Guided Imagery and Meditation Blog | Health Journeys

You are here: Home Ask Belleruth Agitated Sleep Generated by a Spouse’s Sleep Apnea

Agitated Sleep Generated by a Spouse’s Sleep Apnea

10 Jul

Hi, Belleruth,

I realized the other day I have some sort of sleep-related problem thanks to years of sleeping next to someone with sleep apnea. The violence associated with his stopping breathing and restarting several times a minute x hours x nights turned me from a very heavy, deep sleeper to someone who sleeps far too lightly and wakes up constantly. Particularly, because it sounded like he was dying when he restarted his breathing...I kept jerking myself awake out of fear.

As I realize now the cost this has on my own sleep habits, I started wondering whether hypnosis or guided imagery might help...and what little I researched on the Web about at least the hypnosis angle seemed to think there were just two main types of sleep problems someone might want to get over: to wit, not being able to fall asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.

I'd like to suggest a third, which is unnecessary hypervigilance when it's no longer warranted.

I bet my solution would be in teaching/telling my brain to RELAX a little bit more.. Noises during sleep (since I've moved on from that husband :-) no longer mean a life and death emergency, and I should be able to tolerate more background noise without waking.

Anyway, I would bet there are many bed partners and former bed partners of those with sleep apnea who are sharing this struggle. And I'm hoping I'm on to something with what the solution might be!

What do you think?

Thanks / best wishes,

Hi, Lulu
This is the first time I've had someone bring up the problem of having had a partner with sleep apnea, although I know it can be a tremendous nuisance and what you say makes sense, that one becomes conditioned to this hypervigilant state right at bedtime.  

I do think that a couple of one-on-one sessions with a licensed hypnotherapist in your area could be a real help with this…. Just to make the very suggestions your talking about – normal sounds during sleep are no reason for worry, and that it’s OK to sleep deeply and restfully now, to nurture yourself back to strength.

Guided imagery has 2 aspects that deal well with most kinds of sleep disturbances, whether it's trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping deeply: For one thing, the soothing voice tone and calming music redress the neurophysiological activation - the hypervigilance, alarm responses and general agitation, going right to the survival-based structures in the brain that want to stay on alert and nonverbally, primitively reassure them.  

And secondly, the verbal content - the images, phrasing, archetypes and universal symbols - provide just enough "cognitive recruitment" (i.e., capture the thinking brain and steer it away from whatever anxious thoughts, irritations, lists, rehearsals, resentments and notions are rolling around in there, keeping you up) to still the mind enough to let your natural tiredness take over and drop you into sleep.

Good hypnosis, as I mentioned earlier, does this too. Meditation a little less so, as it takes more work from the listener, and you don't want to be working when you're trying to sleep - you just want a nice, free ride!!  For most people this works, even soldiers in Afghanistan.

I hope this helps!

All best,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award