Simple Solutions for the Most Common Problems
Sooner or later, one in every four American couples ends up sleeping in separate beds. Maybe it’s your spouse’s tossing and turning or TV watching in bed. Whatever the reason, it may seem easier just to turn that spare bedroom into a nighttime sanctuary of your own. But is that arrangement healthy?
New thinking: Even with the challenges that can come with sharing a bed, the net effect is usually positive for your health. While the exact mechanism is unknown, scientists believe that sleeping with a bed partner curbs levels of the stress hormone cortisol and inflammation-promoting proteins known as cytokines…while boosting levels of the so-called “love” hormone oxytocin.
Sleeping in the same bed also cultivates feelings of intimacy and security, which can strengthen a relationship and promote better sleep—factors linked to living a longer life. Here, six common challenges and how to overcome them…
You like to keep the room dark, while your partner prefers it light. Sleep experts recommend keeping the room dark to help stimulate the production of the naturally occurring sleep hormone melatonin.
My advice: Room-darkening shades or light-blocking curtains help create the darkness we need for a good night’s rest. But if your partner insists on having some light in the room, consider placing a dim night-light near his/her side of the bed. The person who prefers darkness may want to wear a sleep mask.
You’re always cold, but your bed partner is too warm. Sleep experts agree that a cooler room is generally more conducive to sleep and complements the natural temperature drop that occurs in the body when you go to sleep.
My advice: Optimal room temperature for the best sleep varies from person to person—most insomnia experts recommend a range of 60°F to 68°F. To help achieve your personal comfort level, use separate blankets so you can easily cover yourself or remove the blanket during the night without disturbing your bed partner. If you like to use an electric blanket during the winter, choose one with separate temperature controls.
You’re a night owl, but your partner is a lark. If the two bed partners prefer different bedtimes, this can cause both of them to lose sleep and can be a major contributor to marital strife. In a study involving 150 couples, which I conducted with several colleagues at Brigham Young University, the University of Nebraska–-Lincoln and Montana State University, those who had mismatched body clocks argued more, spent less time doing shared activities and had slightly less sex.
The first step in trying to resolve conflicting bedtimes is to understand that one’s circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates sleep and wakefulness as well as other biological processes, dictates whether you are a natural early riser or a night owl. One’s particular circadian rhythm is determined by genetics but can be influenced by sunlight, time zone changes and work schedules. Bedtime tendencies also can be socially learned.
My advice: Have a conversation with your partner. Avoid blaming the other party for having a different sleep schedule—we can’t control our circadian rhythms or such factors as work schedules. Then, like everything else in a partnership, you’ll need to compromise.
For instance, say your partner likes to go to bed at 10 pm and get up at 6 am, while you’re rarely in bed before 1 am and sleep until 10 am. As a compromise, you might agree to get in bed with your partner at 9:30 pm to talk, snuggle, relax, read together, etc. Then, when your partner is ready to go to sleep, you can get up and continue with your night. Alternatively, you and your partner could agree to go to bed at the same time two or three nights a week. A night owl could also lie in bed and listen to music or an audiobook with headphones while his partner sleeps.
Your bed partner wants to watch TV, but you want peace and quiet. Watching TV—or looking at any illuminated screen, such as a laptop or smartphone—promotes wakefulness and can interfere with sleep. So it’s not really something anyone should do just before lights out. However, if one partner wants to watch TV or use a laptop before bed, he should do it in another room.
Your partner thrashes all night long. Some individuals are naturally restless sleepers, tossing and turning throughout the night. Others may have restless legs syndrome (RLS) and/or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)—two related but distinct conditions.
RLS causes unpleasant sensations, such as tingling and burning, in the legs and an overwhelming urge to move them when the sufferer is sitting or attempting to sleep. PLMD causes involuntary movements and jerking of the limbs during sleep—the legs are most often affected but arm movements also can occur.
With RLS, the sufferer is aware of the problem. Individuals with PLMD, on the other hand, frequently are not aware that they move so much.
My advice: To help ease symptoms, you may want to try natural strategies such as taking warm baths, walking regularly and/or using magnesium supplements, which also promote sleep. But be sure to check with a doctor. If you have RLS or PLMD, it could signal an underlying health condition, such as iron deficiency.
If symptoms persist, you may want to talk to the doctor about medications such as ropinirole (Requip) and pramipexole (Mirapex), which can help relieve symptoms. Side effects may include nausea and drowsiness.
Your partner snores a lot—and loudly. This is not only a nuisance, it also makes it hard for you to sleep.
My advice: In some cases, running a fan, listening to music through earbuds or using a white-noise machine can help.
If the snoring occurs almost every night, however, your partner may need to see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) to determine whether there’s an underlying medical condition.
Loud snoring that is accompanied by periods in which the person’s breathing stops for a few seconds and then resumes may indicate sleep apnea, a serious—but treatable—-disorder usually caused by a blocked or narrowed airway.