I'm sure plenty of you have been in my shoes: You meet this great person, start dating, and fall for each other—only to discover that they snore louder than an electric jackhammer at 4:30 in the morning.
"Maybe it's just because he has allergies," you say, trying to convince yourself that this is remotely plausible. "Maybe she had a little too much to drink, and this isn't normal." But no, it soon becomes clear that their deafening snoring is an everyday occurrence. If you're like me, you'll continue to date this otherwise amazing person as you come to the slow realization that the roar of an indoor hurricane is your new nighttime soundtrack. And if you're even more like me, you're an incredibly light sleeper who can hear your neighbor’s faucet turn on at 2 a.m. two floors down in apartment 1A. So what do you do?
I really dig my S.O., and it would put a pretty big damper on our relationship if I stabbed him in the middle of the night due to sleep deprivation—although I think certain juries would probably let me off because they would understand how deeply frustrating a snoring problem can be.
But it's not like people who snore are doing it on purpose, so I've spent months trolling the depths of the interwebs and sleepily gazing at infomercials, seeking out some "tried-and-true snoring remedies." Mostly, I've just been looking for something that's more effective and kinder than my standby: Squeeze his nose lightly—just enough to wake him up—then pretend to be sleeping. Yeah, it's passive-aggressiveness at its finest.
So I reached out to sleep guru Michael Breus, Ph.D. and therapist, life coach, and author of I Married A Junkie, Cali Estes, Ph.D., for some advice... because, frankly, I needed it. And it was even more worth it because they validated the hell out of my concerns.
"Snoring is a major sleep disrupter, and for someone who values their sleep, it can be a precursor to waking up grumpy," Estes says. "Also, when someone is jolted out of REM sleep, they feel like a zombie all day, and their brain may feel as though it isn't firing on all cylinders. This can lead to arguing and relationship strain."
Breus agrees. "If you look at the data on sleep deprivation and relationships, we know that the more sleep deprived you are, you will view things more negatively, have greater emotional responsiveness (not in a good way), have less interest in sex, the list goes on," he says.
So this is what we've tried:
We decided to test these puppies out after seeing countless advertisements (especially in the '90s—did people snore more then or did everyone just have cable?). I sent my dude to Walgreens filled with positivity, hoping that this would be the simple, albeit dorky, solution to our problem. Come bedtime, he slapped what looked like an oddly shaped bandage on his nose and turned out the lights. And for the first time, he was nearly silent all night (all but for a slight nose whistle), and I had a full seven hours of sleep. Hallelujah! I found the solution! But of course, nothing this easy could last.
The next night, as we got into bed, I said, "Hey, you want to put one of those nose strips on?" His reply was a less-than-enthusiastic, "Nah, I'm okay." Well, that lasted. So I asked him to explain himself.
"One part was the introduction of a foreign object that I wasn’t used to, and it’s not the comfiest thing to wear," he said. "The other part was the contraption makes it harder to breathe through your nose, so you have to breathe deeper than normal, which is uncomfortable. Over time, I'm sure I'd get used to it though. It probably requires repetition—the products all sell 'test packs,' which is what I bought, so they're likely aware it's not something for everyone."
If traditional nose strips aren't your thing and you’re willing to shell out a few extra bucks for the trial pack, Breus recommends MUTE internal nasal dilator, which is a little more modern.
Mouth Exercises as Described by the National Sleep Foundation and This Study
In lieu of finding him a didgeridoo (which arguably would be much more fun and far more entertaining), I asked my dude to try these exercises. While it was hilarious to watch him try them—and they seemed to help the nights that he did them—it's probably not something that he'd remember (or care) to do every night. For good measure, I had my flatmate try out these exercises, and the night that she did them, she didn't snore (which, yeah, don't trust a two-person sample size, but still—those are some good results).
I f*cking hate earplugs, which is probably why my ears ring after years of hanging out by the speakers at metal shows. But in the spirit of compromise, I decided to give them a go. As predicted, I did not enjoy it. My night was uncomfortable and pressure-filled, and I had to fight my cat for the earplugs back after they'd fallen out in the middle of the night. But if you are going to go the earplug route, these worked pretty well for me, and Breus recommends these.
The Ol' Tennis Ball Technique
Snoring tends to happen when you're lying on your back rather than sleeping on your side. I remember reading an article on the interwebs ages ago about the importance of your sleep position and how popping a tennis ball into a pocket that's been stitched onto the back of a tight t-shirt (stopping the snorer from rolling over on their back) could prevent snoring.
Of course, I found the whole concept effing hilarious—not to mention ingenious—and of course, I had to get my dude to try it (sorry, bud!). I didn't have any tennis balls around because my dog likes to eat them, so I MacGyvered an empty plastic bottle onto a thrift store shirt with some duct tape. If you're not crafty and prefer a pre-made snoring shirt (ball not included), you can get one here.
Did it work? Well, the shirt definitely made him stop snoring but also kept him up most of the night (which was a bit annoying for both of us). One reason could be that he doesn't like to sleep with a shirt on, and the other reason could simply be that he had an empty bottle duct taped over his spine. The concept works, but I'm not sure it's reasonable to ask him to sleep with this on every night (although if we did, I'm sure I'd properly sew a pocket on the shirt with a tennis ball rather than use a makeshift duct-taped bottle).
Avoiding the Nightly Nightcap
Alcohol relaxes your jaw and throat muscles so they become slack and block your airway, which can cause snoring—and the truth is, alcohol before bed, in general, is just bad for sleep.
"For years, sleep researchers have known that alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world. If you look back at the results of the 2005 Sleep in America poll, you will find that 11 percent of those polled used alcohol as a sleep aid at least a few nights a week. Another study conducted in the Detroit area showed that 13 percent of those polled had used alcohol as a sleep aid in the past year," Breus says.
"However, the reality is alcohol is not the answer to getting better sleep. While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also does the following to detract from sound sleep:
- Keeps you from reaching the deep stages of sleep
- Dehydrates you
- Awakens you in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom)."
So while drinking alcohol might knock you out, it actually prevents you from having restful sleep. "Having a few drinks before bedtime will increase your NREM sleep (Stages 1 and 2) and reduce your REM sleep, which helps you organize and store your memories," Breus says.
"Too little REM sleep can be devastating for the brain and body. In addition, REM sleep is the sleep stage where the most calories are burned, and alcohol is filled with empty calories, so drinking is never a good idea whenever you're trying to sleep better."
...and Quitting Smoking
While cutting back did help lower the noise level of my S.O.'s snoring considerably, subbing herbal tea for ale and ditching the cigarette didn't stop him from snoring altogether. However, if you're the snorer, it might be a good idea to cut down on how many days you drink and avoid booze and cigarettes the night before your bed partner has a big meeting or a stressful day ahead of them. It's just the right thing to do.
Upgrading From Two to Eight Pillows
"Snoring is often triggered or made worse by sleeping on the back, which encourages a narrowing of the airway," Breus says. "But sleeping on your side may reduce or eliminate snoring for some people. Using a pillow that supports the head and neck, or other sleep equipment that encourages side-sleeping can also help. So can sleeping with the head slightly elevated."
This is going to sound so weird, but we put a barrier of body pillows between us, pretending that that was the border between two countries at odds but that still kinda love each other. We propped him up and both faced each other on our sides, which helped deter him from rolling on his back. While we slept like that, he didn't snore at all. Of course, dog and cat insurgents started battling each other and created a war zone in our little pillow fort, so this solution probably won't work for us long term.
If eight pillows are too many, Estes suggests going for the tried-and-true singular "snore" pillow. "Take them shopping! There are amazing anti-snore pillows that actually work—try looking for one that helps them sleep on their side or upright—that can help reduce snoring."
Watching Reruns of Friends
This seems to work well for both of us. Most people go for a white noise machine, which would probably be better for sleep in general (turn off those screens!), but they tend to be a bit pricey. I'd much rather spend that $80 on some Sunday Seamless orders, a staycation, or a trip. Estes also recommends using a fan to combat the racket.
Sleeping in Separate Rooms
As my S.O. and I live in cramped apartments in Brooklyn, we don't have the luxury of sleeping in different rooms. I did, however, date one snorer in the past in California and had him sleep in the guest bedroom on a different floor. I ended up breaking up with him shortly after, but I think it had more to do with me hating him/our relationship than the snoring.
Anyways, I asked Estes if sleeping in separate bedrooms for those who have the option is beneficial or detrimental to a relationship. In reference to her own relationship, Estes replied, "Sometimes we sleep in different rooms. If my husband has to be up early (I am a late riser and a night owl), we don't want to keep each other up, so respect for sleep is imperative. Sleeping in other bedrooms at times can be beneficial to both partners."
Keeping an Eye Out
That being said, it's important to look out for each other's overall health. "The big question is if a person sees the snorer stop breathing in their sleep, this is a sign of sleep apnea and should be taken care of immediately," Breus says, "Snoring in and of itself is a restriction of airflow which makes the lungs and heart work harder at night, when they are supposed to be working less."
If the snoring is really bad and you think your snoring might be connected to sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, get checked out by a specialist near you—sleep apnea can lead to heart problems and even Type 2 Diabetes.
After all of this, I discovered that the only thing that really works for us is compromise. No one wants to wear earplugs or tennis ball shirts every night, but if you work out a schedule in which both parties do their part a few nights a week, both of you can rest easy. That's what relationships are about anyway—at least the ones that are worth it.
"The key to a happy relationship is partnership, which is give and take. I think if you approach annoying things like this with an open mind and a team effort, it will be beneficial,” Estes says.
Kari Langslet is an avid dater, impulsive adventurer, unofficial therapist to friends and family, and animal lover. You'll usually find her at a dive bar playing Jenga with her dog or headbanging into oblivion at a Brooklyn show. Stalk her on Instagram and Twitter @karilangslet.