Q. Why does my husband’s snoring wake me up but not him?
A. Why snorers seem to sleep peacefully while their bedmates suffer is not entirely known. But Ronald Chervin, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan Health System, says it probably relates to how the brain processes sensory information during sleep. A part of the brain called the thalamus filters out sensations that normally would come to our consciousness if awake. Some sounds rouse us more than others — hearing your name is more likely to awaken you than a random word. And constant or repetitive noises like a fan spinning or a clock ticking wake us less than irregular noises. Chervin says that noise coming from our own bodies may be less likely to alarm us.
It’s also possible that your husband isn’t sleeping as peacefully as he seems. Most people experience brief moments of arousal during sleep without remembering them, around 20 to 25 per hour, and Chervin’s research has found brain wave patterns in people sleeping suggesting that even smaller “microarousals” occur with each in-breath. A recent study found that wearing earplugs during sleep slightly alters these microarousals, suggesting that the sound of their own snoring might affect sleepers, but more research is needed.
“The volume of snoring can exceed allowable noise in the workplace,” says Chervin, and snoring with pauses in breathing can signal sleep apnea, so it’s worth seeing a doctor if snoring is preventing either partner from getting a good night’s sleep.