Is your sleep apnea affecting your relationship with your bed partner?

Many people share a bed with another person (or animal) on a nightly basis. Ideally, they appreciate the company of this person and would like to maintain a quality relationship with them. Not every night of sleep is a happy one, though. Unfortunately, those with disturbed sleep often disturb the sleep of their bed partner. As disturbed sleep may lead to unhappiness and unhealthiness, anxiety or resentment may arise between two people if one disturbs the others’ sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea may disturb their bed partner on a nightly basis due to snoring and/or restless sleeping throughout the night. So how does untreated sleep apnea affect relationship quality?

A recently conducted research study examined how relationship quality changed after the initiation of sleep apnea treatment (continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP). Twenty-two subjects with suspected sleep apnea and their spouses were questioned regarding relationship quality. There were questions such as “to what extent could you count on your spouse for help with a problem?” and “How angry does your spouse make you feel?” Subjects and spouses also completed questionnaires regarding sleepiness and depressive symptoms, as both are typically associated with disrupted sleep. All suspected apnea subjects underwent an overnight sleep study to assess the presence and severity of sleep apnea. CPAP treatment was then initiated and subjects were followed-up after 3 months. Relationship quality was again assessed and these scores were compared with pre-treatment scores.

Results showed that after 3 months of CPAP treatment, self-assessed conflict within marriages decreased, according to both apnea patients and their spouses. Additionally, sleepiness and depression decreased in sleep apnea patients. However, spouses did not report a decrease in depression or sleepiness1.

These results show that bed partners may not be as affected by untreated sleep apnea as originally suspected. If they were severely affected by depression and sleepiness because of their bed partners’ apneas and hypopneas throughout the night, these scores would likely have decreased after 3 months of treatment. However, as predicted, the sleep apnea patient did show a decrease in depression and sleepiness. The interesting result is that both patients and their spouses reported a decrease in relationship conflict after treatment, meaning there was tension within the couple prior to treatment, possibly based on the fact that there was a sleep disturbance. However, this conflict could actually have been related to underlying depression and sleepiness in the subject. Although we are not able to tease these two issues apart, relationship status nevertheless improved, making a great case for initiating PAP treatment and sticking to it – for your sake and for the sake of your partner and your relationship!

Source: Pre-publication: Journal Sleep: “Relationship Quality and CPAP Adherence in Patients With Obstructive Sleep Apnea”

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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