We all know by now that sleep is crucial to our overall health and wellness. And while plenty of books and resources share tons of information on how to sleep longer and better, many overlook one critical component that could impact your sleep — for better or for worse. That critical component is a mate, and research shows that sleeping as a couple is good for you physically, psychologically, and emotionally, even if your bed partner is a notorious blanket stealer.
The Benefits Of Sleeping As A Couple
It’s hard to argue that sleeping as a couple feels good. But beyond that warm and fuzzy feeling, sleeping together comes with plenty of health benefits. Gregg Dean, CEO of Layla Sleep, says: “Sleeping with a partner can have many physical and emotional advantages for individuals in a relationship. Not only does sleeping next to a loved one reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system, but it also cultivates warmth, a stronger bond, and reduces stress.
By encouraging feelings of safety and security, which, in turn, naturally lowers levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and giving your oxytocin (the love hormone) a boost, sleeping with someone you love can be a powerful stress reducer.
While it’s tempting to think that sleeping with a partner can impair your sleep, the research shows otherwise. As a matter of fact, one study showed sleeping as a couple can profoundly impact your sleep all for the better. The study found that co-sleeping leads to 10 percent more REM sleep, less fragmented REM sleep, and longer undisturbed REM fragments. Put all of these things together, and you have a good recipe for deeper, more restorative sleep.
Whether you’re in the honeymoon phase or heading into your golden years, sleeping together can strengthen your bond and connection with your partner. For some data to back up our claim, we look to a survey conducted by a psychologist and professor at the University of Hertfordshire, Richard Wiseman. In 2014, Wiseman surveyed 1,000 people on their preferred sleeping position and the state of their relationships. Ultimately, he found that 94 percent of couples who spent the night in close contact with each other were happy with their relationship, whereas only 68 percent of couples who didn’t touch reported being happy.
Moreover, Wiseman found that the further apart the couple slept, the worse their relationship; 86 percent of those who slept less than an inch apart from their partner were happy with their relationship, compared to only 66 percent of those who slept more than 30 inches apart.
In addition to all of the benefits outlined above, one study out of the University of Arizona showed that while co-sleeping with kids can promote stress, sleeping with a partner was associated with
- Lower depression
- Reduced anxiety
- Greater satisfaction with life and relationships
Common Sleeping Challenges for Couples
Sleeping with a partner is great for your health and well-being, but anyone who regularly sleeps with a partner will tell you it’s not without its issues. When night falls, most couples can cue the bedtime negotiations over common sleeping challenges that plague relationships, such as snoring, disagreements on temperature, and bedtime routines that just can’t seem to harmonize.
One Partner Snores
Snoring may be one of the most common points of contention between couples, and understandably so. When one partner snores and the other is forced to listen to it night after night instead of getting the shut-eye they need, the situation could get a little hairy.
If your partner only snores occasionally, they may want to do some detective work to figure out what’s causing it and make changes accordingly (avoiding alcohol, losing weight, etc.). Other fixes for occasional snoring may also include investing in a pair of earplugs, using a white noise machine, or having your partner sleep on their side.
Note: If your partner snores regularly and frequently wakes up gasping for air, that could be a sign of sleep apnea — a serious sleep disorder that requires medical attention. To get the help they need, your partner should speak to their doctor or a sleep specialist.
Partners Prefer Different Sleep Temperatures
If snoring tops the list of bedtime issues between couples, ambient temperature may be a close second. It never fails; it seems in every relationship one partner likes to sleep cold, and the other half likes it toasty.
You may not want to hear this, but like many things in your relationship, compromise is key. Discuss the issue with your partner. Maybe they can wear warmer pajamas and let you crack the window or keep the fan on. If that doesn’t work, you can also try a mattress with dual-zoned temperature controls or separate blankets.
Partners Have Different Sleep Schedules/Bedtime Routines
Are you a night owl who married an early bird? Don’t worry; mismatched sleep routines are pretty common.
Dr. David Helfand, PsyD, a licensed psychologist specializing in couples therapy and co-owner of Lifewise, says, “One issue that I hear all the time is that partners have different sleep patterns. One wants to stay up late, while the other needs to be in bed early.”
So what’s a lark and an owl to do? “In those cases, I highly recommend that couples at least snuggle and are in bed while the early bird falls asleep,” says Helfand. “Hold your spouse, tuck them in, give them a kiss goodnight, or provide some other point of contact before you leave the room and start your evening.”
Helfand goes on to tell Sleepopolis that “every couple should intentionally make at least two transitions every day a chance for a positive connection: when they wake up and when they go to bed. If you have different schedules for those events, then you can still connect with each other even if you don’t follow the same rhythm.”
Sharing A Bed Not Working? Consider Sleep Divorce
For couples who can’t seem to meet in the middle and overcome their bedtime differences, sleep divorces may be an option. As its name implies, a sleep divorce is a parting of ways only as it relates to a couple’s sleep.
“Some couples opt for a sleep divorce, where they choose to sleep in separate rooms to resolve their sleep issues,” says Pavel Ufimtsev, a Certified Sleep Science Coach and Co-Founder of SleepMattress.co. “This offers quieter sleep that is more restful and can avoid interruptions or disturbances during the night. It also offers a more flexible bedtime routine and schedule for both partners and can provide each sleeper with more personal space to stretch out on the bed.”
Though the practice has a bit of a stigma — perhaps because of the name — it’s worth considering for couples who find their health and happiness is affected by misaligned sleeping habits. Though most of us would prefer to sleep with our partners, we’re missing out on the many benefits if we’re chronically sleep deprived.
While sleeping in separate beds was once reserved for couples who were bickering and not on speaking terms, it looks like the tides have turned for slumbering solo. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 12 percent of married couples sleep in separate beds, while another survey revealed that 31 percent of married couples wished they could “file for a sleep divorce.”
Sleep divorces may be on the rise, but Ufimtsev warns, “This is only necessary if sleep habits are hurting the relationship and putting the marriage at risk. A sleep divorce may [only] be necessary if all options have been exhausted.”
While sleep divorces can help mitigate the stress caused by differences in sleep patterns and assorted habits between couples, sleep divorces are not the solution to relationship problems or lack of intimacy. Ideally, couples who choose to sleep separately should make every intention to spend meaningful time with their spouses at other points during their day and evening — for example, you might snuggle in the same bed before parting ways when you’re truly ready to fall asleep.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
While sleeping as a couple can do much to strengthen your bond and your relationship with your partner, it can also have a discernible effect on your overall health and wellness. But when your partner sleeps hot, rises at the crack of dawn, and stymies your sleep by snoring, sleeping together may be easier said than done.
To get some shut-eye, you might consider investing in some earplugs or another blanket. If minor changes don’t work, you could consider a sleep divorce. Before you take any drastic measures, just remember that the benefits of sleeping with your partner are likely to outweigh the annoyances.
Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.