Snoring spouses could lead to marital disaster, early results from a U.S. study looking at the impact of sleep disorders on wedded bliss suggest.
"This is not a mild problem," said Rosalind Cartwright, founder of the sleep disorder centre at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.
"The lack of sleep for both partners puts a strain on the marriage and creates a hostile and tense situation."
Researchers at the centre are now part way through their research on how snoring and sleep apnea affect a couple's marital satisfaction.
Results from the first phase are expected to be presented this summer and if the findings are promising the study could be expanded.
Currently, researchers are evaluating 10 couples in which the male partner has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea - which is most common in obese, middle-aged men - occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep, interfering with breathing. The lapse normally lasts about 10 seconds and can recur 10 or more times an hour. The disorder lowers the level of oxygen in the blood and also leaves the sufferer vulnerable to high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular difficulties.
After completing a survey about sleepiness, marital satisfaction and quality of life, the couple spends a night at the sleep-disorder clinic, where technicians monitor the quality and quantity of each partner's sleep.
Then, after the partner suffering from the disorder receives two weeks of treatment, the couple returns to the clinic where they are both subject to the same tests and surveys.
"Our early results are showing that the wife's sleep is indeed deprived due to the husband's noisy nights," Ms. Cartwright said.
In one case, researchers found, the husband's snoring was waking his partner more than eight times an hour.
The woman's sleep-efficiency rating - a gauge of how much time in a night a person actually spends asleep - was 73 per cent.
An average person's sleep-efficiency rating is usually closer to 90 per cent.
"The strain on the marriage was evident," Ms. Cartwright said in a report outlining the early findings of the study. "The couple was fighting all the time, and the surveys revealed low satisfaction with the marriage, especially when it comes to effective communication."
Researchers also found, however, that after the husband received two weeks of treatment using continuous positive airway pressure - a common treatment for sleep apnea that uses a mask or nasal prongs to improve breathing during sleep - the situation improved dramatically.
After treatment, researchers found the woman's quality of life measure rose more than fivefold, suggesting that her husband's condition was no longer bothering her. Similarly, her sleep efficiency rating rose to 83 per cent and a measure of how sleepy she felt during waking hours was cut in half.
Ms. Cartwright described the early results as "terrific."
"It is beautiful to see couples getting along so much better," she said.