Q: My husband is a snorer, and he has only gotten louder over the years. He finally went to a doctor, who diagnosed him with sleep apnea and fitted him with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask to help him breathe — and to help me sleep. But often my husband won't wear the mask; he says it's uncomfortable and unflattering. On nights he goes without it, the apnea returns, so I head to another room to sleep. Our sex life is suffering. Help!
A: This quandary plagues many couples. As you know, sleep apnea is a common -- but serious -- disorder in which the sufferer periodically stops breathing during sleep. It's characterized by obnoxious levels of snoring and disturbed sleep, resulting in fatigue during the day. Apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, and in rare cases it can be fatal.
Unfortunately, the standard treatment, the CPAP mask, is indeed somewhat bulky and unsexy (on some models, the air tube looks like an elephant's trunk). Thus, "it has a rotten adherence rate," says sleep scientist Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Not to despair! CPAPs, Cartwright says, though widely prescribed, are necessary only for severe apnea cases. Many others can be treated with acrylic mouth guards that help keep the airway open, or even by losing weight.
So here's your plan: Tell your husband how his loud — and life-endangering — behavior affects your libido. Say that a considerate man is a sexy man. And if his doctor believes that weight loss or other changes might address his apnea, encourage him to see the CPAP as a temporary fix.
Above all, be positive. Studies show that a nagging spouse can make someone who refuses to use a CPAP even more resistant. On the other hand, when a loving partner points out the device's benefits — such as daytime alertness — the patient is more likely to wear the mask at night. And that means the couple is more likely to be in the same room when the mood hits (and the mask comes off).
When your love life is at stake, cooperation will reap greater rewards than arguing over who's at fault, says AARP's love and relationship ambassador, Dr. Pepper Schwartz. It's a matter of efficiency, she adds. "You have to decide, 'Here's the time we have. Let's use it wisely.'"
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