heavy breathing while sleeping?
January 21, 2021 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I don't snore, but my partner reports that I breath very heavily when I am asleep. He is a light sleeper, so sometimes this makes it hard for him to sleep. How can I remedy this?

My partner reports that the heavy breathing does not fall into the "snoring" category (he snores big time but it doesn't bother me), just very audible heavy breathing. He has not noticed any symptoms of sleep apnea - I don't stop breathing at any point, and I don't suddenly jolt awake due to my own noise. I do take medications at night for mental health reasons that work as sleep aids as I am a longtime insomniac. I am a little overweight, but not so much that my doctors hound me about it in appointments, and I get regular exercise. I try to sleep on my side but usually end up on my back partway through the night. I usually sleep through the night. Very rarely do I wake up for water or to use the restroom.

What might be going on here and how can I fix it? A CPAP machine seems overkill for something like this. That said, I would like to be able to quell the volume of my breathing so that my partner doesn't have trouble with his own sleep. Would a sleep study be in order? We can't figure this out, because I'm not actually snoring or choking during the night... just breathing loudly.

Any advice would be appreciated. As always, I am aware that YANMD.
posted by nayantara to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a perfect time to get a white noise machine. My partner and I both snore and ours helps me sleep through and get back to sleep after the racket he makes. We have this one.
posted by CiaoMela at 1:46 PM on January 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

Have you considered a white noise machine, like this?

It would just smooth out the sound of your breathing so he didn't notice it as much.
posted by dazedandconfused at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might ask your partner whether the loud breathing is always when you're on your back, because that can definitely be low-hanging fruit to tackle - try adding a humidifier to the room, take some steps to discourage back-sleeping, if you are prone to allergies maybe add (or move) an antihistamine dose to dinnertime or an hour before bed so you're more dosed up.

But some people just breathe with vigor at certain stages of their sleep cycle and that's okay and you shouldn't sacrifice healthy sleep for someone's sensitivity. My husband is an intense dreamer and prone to forceful breathing and mumbling; we use a white noise machine so it's less jarring in the silence of the room and now I generally don't hear it unless I'm really lightly asleep or mostly-awake.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:49 PM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have you ruled out solutions that mask the sound, like earplugs or a white noise machine?

To be honest, it sounds to me like this is just ... you know, normal person noise. Maybe you're louder than average, or maybe you just seem louder than average because everything is worse when you can't sleep.

I feel a little (perhaps unfairly) defensive on your behalf, because the trend in AskMe questions about similar issues seems to be: Female partners make noise, it's their problem to fix; male partners make noise, it's the female partner's problem to put up with it. There have been several questions over the years where female partners are criticized or expected to sacrifice their own comfort and sleep for their male partner's.

You can try things like a humidifier, but if there isn't a treatable cause then you probably need to move toward solutions that mask the noise instead of solutions that make you quieter. And your sleep is just as important as your partner's - you shouldn't be trading a bad night's sleep so he can have a good night's sleep.

Like, I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of giving you advice you didn't ask for (just get a white noise machine), but since you didn't mention trying it and finding it didn't work or ruling it out ... they can really make a big difference.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:55 PM on January 21, 2021 [16 favorites]

My sister and her partner sleep in separate rooms pretty often because of different sleep styles and tolerance for movement during sleep. We are middle aged, it's fine to make sure that we all get the sleep we need.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:56 PM on January 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

To me this sounds like a him problem rather than a you problem. Snoring is something that's solvable and should be solved because it's more a problem for the snorer than the audience. He is just not very able to sleep when there's another person there doing normal sleep things. Maybe he needs sleep headphones? Or can he sleep in another room?
posted by bleep at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm the light sleeper in my relationship, and really sensitive to/easily distracted by the rhythm of my partner's breathing just in, like, a cuddling context, and our solution was to stick another pillow between us.

I would have escalated to earplugs if necessary, but that sound muffling (and yes, the white noise of our air purifier) was enough.

They've used a CPAP for the last year or so and just last night I noticed that the best sound-muffling technology was Big Fluffy Comforter pulled up to ear level. And Boring Podcast In One Earbud.

We both do things to address our own sensitivities. Partner wears earplugs and a sleep mask because I'm usually awake a little later. I pipe a little noise into my ears to cover their noise. Seconding, thirding, and fourthing that your partner has about a million options open even without sleeping in a different room.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 2:05 PM on January 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions folks! We're going to try a white noise machine because it may help ME fall asleep faster as well (I usually lie in bed for like 60-90 minutes waiting for my brain to "power down" at bedtime).

Point well taken about this being his problem vs. mine. We're prefer not to have to resort to separate beds, and there are many nights where he is actually able to sleep just fine despite my heavy breathing; it's just when he has a rough night it makes it hard for him.
posted by nayantara at 2:12 PM on January 21, 2021

Earplugs are great for this, as are these soft earbuds that are actually comfortable to sleep with.
posted by trig at 2:35 PM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Does it wake him up from sleep, or just make it hard for him to fall asleep/fall back asleep if you're already sleeping? Those two things might have different possible solutions.

White noise helps me not get woken up by noise (I actually just use a compact space heater that has a "fan only" setting because I already had that and it makes basically the same noise as white noise machines.) But when I'm having trouble falling asleep or falling back asleep, listening to books or podcasts on bluetooth sleep headphones (I got the cheap $20 ones on Amazon, flat speakers embedded in a stretchy headband) has been magical for me. It's weird--during the day I listen to the same things and enjoy them, and if someone ELSE were listening to an audiobook out loud while I was trying to fall asleep I'd be mad. But at night in bed with the light off playing audiobooks for myself, they quiet my mind and put me to sleep pretty quickly. I use a sleep timer so the podcast/book shuts off after 30-45 minutes and doesn't wake me up again.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2021

our solution was to stick another pillow between us

Oh! Yeah, we did this recently kinda by accident - I had been sitting up on the pillow to watch tv, fell asleep and pushed it into the middle of the Pillow Zone between our respective pillows, he left it there because he thought I wanted it there...and it not only muffled his mumbling but also blocked the occasional flashes of light from his devices. It is a big (I mean for a standard-pillow-size) shredded-foam bamboo pillow, fluffed up to be very tall.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2021

When I have a rough night, I also use needs-more-cowbell's suggestion - a bluetooth sleep headphone set to a carefully chosen podcast (I needs word to focus my attention). I have rules about bedtime listening - it needs to avoid all anxiety provoking subjects, interesting enough for to hold my attention but not so interesting that it will bother me to fall asleep and miss parts of it. Using the sleep time is essential - otherwise the voice of the podcast will mess with my dreams. For your partner, it will also block out your sleep breathing and give him something to focus on other than not being asleep.
posted by metahawk at 5:07 PM on January 21, 2021

BTW, for those reading who just want to try white noise to see if it helps before getting a dedicated machine, most smart speakers should be able to play white noise. My wife and I have an Echo Dot in the bedroom and we just say "Alexa, make it rain" (I'm sure there are less-silly equivalent commands available but I don't know them). A laptop with its screen brightness set to 0 (and with an appropriate MP3, app, or web app) should work as well.
posted by commander_fancypants at 6:42 PM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If he falls asleep he is able to stay asleep through the night. If he wakes up for any reason (mostly to use the bathroom) and I am breathing heavily, he can't get back to sleep.

He is weirdly resistant to a white noise machine because he prefers perfect silence when he sleeps. This is actually impossible in the real world, and we also run a humidifier in the room which makes noise so I am dubious of this claim. I ordered a white noise machine anyway and will use it to see if it helps.

For a while I slept with a massive wedge pillow that seemed to quell the heavy breathing, but the pillow took up a huge part of the bed and was a PITA. After a while, it began to hurt my neck, so I gave up on it.

I don't breathe heavily when I sleep on my side; it's just when I'm on my back it happens. While I'm sleeping I'm not always cognizant that I've rolled onto my back. That being said, I don't want to sleep on my back as it contributes to the aforementioned neck pain and also aggravates nerve issues in my leg due to sciatica - I often awake up with my leg in agony and spasming and my toes twitching, and occasionally it feels like my foot is bending outwards during these attacks. I have seen an orthopedic doctor about this and have had a x-rays and an MRI which shows some damage to a lower disc in my spine, though not severe enough to require surgery. The orthopedic doctor is stumped. Eventually when I get a let spasm it goes away within 10 minutes but it's agony, and only happens when I'm lying on my back. I'd be interested in methods to keep me sleeping on my side to reduce the leg attacks and stop the heavy breathing.
posted by nayantara at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2021

Look up "side sleeping backpacks" they're soft backpacks you wear to bed that basically put a pillow on your back that prevents you from rolling onto your back in your sleep. I imagine this could be DIY'd easily by sewing something bulky onto the back of a tank top that you wear to bed.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:57 AM on January 22, 2021

Paper tape! Over your mouth! Put it on the back of your hand first, peel off, and then put it on vertically.
posted by 10ch at 10:08 AM on January 22, 2021

For a while I slept with a massive wedge pillow that seemed to quell the heavy breathing

If that worked, try raising the head of your bed. Similar effect without the crick in the neck. Or try a more gradual wedge than you did before (just an example, I haven't tried that one).

When my spouse breaths loudly when I'm trying to get to sleep, I hand him a tissue and tell him to blow his nose. The key is not to tell him he's snoring, because his sleeping self will argue that he wasn't. If I just order him to blow his nose, and put the tissue in his hand, he does so, without waking, and then quits breathing so loudly.
posted by chromium at 2:08 PM on January 22, 2021

« Older Эй, ухнем! Song of the Volga Boatmen, please   |   Are there any MUSHes that still thrive? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.