I was fully prepared for the potential obstacles of moving in with a partner. Early morning vs late night dog walks. Bathroom bartering. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, money, mess, moods. It wasn’t my first rodeo, although it had been some time since I’d donned that particular cowboy hat. The disagreements about decor or diet didn’t phase me; nothing could stop me enjoying the milestone of getting a place with my boyfriend.
Granted, the building fire four days after I moved in was a bit of a buzz kill. We were left out of house (well, rented apartment. It’s New York) for a month. But even when looking up at the billowing smoke, dress ripped and my little rat dog shivering, there was comfort in that moment. Everyone was safe, it would be stressful but would be fixed, and ultimately we were in this together, with our new – sprinkler and hose drenched – home.
Little did I know this would be the least of my relationship concerns. There would, in fact, be an unexpected horror that would push my love to the limits. A key factor I had not considered that would so constantly challenge me I would question the very purpose of my existence. That’s right – living with a snorer.
I’m not talking about the odd snuffle, shuffle or gurgle – no one can be innocent of that – rather a drone occasionally peppered with a sforzando gasp. Partners of serial snorers will know the immense frustration of just nodding off, only to be instantly woken by a guttural snort. You’re in that sweet spot on the cold side of the pillow, the anxiety of that awkward joke you made 10 years ago finally gone, your conscious mind melting into subconscious. No sooner have you started dreaming about Jonathan Creek running the newsroom, or going on an awkward date with Kamala Harris, than your bed vibrates and “gahhh” fills your ear, instantly met with a gentle shove and “ROLL OVER!”
There’s a wide variety of snores, the ahh shoo whistle, the long grunting intake, the train chug with only the briefest interruption for breath. My boyfriend’s snoring isn’t, in itself, that unpleasant a noise. If it were an alarm clock, I wouldn’t be against it. But my god is it loud; his years of music training must have strengthened those snore muscles.
After two weeks on the trot of interrupted sleep, I decided to take matters into my own hands and contact Dr Wendy Troxel, author of Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep. According to her, up to one in three couples say sleep problems have negatively affected their relationship. As a vocal, particularly insufferable, member of the 33.3 per cent, I wanted more details.
“Common couples’ sleeping challenges included differences in sleep-wake schedules (one’s a lark, the other is an evening owl), differences in sleep habits (eg one partner wants the TV on when going to bed, and the other partner wants a media-free zone), differences in temperature or bedding preferences, or the presence of young children or pets who may also try to weasel their way into the bed, making three’s a crowd,” the behavioural scientist told me.
Ear plugs don’t touch the sides, even when shielded by a pillow wrapped around my head like a cartoon character. Side, front, propped or flat, every position he has tried starts well; then, eventually… zzzzz…
As I’m sure most who have tried them will agree, nose strips (or, as I angrily call them when I’m half asleep, nose hats) do nothing. He’s had no joy yet at the doctors, and no amount of white noise makes a difference. According to Dr Troxel, there are plenty who have gone further than me to prevent snoring, recalling a woman “who sewed a tennis ball in the back of her husband’s t-shirt to keep him from rolling onto his back at night … or the many who admitted to giving a quick jab to their partner’s gut, promptly feigning sleep.”
It was at this point where Lucy would take a break to order some tennis balls.
So what is a sleepy girl to do about it? How many months – maybe years – will it take to be able to sleep through such torment? Or must I resign myself to waking up a few times a night, sighing, rolling over, and counting wheezing sheep? Thankfully, Dr Troxel had some advice for those suffering from this relationship anvil.
“There are many strategies couples can try (provided [you have consulted with a medical provider and] that sleep apnea is ruled out or treated). Ear plugs or white noise machines can be helpful strategies for the bedpartner to reduce some of the noise pollution caused by snoring,” she said. “Having the bedpartner go to bed first, so they are in a deeper sleep before the snorer comes to bed, is also a strategy. Positional strategies for the snorer – for instance, using a wedge pillow to keep them side sleeping – may also be helpful for some.”
Perhaps the most obvious and speedy solution is to sleep apart, provided you have the room. My boyfriend and I have resorted to this occasionally, and although we may be well rested the next day, it isn’t quite the honeymoon-esque vibe either of us had hoped for.
But Dr Troxel was quick to comfort: “There does not need to be any shame for couples who choose to sleep apart if it means you and your partner will be able to get better sleep. Many happy and healthy couples sleep apart. Societally, we tend to equate sleeping apart as a sign of a relationship on the rocks, but just as sleeping together doesn’t guarantee a healthy relationship, sleeping apart doesn’t guarantee an unhealthy one!”
She explains that the science shows that a well-rested partner is a better one. “Research shows that people who get the sleep they need are happier, healthier, better communicators, more empathic, less prone to conflict, and even funnier!” When my boyfriend sleeps on the couch I don’t notice him turning into an Alabaman Tim Key the next day, but I’ll listen out for it.
If my scathing takedown hadn’t suggested as much, Dr Troxel says “and for the snorer, don’t minimize the impact of it on your bedpartner … they are truly in agony for lack of sleep!”
Is snoring worse than your building catching fire and your possessions being flooded? Of course not (......). The fact that this is the only real annoyance in our relationship is perhaps a comforting testament to us – but if this continues and I don’t get a full night’s sleep soon, this may not be the case.
As a dutiful partner and journalist, I ran this past my boyfriend and asked him for a comment. The response? “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I sleep great!”
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