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Could Your Partner Have a Sleep Disorder?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 30, 2021

What’s a Sleep Disorder?

A sleep disorder is any one of a group of conditions that get in the way of good sleep. Lack of sleep can take a toll on your health, happiness, and quality of life, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.

Although there are more than 100 sleep disorders, the five most common types are:

  • Sleep apnea: Your breathing is interrupted or abnormal during sleep, typically with heavy snoring.
  • Insomnia: You can’t get to sleep or stay asleep through the night.
  • Narcolepsy: You feel extremely sleepy during the day and may fall asleep suddenly.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): Your legs feel uncomfortable, and you have an urge to move them as you fall asleep.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder: You act out dreams in your sleep with talking, walking, or swinging arms.

When someone has a sleep disorder, they could have one or more of these conditions in different combinations.

Signs and Symptoms

Anyone can have sleep problems from time to time, due to illness, stress, or a major life event. They become a sleep disorder if these interruptions happen regularly enough to get in the way of daily life and good health.

Because some sleep disorder symptoms happen during sleep, you might notice them in your partner before they notice it themselves. For example, you might notice that they:

  • Swing their arms, punch, shout, talk, or otherwise move around during sleep (REM sleep behavior disorder)
  • Are often tired during the day, even after what seems like a full night’s sleep (at least 7 hours)
  • Can’t do normal daily tasks as easily or as well as in the past
  • Regularly can’t get to sleep or stay asleep (insomnia)
  • Have an unusual sleep schedule, due to work and lifestyle, that interferes with healthy sleep (generally 7 hours or more of uninterrupted sleep)
  • Take daily naps
  • Have trouble remembering simple things
  • Respond more slowly than usual
  • Have trouble controlling emotion

You also might notice sleep apnea symptoms. The most common symptom is heavy snoring. But just because your partner snores a bit when they sleep doesn’t mean they have sleep apnea. Only a doctor can diagnose the condition, but there are some common signs:

  • Unusually loud snoring
  • Breathing that stops for more than 10 seconds at a time
  • Small or “shallow” breaths during sleep
  • Tossing, turning, and restlessness during sleep
  • Snoring that stops as it cuts off breathing repeatedly during sleep
  • Frequently waking without remembering it the next day
  • Waking suddenly with gasping or choking sounds
  • Grogginess and grouchiness during the day from lack of sleep

Excess body weight can be a warning sign, too. It is often the cause of sleep apnea, though there are others.

Complications of Sleep Disorders

There are a number of well-known problems that can come from a lack of sleep.

Over the long term, it can lead to moodiness, anxiety, crankiness, and depression. Your partner may get fuzzy in their thinking and judgment. This could cause problems with relationships and productivity at home and at work.

Combined with sleepiness, it could also lead to accidents in automobiles or other heavy equipment that could cause injury to themselves or others.

Lack of sleep also can sometimes be a cause of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Partner Has a Sleep Disorder

Speak with your partner about the signs and symptoms you notice. It’s important they speak with their health care provider. There may be simple, easy treatments that could rid them of symptoms and help to head off future illness. These symptoms could be a sign of another condition that needs treatment as well.

It might help to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks before going to the doctor that keeps track of your sleep routine each night. You might be able to help your partner with some of this information, like:

  • When they go to bed
  • When they get up
  • How long it takes to fall asleep
  • How many times they wake up
  • When they have food, drink, alcohol, and caffeine each day
  • Amount and timing of exercise
  • Hours of sleep per night
  • Any noticeable tossing and turning
  • Naps
  • Level of daily sleepiness

Your partner’s health care provider will likely want to see them in person. They’ll do a full physical exam and ask about symptoms, lifestyle, medical history, and any other illnesses. If there is no obvious cause of the symptoms, the doctor might suggest a sleep study.

That’s when a medical team monitors what happens in the brain and body during sleep. You typically have to go to a special sleep facility. Small sensors on your head, chest, and elsewhere send information to computers. There are no needles involved.

The team will look for possible sleep disruptions. They’ll pay attention to a number of things, including:

  • Eye movements
  • Pulse
  • Breathing rate
  • Body movements
  • Snoring
  • Blood oxygen levels

It might take a couple of weeks for your medical team to make sense of all the new information. Your partner will likely need to make another appointment to go over the results.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Association of Sleep Technologists: “How to Diagnose & Treat the 5 Most Common Sleep Disorders.”

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “What is Insomnia?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Common Sleep Disorders.”

Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “Sleep and Disease Risk,” “Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety,” “An Overview of Sleep Disorders.”

Mayo Clinic: “Sleep disorders.”

National Jewish Health: “Insomnia Causes.”

Penn Medicine: “Is Your Snoring Really Sleep Apnea? A Guide to Sleep Apnea and How It Can Impact Your Health.”

Sleep.org: “What Is Sleep Apnea?”

Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Disorders.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Insomnia (Beyond the Basics).”

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