Quiet snoring keeps me awake
March 31, 2017 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I have sensory processing issues and am kept awake by even quiet snoring. Most snoring solutions seem to be designed to muffle loud snoring. I've tried a lot of solutions but nothing seems to work. My partner's snoring has been keeping me awake for years, and now that we're going to be in a new living in life situation I'm extra concerned.

Just to get this out of the way: I know the most common response is "get checked for sleep apnea." We have talked to my partner's GP about this, and she said that since my partner is not suffering any sleep problems of their own, does not snore loudly, and does not appear (by my check) to stop breathing, she does not think that's enough to recommend a sleep study. Given that my partner's father snores much louder, got a sleep study done, and was told he has sleep apnea but it's so mild they won't give him a CPAP machine or any other treatment, sleep apnea likely isn't the problem (or if it is, there's likely nothing we can do about it).

My partner's snoring never wakes me up, but if I am awake, my brain seems to latch on to the noise and can't get to sleep. Unfortunately, since it takes me much longer to get to sleep than it does for them, this is a problem pretty much every night. Our current solution is sleeping on beds on opposite sides of the attic room we rent (so fair distance apart), I wear earplugs, and when they start snoring loud enough for me to hear, I say their name until they wake up enough to stop snoring. They usually do not actually become conscious, and even when they do wake up enough to respond, they often don't remember it the next morning. So we've decided this is an acceptable solution, but I know it’s not good for them to be woken up constantly. It also frequently doesn’t work, in that I wake them up and they stop snoring, only to start snoring a couple of minutes later.

We're going to be moving into an apartment in the fall as I start graduate school. It's unlikely the bedroom will be large enough for two beds, so we'll probably be sharing a bed, exacerbating the problem. Sleeping in separate rooms is not an option because I sometimes have extreme chronic illness flare-ups in the middle of the night and need them there to help me.

There’s three ways we’ve tried to approach this. One, reducing my partner’s snoring. Two, blocking out their snoring. Three, getting me to sleep fast enough that their snoring doesn’t bother me. Here’s what we’ve tried.

Reducing partner’s snoring:
- They’ve tried snore strips, and those helped some, but not significantly.
- They’ve tried sleeping on their side, but it hasn’t seemed to help and also causes them pain.
- We considered a chin strap or mouth guard, but apparently those only help with open-mouthed snorers, and my partner is definitely a closed-mouth snorer.
- The doctor suggested (in passing, and in a way that suggests she knows this isn't really a solution) weight loss, but the only reason my partner is overweight is because the medication they're on made them gain 20 pounds. And because of their chronic illness and taxing job, exercise isn't really an option right now. Nor is improving diet, but that's a whole separate issue.

Blocking out snoring:
- I used these earplugs for a while, but it didn’t block out all of their snoring, and sometimes I would wake up with pain in one or both of my ears (possibly from the earplug partially dislodging and getting stuck at an odd angle).
- I tried these earplugs recently, but they’re hard to get into my ears and consistently hurt. They do block the noise out more, but not completely enough to be worth the pain.
- I just picked up Mack’s silicone earplugs, which I've been using for the past two weeks, but I’ve had trouble getting them to make a solid seal. They seem to pull away from my ears, and the only way I can get them to stay in is shoving above where my ear canal is, and even then it doesn’t always work. And it still doesn't block out all the snoring. I also get pain, not in the ear canal, but I think from the pressure caused by the seal?
- I’ve tried using a soundscape or white noise, but if I have it loud enough to block out their snoring, it wakes them up.
- I’ve tried using earbuds with the soundscape/white noise, but those get in the way of my shifting. I can’t sleep on one side too long without pain so I go back and forth. They also cause pain in whatever ear I’ve got against my pillow (I’m a side sleeper), so I don’t think wireless earbuds would solve the problem.
- I’ve considered using one of those sleep headbands with speakers in them, but have a couple of concerns: 1) I don’t know how comfortable they would be for a side sleeper, 2) I overheat very easily (as in, every single night, at least once—that’s another problem I’m trying to solve) and am concerned this would contribute to that, and 3) I’m sensitive to textures so I don’t know how well I would respond to certain types of fabric on my face.

Getting me to sleep faster:
- I try and go to bed on time every night, 10:30PM. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does deviate, it’s usually no later than 11:30, and the absolutely latest is 12AM.
- I try not to use electronics before bed. This can vary a lot, but I do make sure to shut off my computer before going through my nighttime routine, which usually takes 15-20 minutes but can take longer because of ADHD. I also try to read for a half an hour before bed, though I skip this sometimes if I’ve been staying up too late.
- I keep the room cool. The window is open and the fan is on in winter, and the AC is set to 65 degrees in summer.
- I use a weighted blanket, which has helped—used to take me a couple of hours to get to sleep, now it only takes one. But my partner still falls asleep way faster than me.
- I’ve tried breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 one, but they never seem to do anything.
- I’ve tried meditation but that also doesn’t seem to help.
- I tried melatonin when I was in my teens and it actually just woke me up more. It may be different now? But I'm on multiple meds and don't want anything that might interact.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do at this point. My only potential hope is one of those sleep headbands, but I haven’t been able to find one that won’t cause me to overheat and doesn’t have speakers uncomfortable for side sleepers. Any suggestions for products like that? Or for any other possible solutions that I haven’t tried?
posted by brook horse to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Would Ambien or another hypnotic be an option for you?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:46 PM on March 31, 2017

Can you go to sleep before them?
posted by tristeza at 3:48 PM on March 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

CPAPs are kind of a pain (getting a mask that fits and is comfortable might take a few tries; then there's maintenance and supplies to deal with, and if you forget to fill the humidifier you can end up with a hellacious sinus headache in the morning, and even with the humidifier you may need an antihistamine every night to keep the snot at bay) so I wouldn't ordinarily recommend one if it wasn't necessary, but if you were ruling it out because you can't get your partner's doctor to recommend a sleep study, that's no reason at all.

You can buy a nice one (Philips Dreamstation with humidifier and heated tubing) on Amazon for around $400 without a sleep study or even a prescription. You will also need a mask so call it $500; getting the right mask can require a few tries so maybe call it $600. The good news is that if you have a flex account, the CPAP qualifies.

The Dreamstation automatically chooses the right pressure with the factory settings, so you won't need to adjust anything. (But you can; you have full access to the clinician settings, even.)

It isn't cheap even without the sleep study, but if all else fails... maybe? It will almost certainly stop the snoring.
posted by kindall at 3:50 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you sleep separately with a bell or baby monitor so that your partner would hear you if you need help?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:51 PM on March 31, 2017 [19 favorites]

Please forgive me if I'm being blindingly obvious, but are you sure you're putting the earplugs in right? I always pooh-poohed the instruction to pull on the top of your ear when inserting an earplug but it really does make a big difference. Straightens out the ear canal, or some such.

I've used these for years. (In my case, it's the sound of the CPAP that keeps me awake) But it's really just a matter of finding a brand/style that's comfortable; most foam earplugs are rated for about 32 dB, give or take. If you're hearing the snoring even with earplugs, I think that would count as *loud* snoring.
posted by DrGail at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

You sound a lot like me...ADHD + sensory. I am a very light sleeper and the sound of the dog staring at me wakes me. And I have a snoring husband.

I don't have a great solution but I do use white noise. Could you try to turn up the white noise in a very gradual way?
I also have lots of great pillows and a bit of a noise reducing pillow wall helps me.

Good luck.
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:03 PM on March 31, 2017

There are some simple medications like Trazodone that you could try--your GP can do the work to find something that won't cause interactions. Trazodone essentially treats anxiety; I thought of it because it sounds like it's your brain doing the keeping-you-up, rather than the sound itself. I use it myself for persistent insomnia, along with 5mg time-release melatonin, and it really helps (and it doesn't cause sleep-shopping or hallucinations or any of that alarming stuff). Talk to your doctor.
posted by wintersweet at 4:06 PM on March 31, 2017

I should have mentioned: I really want to avoid prescription medications if at all possible. I'm on five as it is and I don't want to add more if I can avoid it. (Just checked: Ambien has moderate interactions/increase in side effects with two of my medications, Trazodone has a major life-threatening interaction with my most important medication. This is why I don't like being on so many medications.) I'm willing to try them as an absolute last resort, but I want to try everything else first.
posted by brook horse at 4:10 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use headphones for exactly this. I find the headband headphones to be super comfortable--the material is a fleece type of material and the headbands are not too tight. If you get a squashy pillow you may also be able to make a divot right under so that the in-ear headphones don't press in. I find the cheapest, least ear-entering ones to be the most comfortable.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:16 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have similar problems: I'm a light sleeper and have a particular hatred of soft, regular sounds (our dogs licking themselves at night used to drive me absolutely jump-out-a-window BONKERS). My husband snores at, I guess, a subclinical level. (It's totally normal snoring, I am just super sensitive to it.)

I have those sleep headphones and am a side-sleeper. They do not block out snoring just by themselves. However, paired with a foam earplug in the ear that is facing up (nothing in the other ear) does an excellent job of blocking out even fairly loud noises. And they've very comfortable for me. Honestly, me and my sleep headphones are an inseparable pair at this point and I don't go on overnight trips without them.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:17 PM on March 31, 2017

If the white noise works for you but wakes up your partner, maybe it would work for them to wear the earplugs instead of you?
posted by dorque at 4:19 PM on March 31, 2017 [22 favorites]

I took apart headphones and used them with a cotton headband to make cooler sleep headphones, so that's a possibility. Having an old phone playing white noise right under your pillow might work instead?

I agree with peanut that you should consider ways to make it possible to sleep in separate rooms. This really is the best way to improve both of your sleep.

If you decide to try the medication route (which I don't recommend, and I know you don't want, but if you reach that point) gabapentin may be one to consider that may not interact with whatever set of meds you're on now. (And of course, if any of your current meds cause drowsiness, try to take them at bedtime!)
posted by metasarah at 4:25 PM on March 31, 2017

Just an FYI - CPAP machines make noise too. My husband describes the noise of mine as sounding like a very gentle waterfall or bubbling brook. So, not too annoying (to him anyway) but definitely something to get used to. And certainly better than the log-sawing he listened to from me before. :-/ Not sure if that would bother you in the same way as the snoring does, but don't spend a lot of money on one only to find it's just as bad or worse than the original problem.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:28 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

DrGail makes an awesome point, it sounds super obvious but that minor adjustment made it possible for me to wear earplugs more comfortably and I am an extra sensitive person. It sounds like you are, too, I know exactly what the pain is that you mean after sleeping on your side and following the insertion directions literally helps a lot.

One thing that I have tried, because now apparently I am the snorer who is driving my partner nuts when we sleep together, are these nose vent type things that are all over Amazon. I suspect that many of the reviews are fake, but they were cheap enough to try. I haven't tried them with my girlfriend in the same bed yet so I have no idea if they're working or not, but I hope so because they're so much cheaper than the BreatheRight strips.

Couple other ideas: could your partner try one of anti-snore pillows? Most of them are shaped like wedges but there are also some that are sort of half-doughnut type pillow shaped. Because anti-snoring has been a thing on my mind recently, I have read a bunch about possible at-home solutions and pillows apparently can help (vs things like chin straps/sprays which don't help at all.)

Also, as an extremely sensitive person myself, I have something that you might try that helps me when I hyperfocus on a noise and get into a loop where I'm so focused on it that I can't sleep. I listen to guided meditations on my phone (I have an iPhone and use the app called Buddhify) or I'll listen to a book or podcast — I need something long enough that I'm exhausted enough to fall asleep before it's done. I also listen to rain sounds every night but like you, they're not enough to interrupt my stressing out about repetitive noises and turning them up high enough to drown out noises just makes them too loud and even more stressful. I can listen to meditation/stories much quieter so it won't wake up the person next to me.

Good luck, I so feel for you! I sleep separately from my partner most nights for a variety of reasons and it's hard to justify the cost of a house that's big enough for that to work!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:29 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a side sleeper and use the sleep headphones. They do not bother me at all, they are very flat. Is there some light fabric you think would not bother your skin? The fabric is just a stretchy headband, you could make your own.
posted by jeather at 4:33 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you tried custom-molded ear plugs, designed for sleeping in? They will be expensive, but should be comfortable, won't cause overheating, and shouldn't fall out.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:33 PM on March 31, 2017

2nd dorque - you know the white noise can work for you. Try having partner wear the ear plugs, assuming they're willing. Low cost solution to at least try.
posted by MandaSayGrr at 4:43 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is it possible for your partner to go to bed *after* you have fallen asleep? E.g. you go to bed at 10:30pm, they go to bed at 11:30pm. It sounds like you sleep deeply once you've fallen asleep so you hopefully won't wake up when they come to sleep in the same bed later on (my partner has a much later sleep schedule than me, we share a bed, and it's never been an issue).
posted by serelliya at 4:50 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

My next try would be white noise closer to you than them, and earplugs on them. If you can get at least decent results from a lightweight white noise solution (fan, laptop or device playing white (or brown or pink - try all of them) noise) you could probably then invest in a Dohm or similar.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:54 PM on March 31, 2017

re: earplugs, try the Mack's silicone ear plugs for kids if the white adult size ones are hurting your ears. I've been using these for almost a decade now and they have helped a lot. If you're having trouble with the seal, try drying/wiping your ears out with a kleenex or something. Mine won't stick if my ears are sweaty or oily.

Other light sleeper ideas:
-going to bed well before your partner so you're at least sleepy when they come to bed
-eliminating caffeine entirely (I was shocked at how much better I slept when I cut out my morning 8 oz of coffee--and that's all I was having and only in the morning!)
-exercise--not sure if your health conditions allow this but any amount of exercise helps me sleep better

Less popular idea probably: On nights when you need good sleep, your partner takes the couch or something. Your sleep is interrupted every goddamn night, they can sacrifice the quality of their sleep every once in a while for you.
posted by purple_bird at 5:01 PM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised to hear that the white noise wakes up your partner. Is there a chance that you're using an app or similar and turning it on as needed?

If so, one thing to try, use a dedicated white noise machine (I quite like this one) and never ever turn it off. We use these at my office to help condition the sound in our converted warehouse loft type space and it really helps a lot. They are never turned off but occasionally someone will unplug it on accident or something and the relative silence is almost unbearable. I wonder if by raising the ambient level of sound without introducing it when the snoring begins you could get a little more relief out of the white noise .
posted by goHermGO at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had trouble with foam earplugs hurting, so I got these and they are very comfy.
posted by Lucinda at 5:34 PM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

HI! I have the same sensory processing issues! I have learned about these new types of earplugs on the market as exampled in this link : https://hush.technology
I am keen to try them. They specifically promise to block out snoring, as they are able to cancel out lower frequency which most earplugs cannot. If you search noise cancelling earplugs you'll find lurked brands. If you try them let me know if they're good!
Also sometimes I take Benadryl. But this is not a daily option, just for when I really really need to sleep and am sharing the bed with my snoring partner.
posted by elke_wood at 6:55 PM on March 31, 2017

Hello, snorer here with very mild sleep apnea. One thing that the doctor gave me, and I'm surprised yours didn't, was a referral to a sleep dentist. I didn't require a CPAP, but the sleep dentist fit me for a device that brings my jaw forward. I'm a close mouth snorer and bringing my jar forward brings my tongue from falling back and from my soft palette doing weird things that cause me to snore. With insurance, cost me $300. But boy has it saved everyone from hearing me snore, and it's not invasive!
posted by buttonedup at 7:15 PM on March 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Have you executed the special move combo attack? Also known as combining the earplugs with the white noise machine. This is the only thing that works for me. Hello, I'm you. The ear plugs alone didn't work and the machine alone didn't work, but together they're my own personal sleep solution.

Also, I'm a night person and he's a day person, so he was going to sleep several hours before me, and me turning on the white noise machine always woke him up. He came up with the idea of turning it on when he got into bed, so he could get used to it and fall asleep to it, and I wouldn't wake him up when I came in hours later and turned it on.

You may have a teeny ear canal. Do you sort of squish them and twist them and then put them in? The foamy ones. That's what I do. Then they expand inside your ear canal. If your canal is short or thin you may need a smaller plug.
posted by the webmistress at 8:06 PM on March 31, 2017

I might have higher ear tolerance than you, but I've had good luck with both foam ear plugs (the blue 22dB ones at Walgreens) and white noise. One trick I found can help keep the volume of the white noise lower is to use a rising and falling, ocean-type sound (the popular mobile app White Noise has this setting). The fade in and out can match and hide snoring patterns pretty well.

And yeah, make sure you're inserting foam earplugs correctly. You want to roll them between your fingers into a little stick, which you then insert.
posted by rhizome at 9:08 PM on March 31, 2017

I have this exact problem. Snoring husband who hates the white noise machine. I use the Super Leight orange foam earplugs -- no other earplug I have tried blocks noise as well for me. They do sometimes hurt -- I would love a better solution.
posted by Malla at 9:13 PM on March 31, 2017

I think it's worth at least trying separate beds + some kind of monitor (or could you call them on the phone?). A twin bed could go in the living room and double as seating, if you can get a one bedroom place. Getting more and more regular sleep may help with your medical issues.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:45 PM on March 31, 2017

I found foam earplugs did not work, only wax ones.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:31 AM on April 1, 2017

How is your partner's sleep quality? Do they wake up feeling refreshed? It's possible to snore only lightly but still have sleep issues, and sleep issues can definitely contribute to chronic illness and stress.

I'm assuming the GP screened your partner with the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, asked about physical symptoms, etc. If the GP's screening didn't at least include the ESS I'd consider a second opinion.

I second considering a sleep dentist, if that's an option.

This is unlikely to be it, but since you say your partner's snoring is a bit better with the nose strips: is there any chance they could have nasal valve collapse? If any of the at-home tests at that link work for them, they could consider seeing an ENT.

Finally, if they've been using store-brand nose strips, I'd splurge on a box of the brand-name variety (Breathe-Right Extra Strength, in my area) and see if it makes a difference. I found the knockoff version was much less effective.
posted by pie ninja at 6:33 AM on April 1, 2017

I've had a good experience with these earplugs. You need to squeeze and roll it before inserting into the ear, and they're easy to take out too. It works most of the time unless the snoring is the low/deep bass kind, then I just give up and go sleep on the couch. That doesn't usually happen that often and it seems to occur towards dawn.

I've also noticed that if I've gotten myself nice and tired physically through either excercise or physical activity, I end up sleeping through a lot of the thunder, motorcycles and chainsaws that come through our bedroom :)
posted by eatcake at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2017

Thanks for all of the suggestions!

I tried the webmistress and dorque's suggestions of combining white noise, me wearing earplugs, and partner wearing earplugs last night. I've actually tried this set up before (my partner wears earplugs by default) but I thought I'd give it another go. It turns out that white noise doesn't wake them up; the problem was I would always combine white noise with a thunderstorm because that sound was pleasing to me. The rising and falling noise of a thunderstorm woke them up, but just the straight white noise didn't.

Unfortunately... even with the volume on my phone turned all the way up, it didn't block out all of the snoring. I'm going to try DrGail's earplugs--the ones I have are only 29 decible, so maybe the 3 decibels will make the difference? I do already do the whole "pull on top of the ear" thing, but maybe I'm not doing it correctly? I'll look up videos or something on that.

If that doesn't quite do it, I think I'll look into a proper white noise machine (which hopefully will be able to turn up louder than my shitty phone speakers) and use goHermGO's suggestion of keeping it on all the time.

Nose vents might be another possibility; their snoring has been getting worse lately, and that also coincides exactly with allergy season. I don't know exactly how that whole system works, but I can see there being a link that the vents might solve.

If not I'll bite the bullet and by a sleep headband and see how that works.
posted by brook horse at 2:24 PM on April 1, 2017

You might also check out the bedphones brand sleep headphones. They have a very flat, lightly padded piece that goes next to your ear and then a thin flexible wire that hooks over the back of your ear. I'm a side sleeper and it doesn't bother me at all to have the headphone between my ear and the pillow. They stay in place well and they won't make you hot like the sweatband style sleep headphones. The only down side the is that wires tend to break or otherwise stop working after a while. I had three pair - they are SO comfortable but I got tired of replacing them. For you, it might be well worth it - just don't be afraid to request a warranty replacement if one side stops working while it is still in the warranty period. (Since it was still functional, I would wait but then it would be out of warranty...)

My other suggestion is that you might try listening to spoken word podcasts instead of white noise - it does't just mask the noise but it also focuses your attention on the content instead of on what your ears are hearing. I have a carefully curated list of podcasts to fall asleep by (engaging enough that I listen instead of thinking but nothing to make me worry more, nothing so interesting I will stay awake to hear what comes next or be upset if I miss part) I use the sleep timer to turn off the podcasts after a while, if I'm still awake, I just reset the timer. For me, if the podcast is still running during REM sleep, it interferes with my dreams so having it turn it off automatically is important.
posted by metahawk at 2:49 PM on April 1, 2017

Maybe something like a pillow that produces white noises and other soundscapes would work for you? Since the sound will be much closer to your ears than your partner's snoring, and also away from their ears.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:21 AM on April 2, 2017

I've found that breathing in time with the snoring helps me fall asleep. I still hear it, obviously, but it's like I'm not fighting it.
posted by mchorn at 10:29 AM on April 2, 2017

These "Super Sleep" ear plugs are designed for side sleepers – they're slightly shorter in length than the usual size. They've made a huge difference for me in terms of comfort.
posted by Lexica at 11:49 AM on April 2, 2017

Have you tried training yourself to associate the snores with security rather than insomnia? If you can sleep with white noise you should probably be able to sleep with snoring. Perhaps hypnotism to change your thought from "Partner is snoring so I won't be able to sleep!" to "Partner is near at hand so I know I am safe and not alone." Because it's not the noise keeping you awake, it's your interpretation of the noise. Likely you lay away too cranky and anxious to sleep one night listening to it, and forever after you think of it as something that keeps you awake, whereas someone snoring softly is a white noise generator and exactly the kind of thing that makes babies and toddlers sleep better.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:30 PM on April 2, 2017

You need more than a phone speaker, either a powered speaker or an acoustic amplifier (I often use a large salad bowl when I'm outside doing yardwork, or a plastic drinking cup to help me hear over my loud bathroom fan, but you can also buy purpose-built ones). You need dimensionality to your white noise, you want it bouncing off the ceiling and walls, not a little pinpoint of hiss.

In hotel rooms, I use my ipad (better speakers, slightly, and I need the phone immediately next to the bed for the alarm/clock) with the speaker end pointed into a corner, ideally from no more than a foot away. I prefer it to be 6-8 feet away from me, but you may not have that much space to work with.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2017

And I am also a person who is woken by any real variation, but I do like white noise apps that let you mix sounds together so I can do white or brown noise plus a fan and/or wind. It makes a denser noise. Sleep Pillow is one I have used before. I mostly use myNoise because I like their ambient noisescapes during the day when I'm concentrating on work, and they have equalizers so I can turn down the trebles on the plainer white noises that sometimes bug my tinnitus.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:18 AM on April 3, 2017

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