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It Could Happen to You

What science has to say about who you sleep with and how

Couples who struggle with sleep disorders have a high divorce rate, suggests new data.

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  4-minute read |   21-03-2016
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March 18 came and went. Yet another World Sleep Day. As usual, reams and bytes were spent on who should sleep how much, how and why.

Scientists told us how sleep deprivation is making us fatter (beware, those who go to bed past 11pm) apart from putting us at risk of diabetes, heart disease and memory loss. We were informed that insomniacs could very well have larger than average tongues and tonsils. We were bombarded with apps, devices and products to help us sleep better. We also had new celebrity nap tips thrown at us (do you know what "napuccino" is? It’s a "coffee nap", where you drink 50 to 200mg of caffeine just before a 20-minute nap and wake up recharged just as the caffeine gets into your bloodstream.)

Also read: World Sleep Day is your alarm to catch up with health

Who you are sleeping with

But the most interesting bit of research escaped public attention. Scientists are talking about something called the "dyadic nature of sleep" (simply put, who you are sleeping with) and its impact on your health.

The key to it is the fact that men snore. And that they snore a lot more than women — one out of every four men compared to every seven women. As to why they snore, it’s anybody’s guess. Some say, it’s an evolutionary mechanism built into us since our primitive past. Apparently, if you are snoring no one will take you for dead. And no animal will eat you up, thinking you are dead. In modern times, that clearly doesn’t work. What’s more it explains a lot about why so many of us sleep-deprived.

Living with a snorer

Sleep scientists have traditionally looked at sleep at the level of the individual: how and why Mr X can’t sleep at night. Now apparently scientists have reached the consensus that without understanding the social context — how Mr and Mrs X sleep — you cannot diagnose or treat Mr X.

That’s where snoring comes in. Life is tough if you are married to a loud snorer. About 60 per cent people sleep with another person. Hence, when one of them has sleep issues (say, loud snoring) both can suffer. Wives of snorers are three times as likely to have sleep issues themselves. What’s more, it is also being linked to lower relationship satisfaction.

Bedroom tricks

That’s the problem with scientists. Instead of wasting all this time, they could have asked women. For as long as civilisation, women have tried hundreds of folk and home remedies to cure their husbands of snoring, get a good night’s sleep themselves and stay happily married. In India, the Kamasutra has postures dealing with this, as do yoga and the science of ayurveda. Across the world these have ranged from sprinkling salt on his tongue every night to rinsing his mouth with lemon juice, dropping a soap pellet to eating a slice of onion, using flatter pillows to whistling softly in the dark just as the husband started on a snore surge.

Way back in 1951, when an American woman, one of the first in the world, wanted to divorce her husband because he snored too loud, it caused a furore. Even the judge apparently counselled the hapless Chicago husband to try all homespun remedies he knew of. As newspapers reported the case, it pretty much fortified the stereotype of women as frivolous, superficial and selfish creatures.

Divorce woes

Today, snoring is one of the top causes of divorce across the world, following financial problems and infidelity (there’s no study on this in India). Over 50 per cent couples in the developed world fight about snoring, lack of sleep, tiredness and irritability. In UK, 89 per cent breakdown of relationships is because of snoring spouses who sleep in separate bedrooms. That weakens intimacy, increases tension between couples and creates greater isolation.

Yet it’s considered one of the "weirdest" and most "frivolous", at par with reports of women filing for divorce because the husband "squeezed toothpaste tubes down the middle", or "did not allow her to shop", "eat pani-puri" or such "silliest of reasons."

Recently, an ad posted by Chennai divorce law firm, Daniel & Boaz — "How to prevent your Divorce" — had fellow lawyers commenting caustically on the frivolity of the modern Indian woman and how very soon the Indian courts will see cases of husbands being sued for snoring.

Scientists are now pointing out how couples who struggle with sleep disorders have a high-divorce rate. And that this is a chronic problem within marriages that nobody pays any attention to. The good news is: researchers at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, US, are now conducting a scientific sleep study to find out whether marriages can be saved by treating one of the spouses of snoring.

A significant shift in sleep research that, hopefully, will make real difference to a lot of lives.

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Writer

Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is Executive Editor, India Today.

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