Trying to sleep next to a partner who is sawing logs all night long can test your sanity — and your relationship, too.
When sleep is interrupted, your bond with your partner suffers, too. A 2013 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that couples have more frequent and serious conflicts after a bad night’s sleep — and have more trouble resolving their disagreements.
Snoring, in particular, can become a source of frustration and resentment between both parties in a relationship.
“The person who is kept awake (or who has to shuffle off to the spare bedroom in the middle of the night) may grow to feel resentful of his or her snoring partner,” clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael J. Breus wrote for Psychology Today. “The snorer, meanwhile, often feels guilty, ashamed and helpless about their noisy, disruptive sleep. These feelings can be a real source of irritation and isolation for even very loving couples.”
It’s important to note that your partner’s snoring could be a sign of an underlying health issue (more on that below), so it’s worth making an appointment to have them checked out by a doctor.
We asked sleep experts to share their best advice for sleeping with a snorer.
1. Create an evening wind-down routine to help you drift off
“Minimize — or preferably eliminate — use of electronic devices and dim the lights one to two hours before bedtime. Lower the temperature in your sleeping environment to make it more conducive to falling asleep. You may want to try getting in bed and falling asleep before your bed partner to minimize the disruption that their snoring may have on your sleep.” — Dr. Anita Valanju Shelgikar, neurologist, sleep medicine specialist and director of the sleep medicine fellowship at the University of Michigan.
2. Consider going to bed at a different time than your partner
“Sometimes, we go to bed before we’re sleepy enough because that’s when our partner goes to bed, which can lead to having difficulty falling asleep. This can be especially problematic if your partner snores, because you may be listening to them snoring while waiting in vain to fall asleep, making it even more difficult and frustrating.” — Jade Wu, behavioral sleep medicine specialist and sleep researcher at Duke University School of Medicine.
3. Drown out the noise with ear plugs or a white noise machine
“One of the easiest ways to handle your partner’s snoring is to block out the noise using earplugs. This is a relatively inexpensive option that can help you to sleep through the night and wake up feeling rested, regardless of the sounds your bed partner makes. If you have young children or pets, just make sure to store your earplugs in a safe place when not in use.” — Li Åslund, clinical psychologist and sleep expert at Sleep Cycle.
4. Encourage your partner to see a doctor
“Have your partner get evaluated by a sleep specialist. Snoring is not only treatable, but it can sometimes indicate the presence of a more ominous sleep disorder like sleep apnea. An evaluation by a sleep specialist is easy and could literally save their life.” — Dr. W. Christopher Winter, neurologist, sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Solution.
5. If their snoring is tied to weight gain, support them in reaching their health goals
“Body weight can be a touchy subject, especially because there are so many factors that play an important role in body weight ― including genetics — that we cannot control. However, if your partner has gained weight and is trying to lose it, support them. Weight gain plays an important role in snoring because studies show that many people have fat deposited not only in the areas of their belly and hips, but also in the head and neck — including in the tongue and around the throat. Losing this weight can be extremely helpful in improving snoring, especially if the snoring just started or worsened quite a bit with weight gain.” — Dr. Eric Kezirian, professor of sleep surgery at the University of Southern California Caruso Department of Otolaryngology.
6. Help them stay in a snore-free position by using the tennis ball trick
“Snoring is typically worse when someone is sleeping on their back. Sometimes snoring will clear up completely when someone rolls onto their side. It may not be simple for someone to stay on their side, whether due to shoulder pain that can develop or other reasons, and someone may roll onto their back at some point during the night,” Kezirian said. “One silly trick to help with staying off one’s back is for them to wear a T-shirt with a pocket sewn onto the back to fit two tennis balls. When a person wearing the T-shirt rolls onto their back, they will then have these tennis balls right in the middle of their back, encouraging them to roll off their back and maybe onto their other side or their stomach instead.”
“In our culture, sleeping separately is stigmatized. But there’s really no reason for your sleep to suffer just so you and your partner can be unconscious in the same location overnight.”
7. Or use an extra pillow to keep them in the right position
“Giving your partner a light — or heavy, if needed — push to change their sleeping position can make the snoring stop, without waking them up. Propping up a pillow against their back can make them stay on the side position for the rest of the night.” — Åslund
8. Help them cut out the nightcap
“Muscles in the body relax during sleep, allowing structures — especially the soft palate, the back of the roof of the mouth — to vibrate and produce snoring. This muscle relaxation during sleep explains why people can snore during sleep but only rarely see snoring while awake. Alcohol and sedatives relax muscles even more than in natural sleep, worsening snoring,” Kezirian noted. “It turns out that alcohol and sedatives often worsen the quality of sleep and can make people more likely to wake up early and have trouble falling back to sleep. This is why alcohol and sedatives are not a good idea before sleep. A general rule of thumb to allow these substances to clear from the body is to avoid them within about three hours before bedtime.”
9. If all else fails, consider sleeping apart
“In our culture, sleeping separately is stigmatized. But there’s really no reason for your sleep to suffer just so you and your partner can be unconscious in the same location overnight. You can still go to bed together and enjoy intimacy, cuddles, chatting. But when it’s time for lights out, one of you can go to a different room, and both of you will enjoy better sleep quality.” — Wu