How to Share a Bed With Your Partner
Healthy relationships can improve both physical (1) and mental health (2). When sharing a bed with a partner, people’s heart rhythms synchronize (3), and the quality of their sleep may improve (4). Cuddling also increases REM sleep (5), a phase of sleep important for emotional processing and memory. For many, sharing a bed with someone is one of the most intimate and cherished experiences in a relationship.
How to Share a Bed With Your Partner
Although sharing a bed with your partner can provide benefits, it isn’t always easy. It’s common for couples to have different sleep habits, and it often takes time for people to negotiate how to sleep in the same bed. Several issues can arise when sharing a bed with a partner. Addressing these issues early in a relationship may improve both sleep quality and relationship satisfaction.
Snoring is common, affecting 57% of men and 40% of women (6). Snoring negatively affects relationship satisfaction (7) and, unsurprisingly, can cause a snorer’s partner to experience morning headaches and daytime sleepiness (8). Whether snoring is occasional or constant, it’s notorious for creating tension between bed partners. Fortunately, there are many strategies that may help reduce snoring and help both partners sleep. Here are a few tips for coping with a snoring partner:
- Talk to a Doctor: While some amount of snoring can be normal, snoring can also be a symptom of a more serious breathing condition, like sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea not only affects relationships but also increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. There are many treatments for snoring and for conditions that cause snoring, so talking to a doctor is the best first step to finding relief.
- Reduce Alcohol and Sedatives: Alcohol and muscle-relaxing drugs can increase the risk of snoring, especially if consumed close to bedtime. To reduce snoring and other sleep issues, it’s best to stop consuming alcohol about 4 hours before bedtime (9).
- Wear Earplugs: One of the simplest ways of dealing with snoring is putting in earplugs before bed. Earplugs come in a variety of shapes and styles. Inexpensive foam earplugs can block out light snoring, while heavy duty silicone or vinyl earplugs can help with louder snoring. Hearing specialists called audiologists can even create custom-fitted earplugs for the best noise cancellation.
- White Noise: While it may seem counterintuitive, adding more noise to the bedroom may help to mask the sound of snoring and reduce sleep disruptions. Research in hospitalized patients suggests that introducing white noise can reduce the time it takes for patients to fall asleep by 38% (10).
Tossing and Turning
It’s common to move around after getting into bed, shifting until you find a comfortable position. Nighttime movements can become problematic when they are chronic, related to a sleep disorder (like sleepwalking), or start to interfere with getting quality rest. Many people who share a bed with a partner wake up during the night due to a partner’s movements (11). Here are some ideas for coping with a partner who tosses and turns:
- Consider a New Mattress: Finding a comfortable mattress has been shown to improve sleep quality (12). Many mattresses are designed to isolate movement and reduce the transfer of motion from one side of the bed to the other.
- Find a Sleep Specialist: Excessive body movements at night could be a symptom of a sleep disorder like restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder. Restless legs syndrome affects 7% to 10% of the population (13), and many people go undiagnosed until referred to a specialist by a bedmate.
- Sleep Separately: While sleeping alone may not be ideal, sometimes it’s necessary until a better solution can be found. For couples temporarily sleeping separately, it can be helpful to communicate about potential strategies and ask for help from a doctor or counselor.
Different Sleep Schedules
Having the same sleep schedule as a partner isn’t just convenient, it may also decrease the risk of heart disease (14). Unfortunately, aligning your bedtime with a companion isn’t always possible. Sleep schedules often differ due to work schedules, childcare, or mismatched chronotypes. Chronotype is a person’s natural tendency to sleep on a certain schedule (15), with morning-types waking up earlier and getting into bed sooner than their evening-type counterparts.
Regardless of why people are on different sleep schedules, sleeping at different times can create a variety of challenges. Below are some tips for dealing with mismatched sleep schedules:
- Find a Middle Ground: For some couples, sleeping at different times is more of a preference than a necessity. If falling asleep together is a priority, try shifting both sleep schedules to more closely match one another.
- Negotiate a Plan: Early birds may find it difficult to sleep while their night owl partners are still moving around the house. Work together to create a plan that honors the needs of both partners. Maybe the early bird wears ear plugs to give the night owl more freedom. In return, the night owl could agree to get into bed gently so as to not wake up their partner.
- Connect Outside of the Bedroom: Having a different chronotype than your partner can mean that you rarely get to fall asleep or wake up together. While this may feel like a loss, it’s also an opportunity to find other ways of connecting.
Communication is the most important part of working through sleep issues with a partner. If you find yourself struggling, focus on prioritizing one another’s sleep quality by making a plan for how you’ll address sleep issues and trying new strategies.
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