If your sleep partner isn’t sleeping well for whatever reason, chances are you’re not, either. Sharing a bed with a restless sleeper—or a snorer—can wreak havoc on your wellbeing and your relationship.
Sleep compatibility can be complicated. Finding a significant other who shares your taste in temperature, lighting, mattress type, bedtime, screen time, and more can feel as rare as winning the lottery.
A 2017 National Sleep Foundation survey revealed that one in four American couples retreat to separate beds. Many choose to sleep in different rooms. “Sleep divorce” is becoming more and more prevalent these days, and there are plenty of theories behind it.
The Reasons Why Couples Are Choosing to Sleep in Separate Beds
We recently spoke with Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and managing editor of the National Sleep Foundation’s website, to find out why couples are separating at night and to learn more about the challenges of co-sleeping and how partners can rest easier together.
One reason for sleep divorce is that people are getting married a bit later in life, Fish points out. Since our bodies are creatures of habit, they prefer structure and routine. If we’ve slept in our own beds our entire lives, sleeping with someone else is a huge deviation from what we’re accustomed to, so it likely makes getting quality sleep quite challenging.
What’s more, we all have preferred sleep positions, and yours may be sprawling out like a starfish. If you have started sharing a bed with someone, you may not be able to get into your preferred sleep position because there simply is no longer enough room to do so.
Our bodies get used to not having to deal with interruptions of any sort. Whether it’s snoring, tossing and turning, or touching the other person accidentally in the night, it takes getting used to.
Technology also plays a role, as more and more people are bringing screens into the bedroom. If one person is trying to fall asleep while the other is watching something on TV, it becomes an annoyance. Many would prefer not to deal with it and would rather sleep on their own.
According to Fish, the most common barriers to comfortably co-sleeping include snoring, opposing sleep schedules, and a partner moving around during the night—whether to get up to go to the bathroom or simply readjusting in bed.
“Older couples may struggle more with this, as older people simply deal with more health/sleep issues and find sleep more difficult, overall,” Fish explains. “Whether it’s obstructive sleep apnea or joint aches and pains, a good night of sleep is hard to come by on your own, let alone with a sleep partner.”
Advice to Make Sleeping in the Same Bed More Harmonious
Fish recommends that couples have a frank and direct conversation about how to get the most out of their sleep. “The best bet is to lay down the rules—make the bedroom about sleeping, first and foremost,” he says. “No TV! Charge your phone in another room. If you have the same work schedule as your partner, do your best to go to bed at the same time each night.”
Other advice Fish offers involves your mattress. “Invest in a memory foam or latex mattress that excels in motion isolation,” he explains. “Mattresses that utilize a pocketed coil system for the support layer also are good choices.” A white noise machine, Fish points out, is a great choice for masking ambient noise that may have the tendency to wake up your partner.
Believe it or not, Fish believes technology has been helpful in some ways. “The advent of the CPAP machine and other anti-snoring devices over the last decade or so have been a welcome addition to the bedroom to help curb snoring,” he says. “Having fewer true innerspring mattresses out there is also helping—it’s now easy to purchase a mattress that focuses on motion isolation, so you aren’t woken up by the movements of your sleep partner.”
Of course, the decision to not share a bed hurts from an intimacy standpoint. It’s not an easy decision—and couples should, without question, weigh the pros and cons before moving to separate beds.
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