When I meet a couple for the first time, I ask questions so that I can get to know each of them as individuals, as well as how they interact and operate as a couple. Often, the discussion will lead us in the direction of their sleeping habits and patterns, along with whether they share the same bedroom or not. For some, sleeping separately has evolved from one parent falling into the habit of sleeping next to her child at night. Many others tell me that they sleep alone because they are bothered by one (or both) of them snoring.
I often wonder if this has just become a reasonable excuse for wanting to sleep alone. Sleeping alone may mean that you can watch TV without being asked to turn it off because your partner wants to go to sleep. Sleeping alone may mean that no one is going to yank your portion of the cover off of you and sleeping alone may mean that you don’t have to come up with excuses as to why you aren’t in the mood for sex.
The way that I see it is that if its truly his or her snoring that’s keeping you apart, there are ways to remedy this other than sleeping in separate rooms. In fact, snoring apart doesn’t prevent even more damage from occurring than what it might do to your relationship.
For example, damage to ones heart, overall health, mental and cognitive functioning and ability to function as well as you might if the snoring was treated.
So, when my husband mentioned that my snoring had become more noticeable, I agreed to look into it. In fact, I suggested that since he too snored (apparently not as loudly as me he said!) that we make a date out of attending an overnight sleep lab.
After being referred to one by our family doctor, we arrived at the lab at 9pm as requested. This was one night we were going to be sleeping alone for a good cause.
Spending the night at a sleep lab creates anticipatory anxiety for most and we were no different. I had read about others experience online but still didn’t know what to fully expect other than thinking that there was no way I would be able to sleep well or long enough for the technicians to catch me snoring.
The technician that wired me up was reassuring and friendly. As he hooked me up to all 20 plus wires, we chatted about what each was for. Every lead tells a different story. About my heart, my brain, my respiration, my body’s movements and the level of oxygen in my body. A belt was placed around my stomach and another around my chest to measure the depth of my breath.
When I lay down around 10:30pm, feeling like a human experiment and with a closed circuit camera monitoring my movements, I wondered again how I would fall asleep. Despite my wonder and worry, I did. When the technician woke me around 3am to ask me to turn onto my back in the hopes that he would be able to analyze my breathing in that position, I was surprisingly able to fall back asleep. When he turned on my light around 5:45am to say good morning and to ask me to complete an exit questionnaire, I was relieved and grateful that I had slept after all.
I greeted my husband in the hallway as he headed to the shared bathroom and we were in the car going home at 6am, looing very forward to washing the guck out of our hair and getting a couple more hours of sleep in the comfort of our own bed.
We met with the respirologist, also director of the sleep lab, a few weeks later for the results. As it turns out, my husband’s results showed even more “events” than mine, meaning that he experienced apnea (or an obstructed airway) an average of 15 times an hour, compared to my 13 (no real difference but I no longer felt like I was the only snorer in the family). Apparently, experiencing up to about 5 events an hour is “normal,” and some people with severe apnea may experience 40 or more, so I knew that ours were only mild to moderate which was somewhat of a relief.
Regardless, we were advised to treat our apnea (his more related to the position in which he was sleeping at the time) and mine related to when I was in my REM (rapid eye movement and when dreams mostly occur) sleep. The treatment options were explained to us, as were the risks associated with not doing anything and ultimately, we decided to get fitted for CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines.
We had seen pictures of people lying in bed with what looked like oxygen masks on their faces. They looked like baby elephants with a hose protruding from their masks, attached to the machine. It all looked so clinical and didn’t match the décor of our room, but we found the courage to get fitted anyway. At first, the flood of air from any of the several masks we tried on felt as though we were walking into a wind tunnel. Ultimately we chose a mask that neither of us did well with and were able to go back to replace it with another – a mask that covers our entire nose which we feel allows for more natural breathing.
The CPAP machine is linked to our computer which allows us to see how many hours we managed to sleep with the mask on (even after more than a month we haven’t been able to keep it on through our entire night’s sleep), the score related to how well the mask was sealed (meaning that there was no leakage through the sides or through ones mouth) and even shows us the number of events we have on average per hour.
We have since been for another sleep study with our masks on, had the pressure increased (my husbands) and reduced again when it was found to be too difficult to manage. I am doing quite well. There are no more complaints about my snoring. Its only the sound of the whooshing air from my husbands mouth that we hear on occasion (even the kids can hear it in their rooms!) and we tease him about not being able to keep his mouth shut! More recently he’s ordered a chin strap designed to help keep his mouth closed all night.
So, at the end of the day, along with hopefully preventing any more serious problems related to sleep apnea from occuring, we have managed to prevent our snoring from being an excuse for sleeping in separate rooms.
Following our experience, and wanting to share our respirologist’s wisdom with you too, he agreed to join me as a guest on my podcast related to sleep, The A to Zzzzz of sleep (or lack thereof).