Snoring is a top source of sleep disturbance

Married to a snorer, specialist in sleep medicine and organiser of last week’s Stop Snoring Week, Marianne Davey knows that for most snorers and their bed partners snoring is no laughing matter.

For bed partners who sleep with a snorer the most cited complaint is sleep disturbance. In clinical trials it was found that these bed partners suffered worse sleep efficiency, increased arousals and a greater percentage of lighter sleep than those with a non-snorer. Another study found the bed partners of snorers were woken as often as 21 times per hour. The health consequences of long-term sleep deprivation can be devastating.

Snoring sounds start at around 50dB and can reach up to 120dB which is equivalent to sleeping next to an industrial machine. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), exposure to continuous sounds in excess of 30dB has been shown to be associated with sleep disturbance and other sleep problems such as difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep and frequent awakenings.

It is well documented that poor sleep quality increases the risk of health problems and poor quality of life. Many bed partners of snorers suffer mental and physical conditions such as depression and anxiety, insomnia, morning tiredness, headaches, gastro-intestinal complaints, pain and fatigue. They also have more hours of work missed than partners of non-snorers. The strain of poor sleep for both the snorer and the bed partner often takes its toll as it creates a hostile and tense situation which can lead to divorce. Indeed, snoring is now recognised as grounds for divorce.

Sleeping in separate bedrooms would seem to be the obvious answer to a good night’s sleep, but, this may not be the case. It seems that there is no difference in sleep and health problems between partners who continue to sleep with their snoring spouse or those who elect to sleep in another room. This may be because loud snoring can often be heard outside of the bedroom. Another theory put forward by researchers suggested that distress caused by noise is related to the features of the sound stimuli such as sound level, peak level, frequency, duration and whether the source is identifiable. The relative importance of these factors varies as some bed partners are more susceptible to noise than others.

Evidence has found that people who are exposed to loud noise on a regular basis will suffer significant noise-induced hearing loss. In industry people who are exposed to noise that exceeds 50-90dB for 8 hours or more are required to use ear protection. If partners are sleeping next to a loud snorer ear protection is very important. Ear plugs can help to reduce the level of volume but will not be sufficient to eradicate high volumes of more than 50dB.

It is important that we recognise and address these often overlooked aspects of snoring and help bed partners of snorers improve their quality of life.

Marianne J Davey MSc

Director of British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association
Accredited in sleep medicine


Can snoring ruin a marriage? Science Blog Feb 2 2006 –
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Blumen M et al (2012) Is snoring intensity responsible for the sleep partner’s poor quality of sleep? – Sleep & Breathing 16 903-907
Tara Parker-Pope (2003) Dangers of second-hand snoring – The Wall Street Jounal 18 2003
Sardesai MG et al (2003) Noise induced hearing loss in snorers and their bed partners – J of Otolaryngology 32 (3) 141.
Ulfberg J et al (2000) Adverse health effects among women living with heavy snorers –  Health Care For Women International 21 81-90

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