Do you have any advice for sleep that is interrupted by a spouse's alarm clock?

Do you have any advice for sleep that is interrupted by a spouse's alarm clock? I go to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep. However, my husband sometimes sets his alarm earlier than mine in order to get extra work done (sometimes several hours before my alarm is scheduled to go off). On these days, I wind up waking up to his alarm and, even if I fall back asleep, usually feel tired all day. Short of sleeping in separate rooms, do you have any suggestions?

There are a few options to consider that may help but probably will not fully solve the problem. Earplugs are remarkably effective for many individuals who must deal with noise factors such as you described. If his alarm is on the other side from where you sleep, then earplugs can work well and yet still allow you to hear your own alarm, assuming it is close enough to your side of the bed. Be sure to find those earplugs that are very comfortable (eg foam pore type) and rated as protective at 31 decibels or higher.

Another very up and coming option makes use of alarm clock technology in which more subtle aspects of stimulation lead to the awakening. The most obvious one that might work for you in this situation is something that emits a focused light that grows progressively brighter, but covers a small enough area to awaken only your husband. Some also may add gentle sounds to the mix. You can find many of these products advertised on the Web.

Other related options are the devices that may work through a mattress or a wrist application that attempts to gauge the depth of sleep and then promotes awakening through vibrations at a point when sleep is more shallow and more naturally conducive to an awakening. Your husband would need to experiment with such devices to determine whether they could awaken him at the proper times. Or, there are variations that simply vibrate at a set time to function as an alarm clock, eg the Fitbit wrist band. Again, you can find these products on the Web.

Another angle that may or may not appeal to you is to clarify the rationale for your husband’s behavior. If it is essential to complete this extra work for the family budget, that’s understandable; but if not, it raises many other questions about your husband’s reasoning for this behavior. You make it sound as if he is losing a fair amount of sleep (“sometimes several hours before my alarm”), so I’m wondering how such a lifestyle is beneficial to his health. Moreover, if he is planning this behavior on specific nights (ie setting an alarm), then would he consider sleeping in another room on such nights so you can maintain your schedule? I would be curious to know whether all these points have or have not already been discussed with him and whether or not there was an attempt to find a meeting of the minds.

Last, and not least, I must ask whether or not this issue merits marital counseling. Again, we do not know all the details here, but it seems clear from your complaint that your sleep is being injured, which in turn is affecting your daytime activities. It is not unusual for couples to sleep in separate beds or bedrooms, especially if one person suffers sleep problems disruptive to the other person’s slumber.

The point above is not trivial. Guilleminault researched the issue of how sleep disruption was associated with marital discord.(1) In his 1995 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 40.5% of women with sleep-disordered breathing attributed divorce or dissolution of a love relationship to their chronic sleepiness and fatigue. An alarm clock is not likely to produce the same degree of repetitive awakenings from sleep as breathing difficulties, but you did describe that your most concerning symptom was feeling “tired all day.” Eventually, not only will you get chronically worn down by your sleep disruptions, but also in time it would not be surprising if you developed some pent-up anger or resentments toward your husband for not recognizing the problem he is causing.

I hope you find a solution to the problem, one that will restore your sleep and promote marital harmony.

1. Christian Guilleminault, MD; Riccardo Stoohs, MD; Young-do Kim, MD; Ronald Chervin, MD; Jed Black, MD; and Alex Clerk, MD. Upper Airway Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Women. Ann Intern Med. 1995 Apr 1;122(7):493-501.

Barry Krakow MD


Dr Krakow’s 27 years of sleep research have focused on the complex relationship between physiological and psychological sleep disorders. Dr Krakow currently operates private sleep medical center, Maimonides Sleep Arts & Sciences, Ltd., and serves as Classic SleepCare’s paid Medical Director.

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up.