At some point in human history, it became the norm to share a bed by sleeping with your romantic partner. It’s something a lot of us just do—whether we really want to or not. My husband and I have our own arguments about sharing a bed: He says I emit heat when I sleep, making him too uncomfortably hot at night. Few things bother me more than the way he pulls the sheets out from the end of the bed, ruining my neat and tidy tucked-in corners.
And yet we continue to sleep in the same bed. We’ve found ways to mitigate the small issues we face—the bed is big enough that he can move as far away from me as possible, and I’ve drawn a hard line in the sand that he can do what he wants with his side of the bed but my corner cannot be disturbed. But many people are dealing with things that truly prevent them from getting a solid night’s sleep in the same bed as their partner, from snoring and other health-related sleep issues, to opposite work schedules, and more. These kinds of things can cause serious disruptions in getting quality rest and, ultimately, can make you resent your partner for keeping you from getting the sleep you need.
If that sounds like you, know that you’re not alone. This kind of clash in sleeping styles “is extraordinarily common,” Ravi S. Aysola, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at UCLA, tells SELF. So it can be easy to feel like you’re totally alone in needing your space at night or having trouble peacefully sharing a bed, then waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to start your day.
“While some people really have no problem saying, ‘You get your sleep; I’ll get mine—no big deal,’ for others, it’s ingrained that this is part of intimacy and a good relationship is being in the same bed together at night,” Dr. Aysola says, “so there are multiple layers to address here.” With that in mind, here’s how experts suggest handling things if you can’t get a good night’s sleep in the same bed as your partner.
1. Avoid blaming or criticizing the other person.
Basic rules of conflict-resolution apply here: If you’re going to bring up your trouble sleeping to your partner (or bring it up again), avoid “you” statements because they can come off as critical or blaming even if that’s not your intention, Mishay Butler-Ozore, LMFT, in Southern California, tells SELF. She recommends bringing up the problem in a gentler way that avoids harshly pointing the finger. “So instead of using ‘you,’ say, ‘I’m having a difficult time sleeping and I would like it if we could figure out a way to improve our sleep,’” says Butler-Ozore.
Overall, think about approaching the conversation by stating what your needs are versus blaming the other person, she says. They’ll likely be more receptive because they won’t immediately feel like they need to go on the defense. This is especially the case because the reason they interrupt your sleep might be out of their control (e.g., they toss and turn). If they already feel bad about that, making sure to approach them with empathy is particularly key. Which brings us to…
2. Be compassionate and empathetic.
Chances are, if you’re not sleeping well, your partner might not be either. If they snore or are tossing and turning all night, that probably means they’re getting a crappy night of sleep too. “There has to be some type of empathy for whatever is the reason that the other person is keeping the other person awake,” Butler-Ozore notes.
She recommends mentioning your concern. For example, saying, “I noticed that you’re tossing and turning all night, and I would imagine you’re not getting a restful night of sleep.” Make the goal twofold: You’re both not sleeping so well, and coming up with a solution can help everyone involved. Win-win.
Just to emphasize here, remember that it’s likely not their fault. (Unless it actually is and they won’t change a controllable habit that’s messing with your sleep—then maybe you have a right to be angry.) “It’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t something anybody is doing on purpose, so it should not be approached with contempt,” Butler-Ozore says. “Keep the problem at the core and don’t make it a personal battle.”
3. Get to the root of the problem—and show your support along the way.
Non-health-related things can interfere with sleep—like wildly different work schedules—but often, if someone is saying they can’t sleep with their partner, it’s because the partner has a health-related sleep issue, Dr. Aysola says.
Snoring is obviously a huge one. “It is very common and something that has a big impact,” Dr. Aysola says. “If your partner sounds like they are choking every night and snoring loudly, that may need to be addressed.” That isn’t just something that’s annoying to you, but it’s a real health concern that can indicate a form of sleep apnea, or when a person repeatedly stops breathing while they sleep. Other sleep disorders that cause someone to flail around in bed (like night terrors) need to be addressed too.
Gently recommending your partner get a sleep evaluation to figure out how to fix the problem can help both of you in the long run. Saying something like, “It’s really difficult for me to sleep, and I know you can’t help it, but can we figure out a way for both of us to get better sleep at night?” can help you broach the subject.
Your support might be more important than you know. “Spousal or partner support in someone starting this is really essential in getting it to work well,” Dr. Aysola says. With sleep apnea in particular, some people may be worried about how a CPAP machine looks. (CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure; these wearable devices deliver oxygen during the night to help treat sleep apnea.) Knowing their partner is there for them and wants to work together on a solution to the problem can help take that worry away. (CPAP machines can be a source of noise disturbance on their own while you’re trying to rest, though—more on how to fix that in a sec.)
4. Get creative with your solutions.
You may have heard of “sleep divorces,” or the idea of sleeping separately from your romantic partner. In its most extreme form, it can extend to sleeping in totally separate rooms. This can absolutely help with sleep discord, but the reality is that not everyone has the option of sleeping in another bedroom (or wants to). So brainstorming small ways to improve the situation while staying in the same room can be a great option.
Easy fixes like eye masks, earplugs, blackout curtains, and white noise machines can all be helpful to reduce the sensory stimulation that’s keeping you awake, whether it’s from a partner snoring, using a CPAP, or turning lights on at ungodly hours, Dr. Aysola says.
You may also have to get creative and try some other potential solutions. For example, maybe you can stagger your bedtimes so that one person has a chance to fall asleep first, Butler-Ozore suggests. Depending on what’s keeping you up, maybe you sleep in the same room but have your own separate beds. Maybe just having your own set of sheets and comforter solves the problem if you keep waking up as your partner unwittingly wrenches linens from your body each night.
5. If you do end up in separate rooms, make time for intimacy before bed.
So you’ve tried everything you can think of, and you still just can’t sleep well with your partner. If the majority of your physical bonding happens in bed—whether that’s cuddling or having sex, at bedtime or in the morning—then you’ll need to make sure you’re still getting that time together.
“If you do decide to sleep separately, then you have to be more intentional about making time for closeness and even more intentional about making time for intimacy,” Butler-Ozore says. Maybe that means that on certain days you do sleep in the same bed together. Or you lie in bed and have time together for physical closeness and pillow talk, and part ways right when you’re ready to fall asleep.
It can be really hard to break that association between sleep and intimacy, Dr. Aysola says. But lack of sleep can also seriously strain a relationship. If you commit to working together to come up with a solution that meets both parties’ needs, your bond will be stronger for it.
Also, be open to renegotiating solutions, Butler-Ozore says: “If you try something and it doesn’t work, it’s okay to go back to the drawing board and try something else.” Like everything else in a relationship, open communication, compromise, and honesty go a very long way.
- How a Sleep Divorce Could Make Your Relationship Stronger
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