According to a 2015 National Sleep Foundation survey, an estimated 23% of American couples are now sleeping apart. Dr. Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says that’s largely because couples who continue to share a bed suffer from 50 percent more sleep disturbances than those who sleep alone.
Small wonder that the bed-sharing culture—once viewed as a litmus test for healthy marriages—has shifted dramatically over the last few years, with couples increasingly working to find a balance between their needs for closeness and a good night’s rest. While creating separate bedrooms is an obvious solution, many couples find their desire for intimacy and sheer proximity outweigh the drawbacks of sleep disturbances.
If you’re one of those couples willing to stick it out in the bedroom, here are a few coping mechanisms for the top 7 contributors to sleep loss.
Snoring and sleep apnea can be nothing short of a nightmare for lighter sleep partners—but taking stock of the current situation is essential says Suzan E. Jaffe, Ph.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and expert in behavioral sleep disorders. It may be that your new bed partner is the first to discover you snore, or even have a more serious sleep disorder.
On the other hand, if you’ve been married for years and suddenly find you’re losing more sleep more than ever due to your spouse’s snoring or sleep apnea, you both need to determine what’s changed. Getting to the heart of the matter, as well as finding the most effective solutions, is essential.
What to do about it:
Mask the noise: Earplugs, noise canceling earbuds or headbands, along with white noise sound machines or apps are all straightforward fixes if your partner is a light snorer. Turning a fan or AC unit on high can have the same effect (though these measures will likely increase your utility bill). If the cause of snoring is nasal congestion, then nasal strips are a safe way to open air passages and reduce heavier breathing.
Change sleep positions (or get a new bed): Most sleepers who are prone to snoring do so more heavily when sleeping on their backs. Training a partner to sleep on his or her side is tricky, though—sewing a tennis ball, for instance, into your partner’s pajamas can be effective only if he or she wears the right clothing to bed. Your best bet is to ensure your bed is not too hard. To sleep on your side, you need adequate pressure point relief for your hips, neck, and shoulders.
Mattresses featuring latex or a latex alternative foam that provides just enough support with the right amount of bounce is optimal. You should also make sure your pillow is the right height with just the right amount of loft. Latex pillows are a good choice for head and neck support due to their immediate recovery following compression.
Rule out sleep apnea: More drastic measures should be taken if your sleep partner snores heavily or suffers from a sleep disorder. Anti-snoring devices like mouthpieces are often the treatment of choice for patients who suffer from mild to moderate sleep disorders. CPAP machines are not only helpful but a medical necessity for people who snore severely or have sleep apnea—long-term health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes are associated with each condition.
Bottom line: if you or your partner suspect you have sleep apnea, find a licensed sleep expert in your area to help you both get the good night’s rest and longevity you deserve.
Everyone tosses and turns occasionally, for a variety of reasons. Some cases of insomnia are acute while others develop into a longer-term problem due to factors like sleep disorders and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) as well as anxiety and depression.
Whatever the underlying cause, researchers at the National Sleep Foundation attribute most insomnia to one of two issues in the sleep cycle: too much “awake drive” or too little “sleep drive.”
What to do about it:
Stick to a sleep schedule: At the top of the list for at-home treatments is a consistent sleep schedule, which trains your body for bedtime—and encourages that coveted “sleep drive” at the right time, every time. Sending your brain relaxing signals can also help.
These include soaking in a warm bath before turning in, using essential oils like lavender or sipping herbal tea with chamomile. (Eliminating caffeine before bedtime is a must.) Some sleep experts additionally recommend breathing exercises which mimic your body’s natural sleep response.
Find a bed with enhanced notion isolation: If your ill-timed “awake drive” is causing sleep deprivation for both you and your sleep partner, consider investing in a hybrid mattress that limits the transfer of motion from one sleeper to the other. A quality hybrid mattress consists of multiple layers of foam—ideally chosen for pressure point relief but with less “bounce”—combined with individually pocketed springs. Individually pocketed springs are designed to respond independently to compression, limiting the impact of any movement across the surface of the mattress.
Perhaps you experience night sweats while your companion’s feet are ice cold. There are numerous reasons why one of you might be sleeping too hot. Figuring out a happy medium for both of you may come down to sleep science: human skin temperature can hover above or below the average of 91 degrees, but the ideal sleep temperature is 88 degrees.
What to do about it:
Double up on blankets: If one of you turns into a nocturnal burrito, rolling yourself into all the covers and depriving your partner of warmth, a simple solution may be purchasing two different blankets—one for each sleep partner. Installing a ceiling fan can also cover a multitude of sins, cooling down the room for sleepers who like the weight of covers but don’t love the added heat, or allowing one partner to layer more in a cooler external sleeping environment.
Invest in a specialized cooling mattress: More advanced sleep solutions that help both of you reach the ideal sleep temperature are available at a variety of price points. Elite mattresses with advanced cooling technology offer what’s known as a phase change molecule (PCM) surface infusion. If your skin temperature is above 88 degrees, the micro-encapsulated PCM will liquify, disseminating a cooling effect. If your skin temperature goes below 88 degrees, the PCM will solidify, ensuring you’re cool but not cold. PCM technology can be found in pillows as well, delivering a cooler night’s sleep by drawing heat out and away from the head and neck area.
Sleep Related Movement Disorders
Medical professionals have identified approximately 80 different sleep disorders—the top three most prevalent conditions being insomnia, sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Along the broad spectrum of sleep disorders are conditions that involve movement disorders, causing sleep disturbance for both the sleeper and the sleep partner.
Among the most common of these types of conditions is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Behavior Disorder where you are prone to act out dreams in your sleep. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is exhibited when you move, jerk or flail your limbs while sleeping. Bruxism (clenching or grinding teeth throughout the night) causes a host of issues, including dental problems and headaches, and affects nearly 1 in 10 sleepers.
What to do about it:
Get a bigger mattress (or two): Serious sleep-related movement disorders require a medical diagnosis and treatment by a qualified professional. Importantly, though, the impact of these disorders on a sleep partner can be greatly diminished.
Choosing a larger size mattress that reduces motion transfer can help put distance between you and a spouse that flails. A split California King can be the ultimate divide between you and a bumpy night with your partner, truly isolating you from restlessness and outward activity. Some mattress companies employ sleep product experts who can help you find the best solution, including customized options.
Visit a dentist: If your spouse suffers from teeth grinding, consulting a dentist is important. A properly fitted mouth guard can minimize the damage for your partner while providing you a quieter night’s sleep.
Frequent Trips to the Bathroom
Most people can sleep 6 to 8 hours without having to urinate, and many researchers believe getting up once in the night to go to the bathroom is normal, particularly as we age—as we get older we produce less of an anti-diuretic hormone that helps us retain fluid.
Nocturia is defined as the need to get up to go to the bathroom frequently. Nocturia is one of the most common causes of sleep loss and can be a symptom of other conditions, including sleep apnea.
What to do about it:
Take strategic bathroom breaks: If you or your spouse needs to get up to go to the bathroom more than twice a night, it’s a good idea to visit a urologist to identify the root cause. It’s also important to understand if you’re waking up because your bladder is full, or some other disturbance awoke you and now you realize you need to get up.
You can avoid more frequent trips to the bathroom by emptying your bladder as much as possible before bedtime. That means decreasing your fluid intake 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed and abstaining from drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol at least 6 hours before you turn in. Make sure you go to the bathroom just before you retire. If you do have to rise in the night to urinate, make that your only mission. Don’t turn on the lights unless absolutely necessary, don’t check your mobile device, and do try to turn off any thoughts that might keep you fully awake.
Double check your mattress: If your partner’s nocturia is depriving you of sleep, identify the specifics. If it’s the noise your spouse makes when he or she gets up, use earplugs or other noise canceling solutions. If it’s the movement, ensure your mattress isn’t contributing to the problem.
Beds that are too soft or don’t have adequate support will transfer motion each time your partner rises. Split beds are not only a great option but one of the number one choices for seniors who commonly grapple with nocturia. Adequate edge support and a lower profile foundation are particularly important for elderly couples to avoid falls when getting out of bed.
Conflicting Sleep Schedules
Maybe she’s a night owl and you’re an early riser. Maybe he works the late shift and you like to get a quiet moment to yourself before the kids get up. Either way, both of you can suffer from not only sleep deprivation but a lower quality relationship when your schedules are so radically incompatible.
Yes, you might be a tad more irritable when you don’t get enough sleep. Yes, you might even begin to resent your partner for his or her perceived indifference to your schedule. But the truth is each person has preferences and an internal clock that is difficult to override—and, most importantly, each has an inherent need for companionship. That’s why so many couples opt to sleep in the bedroom together despite their nocturnal unsuitability.
What to do about it:
Designate a “Get Ready” room (that isn't the bedroom): First, accept that your partner is neither wrong nor right when it comes to sleep preferences. You each simply have different needs and biology. Second, commit to being considerate if your spouse is trying to sleep. Therapists like Toronto based Kimberly Moffit suggest changing in another room if you have to get up early to go to work, or keeping the television volume at a reasonable level if you’re up past your partner’s bedtime.
Get cozy outside of the bedroom: Also be aware that noise and light sensitivity both play a key role in sleep disturbance. If you like to catch up on your reading in bed, ask yourself why you prefer that spot. Is it because the bed is more comfortable than any other spot outside the bedroom, or because you actually want to maintain a physical connection to your spouse?
Creating a cozy place in the family room or home office might be the best solution. If you really want to be in the same room as your partner, consider setting up a recliner in a corner that allows enough distance between your lighting, tapping and scrolling…and your spouse’s shut-eye.
Keep the bedroom comfortable (and spend quality time): If the majority of noise or light disturbance is coming from outside the bedroom, control your immediate surroundings. Install blackout shades or drapes and a heavy door. Use white noise to mask external sounds. The best tip of all: ensure the two of you make time to connect in a way that compensates for the lack of physical togetherness in bed.
Two Love Languages
“Two people differ in a million different ways and lots of them have to do with sleep,” says Paul Rosenblatt, a professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing.
Part of our bedtime compatibility has everything to do with emotional intimacy, which can take on many forms in the bedroom, from cuddling to heart-to-heart conversations in the dark. “The average couple might talk 12 or 15 minutes a day with each other, and if they go to bed and have a conversation, that might be a lot of the sharing of lives and the planning for the next day and airing their differences,” says Rosenblatt.
Fair enough. But what if, after all that bonding, you’d like to spoon and your spouse just wants to put a fork in it and go to sleep?
What to do about it:
Schedule cuddle time (seriously): Practically speaking, try to set aside enough time to cuddle before both of you are ready to nod off. Most partners who are spooning-averse simply can’t fall asleep—or stay asleep—with someone touching them. Allowing enough time for meaningful, physical contact while you’re awake gives the spooner some much-needed intimacy and the anti-snuggler the gift of space later when it really counts.
Snuggle on your side: If you’re one of the lucky ones who can fall asleep snuggling but unlucky enough to have a who partner snores, you can actually delay the inevitable by spooning. That’s because spooning requires a side position, which is the least likely posture to cause snoring. Even if your partner does eventually roll into lumberjack territory, you’ll be fast asleep.