Perhaps one of the most difficult adjustments when starting a new relationship is sharing a bed. Not only do you sacrifice precious mattress space, but you also have to adapt to another person’s sleeping patterns, habits, and preferences (#gross). This can be downright disruptive, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to the perfect sleep regimen.
In the spirit of Pride Month and as a curious (and very single) gay man, I wondered if people in same-sex sleeping arrangements suffered (so optimistic) in a different kind of way. So, I polled a bunch of fellow queer people and gathered five of their most pressing sleep questions to ask neuroscientist and deputy chief science officer of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Allison Brager, Ph.D..
“The research for same-sex couples is so limited,” she begins. “There are only 31 total studies compared to the thousands for heterosexual populations to date.”
This is important to keep in mind. While Brager can offer educated opinions and advice, there just hasn’t been enough funding to make sweeping generalizations about the entire community.
That said, the evidence we do have is interesting and, in tandem with Brager’s extensive expertise and firsthand experience, it is at least enough to allow some educated assumptions.
Q: Are sleeping habits between hetero and homo couples drastically different?
Gay, straight, bi, asexual, and everything in between, the beauty of being human is that we all come with a unique set of interests and preferences. This can also apply to the bedroom. And while further LGBTQ+ sleep research is needed, Brager notes that 65% of our community reports sleep disturbances, with “short sleep duration being the most concerning.”
“Knowing that there is a strong ‘chicken or the egg’ link between sleep and mental health, large-scale studies of LGBTQ+ athletes conducted by the NCAA Sport Science Institute and in collaboration with Ally Athlete and The Trevor Project have found that LGBTQ+ athletes are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their nonathlete peers,” she says.
“These issues, in turn, can exacerbate sleep disturbances, and the sleep disturbances can exacerbate mental health [issues].”
While not every LGBTQ+ person is an athlete, the takeaway here is that sleep suffers when an already stressed-out person has even more stress added to their plate.
Q: Is it harder for two men to share a bed because they’ll likely radiate more body heat?
Most sleepers tend to run too hot or too cold at night and rarely find the Goldilocks happy medium. This problem can be particularly tough to overcome if two hot sleepers share a bed, which could be the case with two larger, testosterone-filled men.
“This is an interesting concept because men generally have higher basal metabolic rates than women and therefore ought to radiate more heat at night during sleep,” says Brager. ”Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to support this link, thanks to funding bureaucracy.”
“In general, there is a lot of interindividual variation if one sleeps hot or cold, and it is also dependent on the amount of physiological strain and overexertion during the waking day,” she says. “So yes, if two dudes who are both, say, training for a triathlon and are sleeping in the same bed together, the probability of them overheating themselves and cooking each other is greater.”
Q: Is it really true that gay men have more trouble falling asleep? Why is this the case?
A 2018 study revealed that gay men had a higher prevalence than straight men of having trouble falling asleep, waking up not feeling well rested, and using medication to help fall or stay asleep. This was attributed to psychological distress as well as physical aches and pains.
On top of that, men are more likely than women to suffer from sleep apnea, which can be a primary cause of insomnia.
“This is due to lifestyle factors and anthropometric features like body weight and increased muscle mass around the neck and trunk region,” explains Brager.
So no matter their sexuality, men are simply genetically predisposed to experience more serious sleep issues.
Q: Are queer people really more likely to use sleep aids beyond prescribed medication?
The research is still too limited to paint broad strokes for an entire population, but Brager is quick to point out that most sleep aids are actually detrimental.
“Alcohol and over-the-counter products like NyQuil and Tylenol PM are the most common at-home remedies,” she reveals. “ But they’re absolutely terrible for sleep. None promote deep and restorative sleep, simply put a Band-Aid over the larger issue.”
Just as problematically, they don’t teach you to get better sleep on your own. “Also, every single one of these is habit-forming, creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep,” she adds.
Instead, regardless of sexuality, chronic insomniacs should seek the professional advice of a sleep expert to pinpoint the exact causes of tossing and turning and how to best address them. A quick fix is only temporary, and you could potentially be causing more long-term harm than good.
Q: Do gay people prefer a specific type of bedroom environment?
“Only the finest from the latest spring or fall collection at Restoration Hardware, Arhaus, West Elm, or Room & Board,” jokes Brager. “It’s why ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ is still an iconic cultural sensation.”
But if you are interested in designing around your zodiac sign, Sleep.com has a comprehensive guide that delves into sleep-inducing styles dictated by astrology.
Bonus question: Tell me a bit more about your unique sleeping arrangement as both a sleep specialist and married gay woman.
Brager: Dr. Matt Walker has coined the term “sleep divorce,” and he’s not wrong. “Sleep divorces” are a real thing. I do practice what I preach. I make sure I plan and prioritize for sleep with my frequent and worldly travel for work — the irony of being a sleep researcher. I also suffer from restless leg syndrome (thanks, Mom) and must manage mild sleep apnea thanks to sports (a deviated septum) and the stresses that come with being a (former) professional athlete and in the military. There is significant evidence to show that athletes and military [personnel] are often diagnosed with sleep disorders as early as 18.
My wife, on the other hand, has absolutely terrible sleep habits and terrible sleep. When the Army actually does let us see each other, I am dead to the world (with sufficient restorative sleep) and she is most often awake and on her phone when I wake up to turn over at night.
We also have two dogs who weigh close to 80 pounds in our bed. I’d prefer they sleep on the floor, but since she is with them more than she is with me, I understand that they are not to be treated like guests. I also am a “heater,” according to her. In addition to always gravitating towards human touch, whether conscious or unconscious (also no surprise that physical touch is my love language), I often suffocate her — if one of the dogs actually lets me get that close to her.
Lastly, I, like many other service members, have night terrors and/or nightmares and will wake up thinking the event actually happened and will immediately talk to my wife about the event.