacting your health.”
Fish explains that more and more people are being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea on a daily basis. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 22 million Americans are afflicted with sleep apnea, and 80 percent of those are undiagnosed.
While men over 40 do the lion’s share of snoring, research shows the gap between women and men snoring is rapidly closing. A 2013 study of 400 European women found evidence of sleep apnea in 50 percent of the women between the ages 20 to 70, and another study found one in four American women is at high risk for sleep apnea.
If anything, just tell your girlfriend that it’s not weird that she snores. Plenty of women do it!
Fish can personally attest to the dangers of sleep apnea — he’s been a big- time snorer since 18, he says, and 10 years ago he was “diagnosed with ’severe’ obstructive sleep apnea.” He’s used a CPAP machine every day since.
“My wife no longer kicks me in the back each night, I feel like a completely new person and I only wish I would have seen a doctor much earlier,” he says.
How to Talk to Your Loved One About Snoring
If your wife or girlfriend snores, it’s time to let her down easy. Rise above the social stigma and tell her she’s sawing logs like a sailor and it’s driving you insane.
Alana Ogilvie, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Portland, has some advice on addressing the issue “without nagging or judgment.”
“I would definitely advise that partners express it from their own perspective, be clear about what their concerns are and clearly express how those concerns could be resolved. Above all do it kindly and perhaps with concern, just not with anger or resentment,” she says.
Ogilvie explains that if you express love and concern for her snoring, it’s less likely to activate feelings of defensiveness.
“And making it collaborative, a thing you’re going to address together rather than a problem your partner has to fix,” she concludes, “is less likely to activate the stigma and shame associated with the issue.”
As for Adam, the two might sleep in different beds, but they’ve been able to compartmentalize it as getting sleep and nothing more. “We are still very close, and very loving. I just can’t fall asleep when she’s snoring, so I sleep in a different bed. It’s as simple as that.”