Nearly one quarter of couples who live together sleep in separate beds. If you think that’s not healthy for a relationship, you’re probably right. Intimacy is harder to come by when your spouse starts feeling like a roommate.
Only a short while ago, it was believed that women slept better alone. For men it’s been the opposite - having a partner to curl up with usually resulted in a more restful night’s sleep. Our obsession with sleep – How important is it? How do I get more? How much do I need? – has led to further, exhaustive studies which recently have revealed interesting results. Turns out women do just fine next to their mate even if they toss and turn more than they would sleeping alone. In other words, couples sleeping separately in order to address different bedtimes, differing body temperatures, or loud snoring would do better solving their bedtime issues together, side by side.
The new research available – from a long-term study conducted by University of Pittsburgh professor Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D. and detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article -- suggests that couples who sleep in the same bed at night are healthier, both physically and emotionally, and tend to live longer than their counterparts who sleep separately. And while these new conclusions are all well and good, how do couples actually get back to bed together when the issues that drove them apart still exist?
For some couples, the firmness of the mattress is an issue. If one partner regularly tosses and turns, chances are the bed is moving and disrupting the other’s sleep. That’s why Tempur-Pedic and other memory foam mattresses have become so popular. One side remains stable regardless of movement elsewhere. Couples who sleep separately because the wife enjoys Jay Leno and returning emails after the kids are in bed, and the husband prefers ‘lights out’ at ten, have a different set of problems. Their different body clocks drive them apart not only at night, but also during the day. In a Brigham Young University study conducted in the 1990s, couples with different bedtimes participated together less frequently in shared activities, fought more, and generally had less sex. Therapists who specialize in sleep issues suggest couples come to an agreement – they retire at the same time for the unique intimacy those moments afford (not necessarily sexual) and then she gets to leave to surf the web, watch late-night television, and return later when she’s tired. The couple agrees that she can sleep later than he does.
What about differing body temperatures? With this new research encouraging couples to sleep together for better health, it’s more important than ever for partners with differing internal thermostats to find solutions like the Twovet™, a comforter with one side thicker (and warmer) than the other. Even though sleeping separately feels easier at first, the psychological and physical ramifications of this arrangement ultimately result in an undesirable outcome. A woman might think she’s getting a better night’s sleep alone, cozy under all those covers, but this new empirical evidence suggests otherwise.
A couple’s interaction with each other during the day also affects how they’ll sleep together at night. A 2010 study of over two dozen couples found that men who slept soundly throughout the night were more communicative and thoughtful the next day with their mates. Looking at it from the woman’s point of view, in a chicken-and-egg analysis, she sleeps better at night after a day getting along with her man.
“But I just need sleep!” is a familiar refrain from parents, and couples with children often face more complicated sleep issues. Regardless, new studies don’t lie. While it may be easier for couples to sleep separately if mom is getting up to feed the baby and dad has an early morning meeting, simple solutions are not always best in the long run. Addressing sleep incompatibility issues – whether it involves a new mattress, a bed ‘time’ agreement, a special comforter, or behavioral sleep therapy – therefore keeping couples in the same bed, will ultimately serve you and your mate better.
Fix your sleep issues and you may just live longer. Why wouldn’t you?