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Sleep apnea treatment linked to happier, healthier relationships

The consistent use of PAP therapy correlates with higher levels of relationship satisfaction and reduced relationship conflict.
The consistent use of PAP therapy correlates with higher levels of relationship satisfaction and reduced relationship conflict. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

A recent study has uncovered a significant link between the regular use of positive airway pressure (PAP) machines by individuals with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and improved relationship satisfaction with their partners.

The study's findings reveal that consistent use of PAP therapy correlates with higher levels of relationship satisfaction and reduced relationship conflict. Moreover, increased sleep efficiency among patients was also tied to greater relationship satisfaction, as reported by both patients and their partners.


"Recognizing that sleep and sleep disorders impact the quality of a relationship could be a powerful motivator for those affected by sleep apnea to adhere to treatment," said lead author Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral scientist with RAND, licensed clinical psychologist, and adjunct professor at the University of Utah. "We developed a couples-based treatment called 'We-PAP' to address the shared experience of sleep and help patients and partners overcome challenges to adhering to PAP together."

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic condition characterized by the repeated collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Snoring, one of the most recognizable symptoms of sleep apnea, often disrupts the sleep of bed partners. PAP therapy, a common treatment for sleep apnea, uses mild air pressure delivered through a mask to keep the throat open during sleep.


The study involved 36 couples, where one partner was beginning PAP treatment for sleep apnea. Researchers collected objective data on PAP therapy adherence over three months and estimated sleep duration and efficiency using actigraphy. Relationship satisfaction and conflict levels were self-reported by participants.

Troxel emphasized the critical role of sleep in evaluating relationship dynamics. "No one is at their best when they aren't sleeping," she said. "In an age where we see couples going through 'sleep divorces,' and with roughly 50% of marriages ending in actual divorce, recognizing how healthy sleep can contribute to healthy relationships is imperative."


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This study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The research abstract was recently published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep. SLEEP is the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a collaboration between the AASM and the Sleep Research Society.

By highlighting the impact of PAP therapy on both sleep quality and relationship satisfaction, this study underscores the importance of addressing sleep disorders not just for individual health, but for the health of relationships as well.


The findings suggest that couples affected by sleep apnea might benefit from joint adherence to PAP therapy, leading to improved sleep and strengthened relationships.

Troxel's development of the 'We-PAP' program is a pioneering step in recognizing the shared nature of sleep in relationships. This program aims to support couples in navigating the challenges of PAP therapy together, promoting mutual understanding and cooperation in managing sleep apnea.

The broader implications of this research highlight the interconnectedness of sleep health and relationship health. As the study shows, better sleep through effective PAP therapy can lead to more harmonious and satisfying relationships. This connection may serve as a compelling reason for individuals with sleep apnea to commit to their treatment plans.


As researchers continue to explore the links between sleep and relationship health, this study stands out as a significant contribution to understanding the broader impacts of sleep apnea treatment.

Tips for Better Sleep

Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Some habits that can improve your sleep health:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends

  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature

  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom

  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime

  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.


For more information on sleep education, check out the resources here: 

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


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