Couples who share beds have increased measures for better sleep, according to a new study. If you’re not sleeping well with your bed partner, you are not alone. But it doesn’t have to be a long-term problem
Henning Johannes Drews, a researcher at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry and professor at the department of psychiatry and psychotherapy at Christian-Albrechts University Kiel in Germany, studied 12 heterosexual couples who spent 4 nights in a sleep lab.
He measured the sleep of the individuals together and apart using a technology that captured brain waves, movements, muscle tension, and heart activity. The couples also completed questionnaires about their relationships.
According to Drews’ team, couples who slept side-by-side had increased and less disrupted rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep compared to when they slept apart. This good-for-you stage of sleep has been tied to memory organization, emotion regulation, creative problem solving, and social interactions.
Also, the better they ranked their relationships, the more couples were in sync when sleeping side by side.
If your partner hinders you to fall asleep or disturbs your sleep, and you are much more relaxed if you sleep alone, that is probably the best sleeping arrangement to do.
Although REM improved with a partner in Drews’ research, that doesn’t mean you can’t get great REM sleep if you sleep alone. Whether you’re single or sleep divorced, a good night of sleep is still possible. (After more than 2 years of a sleep split, I say it’s better solo.)
I think a person should follow the common instructions for sleep hygiene and for creating a sleep-promoting environment.
This includes no stressful activities before sleep, avoiding phone and TV screens an hour before bed, and keeping the area quiet and dark.
Why do some couples who sleep together get better sleep, while others are happy to sleep in separate spaces?
First off, none of the participants had children during research.
The researchers think that sleeping together enhances REM sleep, which then goes on to reduce emotional stress and improve our interactions.
But REM is only one aspect of good sleep, according to Patricia Haynes, Ph.D. An associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Typically, slow-wave sleep has more of a restorative function than REM sleep, she pointed out.
Also, sleep quality is how well we think we sleep, she noted. “Often, it does not match up with the quantity or the type of sleep we receive.”
Several factors can interrupt our sleep. Namely, a loud or restless partner can be a recipe for a bad night (or the impetus for sleep divorce, as it was in my case).
Although past research measured movement during sleep between couples as a marker of bad sleep, a lot of movement doesn’t equate to a poor night of sleep.
Drews noted more limb movement in couples sharing a bed, but it didn’t interrupt their sleep in his experiment, he said.
Some of the people in the study were light snorers, and it didn’t have an impact on REM quality either, he told Healthline.
Decreased sleep quality and more fragmented sleep were reported by women in a 2009 study trusted Source who slept with a snorer. But the sleep quality didn’t necessarily improve when the non snoring female slept alone for one night, according to that report.
Other issues that can impair rest include differences in temperature. “Some couples also struggle with differences in work schedule or bedtime practices, like watching TV in bed,” Haynes added.
Sleeping for two
Research on how sleeping together affects couples is scarce, a 2016 review of literatureTrusted Source highlighted.
Issues with sleep and relationships are likely to occur at the same time, especially during major life transitions, a 2010 study trusted Source reported. The mental health of one or both partners may impair sleep: A 2016 reportTrusted Source found that anxiety and depression can impact the duration of sleep.
According to a 2017 study trusted Source, couples that get less than 7 hours per night of sleep are more likely to be hostile towards one another. They can also experience stress-related inflammation, which can cause a host of different ailments.
More research needs to be done to understand positive co-sleeping between partners. A more diverse sample, including older adults or couples with one person who has a disease, could provide better insights. His study was small and he doesn’t advise making recommendations based on it, Drews told Healthline.
Coping With Couples Different Sleep Needs
- About 12% of married couples sleep alone.
- Sleep is related to marital satisfaction. Those with lower marital satisfaction are more likely than their counterparts to report symptoms of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and they’re getting less sleep than they did five years ago.
- Add children to the mix and you lose even more sleep and experience more symptoms of daytime sleepiness. More than 12% of married adults with children report typically sleeping with a child; a vast majority of these adults (81%) report having a sleep problem.
- More than one-third of adults report snoring a few times per week. If snoring resonates in your bed, it may send shock waves through your relationship, and your bed partner out the door. It may also be a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious disorder in which breathing stops repeatedly during sleep. Sleep apnea has been associated with decreased libido and sexual activity.