The bed is meant to be a place of rest and relaxation. For those who share a bed with a partner, however, it instead can bring sleeplessness and strained relationships.
Examples: One partner wishes to read, talk or watch TV in bed… one partner likes to go to bed early, the other much later… or one partner hogs the blankets.
In the January 1, 2009, issue of Bottom Line/Personal, we offered strategies for snoring. Here, other common bed-sharing problems — and ways in which couples have solved them…
DIFFERENT SLEEP HOURS
One partner goes to bed early… the other much later. These late arrivers often wake their early-to-bed partners. For many busy couples, falling asleep together is the closest, most intimate part of the day, so going to bed at different times can lead to less marital satisfaction.
Solutions: Your partner might not understand that you consider having different sleep schedules a problem. Explain why this matters to you. Do you feel less close? Are you having less sex? Do you have trouble falling asleep when your partner is not there?
Most couples can synchronize their sleep schedules if they put in the effort. Some partners argue, “I can’t help that I’m a morning person,” or “I can’t help that I’m a night owl,” but shift workers manage to adjust their schedules for their jobs, so there is no reason we can’t do so for our relationships. Both partners can adjust their sleep schedules a little so that neither has to make a dramatic change.
- If one partner is staying up late or going to bed early specifically to have some time alone, perhaps this private time can be scheduled earlier in the day.
- If the late-to-bed partner intends to come to bed earlier but never seems to manage this, determine what is causing the delay. If household chores that must be completed before bedtime are to blame, these chores could be started earlier in the day or allocated more evenly between the partners.
- If you don’t mind going to bed at a different time than your partner — some couples don’t consider this a problem — but miss the physical intimacy and togetherness of lying in bed together, agree to schedule bedroom “dates” for togetherness or sex even if the night owl partner does not remain in bed afterward.
- If the night owl simply cannot manage to come to bed early, the early-to-bed partner might agree that it’s OK for the night owl to wake him/her up when the night owl does come to bed. The couple can spend time together in bed at this late hour before drifting off to sleep together.Helpful: If possible, avoid sleep schedule compromises that set early bedtimes on some nights but late bedtimes on others, such as on weekends. Though this might seem like an equitable solution, most people sleep best when they follow the same schedule every day.
TEMPERATURE WARS/BLANKET HOGGING
He wakes up feeling warm and opens the window, then she wakes up cold and closes it. Due to differences in body chemistry, one person can feel warm, another cold, at the same sleep temperature. The result can be nighttime window and thermostat wars and/or blanket hogging as each partner tries to meet his/her own needs.
Solutions: Some couples add an extra blanket over only the colder partner’s side of the bed. Uneven covers can shift during sleep, however, so other couples instead use completely separate coverings for each side of the bed. Or purchase an electric blanket that has separate temperature controls for each side.
One partner wants to have serious discussions in bed at night, but the other is too sleepy to talk or feels that discussing difficult issues late at night makes it hard to relax and get to sleep.
Solution: Spouses who want to talk at night need to respect their partners’ desire to sleep or relax in bed. A sleepy spouse isn’t likely to be a strong conversationalist anyway. In return, spouses who do not want to talk at night must respect their partners’ need to have these conversations at some point. Propose another time in the near future when you can have this chat… or block out time in your regular schedule for distraction-free conversations. You might want to schedule walks together to get away from the distractions of the home, such as the television.
WATCHING TV/READING IN BED
Some people consider watching TV or reading a book a fine way to wind down and fall asleep, but the resulting noise, light and movement can keep their partners awake. Solutions…
- TV watchers can use closed captioning or earphones, and their partners can put in earplugs.
- Book readers can use book lights or focused-beam bedside lights, while their partners wear eye masks.
If this is not sufficient, consider implementing a rationing system — TV or reading in bed is allowed only until a certain hour or for a specific show or number of pages each night. If the TV watcher/reader still is not ready for sleep, this partner must go to a different room and return quietly and without turning on a light when he/she is ready to sleep.
Some people move around a lot when they sleep.
Solution: Buying a larger mattress or sleeping on two twin mattresses pushed together can prevent one partner’s movements from waking the other.
Important: Certain medical conditions, including restless leg syndrome, can cause restlessness. Talk to your doctor.
Some people feel strongly that couples should not fall asleep while mad at each other and insist on hashing out disagreements at night in bed — but their partners might be just as convinced that it’s better to delay bedtime arguments until morning so that everyone can simmer down and get some rest. Disagreements often seem less serious in the morning.
Solution: What’s most important is not which of these strategies is used — each has its merits — but that couples agree in advance about which to use when arguments occur.
Compromise is possible. A couple might attempt to solve arguments until a certain preset hour at night but agree to suspend their arguments until the next day if no resolution appears by then. This couple also might agree to exchange kind words and heartfelt statements of love before sleep to dial down the anger when arguments are suspended.
ENCROACHING ON A PARTNER’S SIDE OF THE BED
Some people like to sleep curled up with their mates, but their movements wake their partner or the position makes the partner too hot.
Solutions: Couples faced with this conflict might agree to curl up together when first arriving in bed but move apart as sleep nears. Or they might agree to just hold hands or touch feet so that there is some contact. They also might search for opportunities for physical contact during the day to make the loss of contact at night seem a bit less important.
If the desire to sleep curled up together stems from a need to borrow body warmth from a partner, try the temperature disagreement solutions mentioned above.