picture of life preserver symbolizing relationship rescue needed when sleep apnea is ruining a marriage

Worried sleep apnea is ruining your marriage? Three practical tips for survival and recovery.

By Jason Wooden, PhD and Kristal McKinney, LICSW, CMHS | August 27, 2019

Is sleep apnea ruining your marriage?  If so, you’re not the only one as there are over 18 million adults in the US alone living with sleep apnea and it’s not uncommon for a health crisis to pose additional challenges for a marriage.

Chronically sleep-deprived people struggle with thinking clearly, forgetfulness, mental health, weight gain, and low energy.  They also suffer from low sex drive and other barriers to intimacy.

The good news is there’s quite a bit you can do to including improving your sleep apnea management, working together on a recovery plan, and finding ways to make the marriage work within current limitations.

A health crisis is hard on a marriage

If you’re worried about sleep apnea ruining your marriage, you’re probably not the only one up against the wall.  They’re currently 18 million people in the US alone living with obstructive sleep apnea.

It’s the most common sleep apnea type and happens when the muscles in the throat relax too much during sleep.  As the airway narrows, breathing is interrupted which keeps you from getting the deep restful sleep you need to function.

During deep restful sleep is when the body does a lot of housekeeping and recharges the batteries for the next day.

With so many sleep-deprived and miserable sleep apnea victims, it’s no surprise that some of them are dealing with marriage troubles.

Did you know that 6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease?

That means every year millions of couples are dealing with the fallout from a chronic illness whether its cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or some other medical condition.

A health crisis can be tough on a marriage as it can add a ton of stress and chip away at the strongest of relationships.  In fact, research has shown a link between decline in health and marriage quality.

Sleep apnea is no different.

You may feel like your marriage is currently on life support but don’t give up.

As tough as things are, there’s actually quite a bit you can do to conquer sleep apnea and help your marriages.

So, let’s take a serious look at what we know and what you can do to get things back on track.

picture of man feeling helpless because sleep apnea is ruining his marriage

This is what sleep apnea does to ruin a marriage

The reason why sleep apnea can wreck a marriage is because it’s a real sleep killer with serious mental, emotional, and physical health consequences.

Over time, things can spin out of control.

Some have described sleep apnea as living like a zombie.

People who are chronically sleep-deprived don’t think too clearly and don’t cope as well.  This can make it tougher to deal with the every day challenges of a marriage.

Chronically sleep-deprived people generally have a harder time functioning.  (In fact, sleep deprivation been found in studies to affect your brain the same way being drunk does.)

They may also have a hard time participating in normal activities, including household chores and social outings.

Physical intimacy can suffer due to suppressed sex hormones, erectile dysfunction, and low energy.  Studies have shown that sleep apnea patients have higher rates of sexual dysfunction.

Emotional intimacy can suffer due to poor communication, irritation, anger, and stress.

On top of this, over the long-term poor sleep can cause anxiety and depression which can make a bad situation worse.  And, finally, let’s not forget how sleep apnea can wreck the sleep of a bed mate, putting them at risk for anxiety and depression.

That means more emotional turmoil in a struggling marriage which can feel pretty overwhelming.

Did you know that snoring, a common symptom of sleep apnea, has been estimated to be the third most common cause of divorce in the United States and Great Britain?

Taken altogether, that’s a lot that can keep you from having a functioning and healthy relationship.

It’s also why sleep apnea can ruin a marriage over time if left untreated.

picture of man whose sleep apnea is ruining his marriage talking to a sleep specialist

Tip 1: Get way more serious about your sleep apnea

Okay, whether you in a sleep-deprived fog or a desperate spouse trying to find a way out, it may seem like the cards are stacked against you.

If you want to keep sleep apnea from ruining your marriage, the first thing you need to focus on is your self-care and sleep.

We’ve all heard a flight attendant before takeoff say in the event of an emergency to put your mask on first before helping someone else.

It’s no less true for this situation, you need to start at the root of the problem.  If you don’t improve your sleep, that will make it tougher to work on the marriage.

Here are some things you can do:

Improve your sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is what you do during the evening and at bedtime that can set the stage for quality sleep.  It’s an important part of any insomnia recovery plan and is often neglected.

You can world’s greatest sleep apnea treatment but bad sleep hygiene can undercut it.  So, start taking sleep hygiene way more seriously and treat it as the law of the land.

For better sleep hygiene you should:

  • Avoid naps
  • Exercise during the day
  • Limit your caffeine to earlier in the day
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants before bedtime
  • Limit your use of electronics at bedtime (TVs, tablets, smart phones)
  • Maintain a bedtime routine to help you wind down
  • Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool

There are plenty of sleep aids to choose from to help you improve your sleep environment.  For example, you may need earplugs to block out night time noises.

Want an old-fashion remedy for this?  Try using a fan to create “white noise”.   You can also try a face mask or black out curtains if you’re dealing with excessive night time lighting.

Beware of blue light!

Did you know that electronic screens emit bright blue light that can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle and cause insomnia?

Learn more

    Get your sleep apnea treated

    Sleep hygiene by itself will not cure your sleep apnea, so it’s important to get in and see a specialist to figure out what’s going on and learn about your treatment options.

    The good news is that sleep apnea is a treatable.  Sadly, 80 percent of the patients with moderate and severe sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

    So, do you have your sleep apnea under control?

    Have you tried CPAP and given up?  (Some people have a hard time with the mask and CPAP setup.)

    Don’t lose hope, there are more options than ever including more user-friendly cpap masks, body positioning devices, neural therapies, and surgical implants.   (You can get a quick rundown of what’s new here.)

    A sleep specialist can help you figure out which of the new technologies make sense for you and help you make any needed adjustments as you start using them.

    Remember, you can be a world champion sleep hygienist, but an underlying sleep disorder will sabotage your sleep.


    Check for other problems

    Did you know that other health conditions may be part of your sleep problem?

    Asthma, allergies, acid reflux, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and chronic pain can keep you up at night. Prescription drugs, anxiety, and depression can also cause or worsen sleep issues.

    And some of these health issues may cause problems for intimacy whether its low sex drive, lack of energy, or erectile dysfunction.

    A doctor can help you identify and work through any of these underlying issues that may be worsening your insomnia.

    More about health issues that affect sleep

    More about health issues that affect intimacy


    picture of a man whose sleep apnea is ruining his marriage spending time with wife

    Tip 2: Urgent care for the relationship

    Even though things may seem hopeless, it turns out there’s quite a bit you can do to keep sleep apnea from ruining your marriage.

    In fact, chronic illnesses are often a chance to build a stronger marriage – you either grow together or grow apart.

    So, the next thing you need to focus on is urgent care for the relationship.

    While you’re dealing with the sleep issues, your options for improving your marriage include:

    Sharing accurate information

    Make sure you and your spouse have a clear understanding of what’s going on and the treatment plan.

    Better communication

    Keep talking and honestly sharing with each other where you’re at and what you need from each other.

    Working together on a recovery plan

    Figure out what each of you can do to support the sleep apnea treatment and improve the relationship:

    • What do you need from each other?
    • What can you do together to support the relationship?
    • What adjustments can you make on a temporary basis to your lifestyle?

    Spousal self-care

    During a chronic illness, the well-being of a spouse is often overlooked.  Make sure they’re getting adequate sleep, taking care of their health, and finding time do things they enjoy.  It’s okay for them to do some things alone or hang out with some friends.

    Set aside time

    Things may be tough, but dedicate distraction free time to be together even if it’s just dinner or a movie once a week.


    With feelings running high, it may be hard to sort through things, especially if you’re sleep deprived.  Tough times can also bring to the surface issues that may have been on a low simmer.  If needed, get help from a couples’ therapist.

    Support groups

    Depending on your situation, this can a great place to learn and get encouragement from other people in your shoes.

    These basic tips are just a place to start.  Talking to a therapist could be helpful in finding strategies more specific to your situation, especially if you’re not making any headway.

    Talking about difficult topics:

    • Check your expectations, start with the right attitude
    • Think about how you’ll begin and start on the right foot
    • Pick a good time for both of you
    • Show respect
    • Be specific
    • Express your feelings constructively
    • Listen without being defensive
    • Don’t forget to share positive feelings too!

    Talking about difficult topics:

    • Check your expectations, start with the right attitude
    • Think about how you’ll begin and start on the right foot
    • Pick a good time for both of you
    • Show respect
    • Be specific
    • Express your feelings constructively
    • Listen without being defensive
    • Don’t forget to share positive feelings too!

    Life is like an ice-cream cone, you have to lick it one day at a time.
    -Charles M. Schulz

      Tip 3:  Take it one day at a time

      As you’re getting your sleep apnea under control and working together on your relationship, you’re going to have some ups and downs.

      To keep from getting overwhelmed, be realistic about your situation – some things will be in your control and some won’t.

      If you get over ambitious about what you can do each day, it’s likely to cause more stress, anxiety, and leave you feeling down.  It can also lead to more resentment.

      Also, keep in mind there’s a ping-pong effect between sleep and mental health.  Stress, anxiety, and depression can cause insomnia.  Likewise, insomnia can worsen anxiety and depression.

      If both of you are sleep deprived and strung out emotionally, you’ve really got a problem.

      That’s why it’s important to let go of your loftier expectations, keep things simple, and take it one day at a time.

      Meet your marriage where it is and figure out how to make things work within your current limits.

      Perhaps, you need to temporally change a work schedule, adjust your social commitments, or restructure how you spend time together.  It may mean that for a while you spend time together in the evening and then sleep in separate rooms so that a spouse can escape from snoring.

      Regardless, it’s important to show compassion and give each other permission to do what’s needed during the recovery process.

      Resources to help keep sleep apnea from ruining your marriage

      What to remember to keep sleep apnea from ruining your marriage:

      • It’s not uncommon for illness to strain a marriage
      • Sleep apnea can cause a variety of issues that can hurt a relationship
      • Commit to finding a sleep apnea a treatment
      • Work together on a recovery plan
      • Work within the current limitations during the recovery process


      1. “Sleep Apnea”, National Sleep Foundation website

      2. “Chronic Diseases in America”, CDC website

      3. Health, Disability, and Marital Quality: Is the Association Different for Younger Versus Older Cohorts?, Research on Aging, 2008, 30(6):623-648.

      4. “Sleep Deprivation Has The Same Effect as Drinking Too Much, Says Study”, 2017, sciencealert.com

      5. “Is Your Intimate Relationship Suffering Due to Untreated Sleep Apnea?”, American Sleep Apnea Association website

      6. “Sleep Apnea Information for Clinicians”, American Sleep Apnea Association website


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