June 30, 2020
Tossing and turning, snoring, gasping for air, lying awake for extended periods of time, going the bathroom multiple times per night. These are all common – and frustrating – sleep issues that have a detrimental effect on sleep quality and quantity – for the sufferer, to be sure, but also for those with whom they share a bed, bedroom, or even a home.
More often than not, sleep issues like these are a sign of an underlying sleep disorder or other health concern that needs to be addressed. And while it’s certainly unfortunate that a sleep partner may experience reduced sleep quality as well, they can actually play a significant role in the solution by insisting that their loved one seek out advice, diagnosis, and treatment from a medical professional. In fact, a recent study highlights the importance of discussing sleep disturbances and their potential consequences with a loved one or housemate, as they impact the quality of the relationship and individual qualities of life.
The Danger of Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), insomnia, and restless leg syndrome, cause interruptions to sleep patterns and other metabolic consequences that pose a serious threat to the sufferer’s overall health and well-being, especially when left unaddressed or untreated for an extended period of time.
In the short-term, interrupted sleep can lead to a variety of concerning symptoms stemming from daytime drowsiness. Some of these include:
- Memory issues
- Trouble concentrating
- Depleted motor skills
- Poor balance
- Mood changes
Over time, untreated sleep disorders can cause long-term health consequences, such as weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, among many others.
Discussing Sleep Concerns with Your Loved One
If you’ve found yourself in a situation where the sleep issues of someone else are negatively impacting your sleep, it’s time to take action. Sleep concerns can certainly be a sensitive topic, but discussing them is necessary for your health, your partner’s health, and the overall health of your relationship.
When an issue goes unacknowledged for too long, tensions can build and result in resentment. You can create a space for open dialog by noting your genuine concern for your partner’s sleep health, as well as your knowledge that while problematic, these sleep disturbances are unintentional. Below we’ve listed a few tips on how to navigate an ongoing conversation surrounding sleep concerns with your partner:
- Record the Disturbance. You may find it helpful to record your partner during the night so that you can replay the disturbance as proof of a problem. This is helpful if your partner doesn’t acknowledge the weight of the situation. Avoid recording your partner without permission, though, as this could increase tension and decrease the ability to achieve an open dialog.
- Put Your Sleep First. You can be supportive and understanding without sleeping in the same bed. If your sleeping partner or loved one’s sleep disorder symptoms are taking a toll on your well-being, it’s okay to create a new, cozy sleeping zone for yourself. If you’d like, you could try reading together or discussing your day before parting ways at night to create intimacy and togetherness.
- Be Kind (to Yourself and Your Partner). Unfortunately, you can’t fix a sleep disorder overnight, no matter how openly you communicate. Acknowledge that not getting enough sleep can scientifically affect your mood in a negative way, and be patient as you and your partner navigate this new terrain.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
After you’ve taken steps to be supportive and create a space for an ongoing conversation surrounding the poor sleeping conditions, you can move into taking steps toward improving your own sleep hygiene. Below are some suggestions to support healthy sleep hygiene:
- Build a Sleep Routine. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day can improve your quality of sleep. And be sure to schedule 7 to 9 hours of sleep each and every night.
- Read into Your Internal Clock. When building a sleep routine, optimize your natural, internal clock by listening to your body. Build your schedule around your needs, rather than your imagined ideal schedule.
- Exercise Everyday. At least 20 minutes of exercise per day, no less than a couple of hours before bed, can improve sleep quality.
- Eat Early Dinners. Have dinner a few hours before bed to allow plenty of time for digestion while awake.
- Fluids Matter. Skip the nightcap and limit daytime caffeine.
- Avoid Smoking and Vaping. Nicotine is a stimulant that negatively affects sleep quality.
- Optimize Comfort. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly by utilizing warm lighting during the hours leading up to sleep, eliminating all light during sleeping hours, and keeping it cool. Sleep is meant to be relaxing, so make sure your environment is reflective of that.
- Limit Evening Screen Time. Opt to read a book instead. This will also help your partner begin the process of winding down.
Seek Help from a Doctor
If sleep problems persist even after making some of these lifestyle and sleep environment adjustments, it may be time to consult with a sleep specialist as it’s possible that your loved one is experiencing symptoms of a sleep disorder that requires diagnosis and treatment. Sleep trouble is a common issue that should not be taken lightly, so encourage your sleep partner to seek support from a professional.