How Couples Can Talk Their Way To Better Sleep Every Night
Chances are, you spend more time asleep with your partner than you do awake with them. But when was the last time sleep etiquette was on the list of topics for your relationship check-in? Here, a sleep specialist shares why and how to broach the topic of bedtime with your partner:
Why you and your partner might want to talk about sleep more.
Rest plays an important role in keeping the peace in any relationship. When one partner struggles with sleep, they're not able to fully show up to any part of their life—including their relationship.
And yet, clinical psychologist and author of Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D., has noticed that compared to other challenges that couples face, sleep is often swept under the rug (blanket?). "We talk a lot about sex and what's working and not working in the bedroom, but sleep occupies a lot more time in bed than sex, and we rarely offer space in our relationships to just talk it out," Troxel says on a call to mbg.
To break the cycle, she encourages every couple to set aside time to check in with each other about how their sleep situation is working for both of them.
To start, you can alternate answering the following questions:
- How is sleep currently supporting or harming your ability to function at your best during the day?
- How are your partner's bed habits supporting or harming your ability to have a good night's sleep?
As you do, Troxel recommends using mostly "I" statements ("When I'm not sleeping well, I can't be as good of a partner to you") and avoiding "you" statements ("You hog the covers so much every night").
Getting everything out on the table will help defuse built-up frustration and save you both some midnight kicks and room changes. And once you both voice your concerns, you can work together to problem-solve and come to some sleep solutions together.
How you and your partner can rest easier.
Here, Troxel shares some practical strategies she's seen work for two of the biggest challenges couples tend to face in the bedroom.
If your partner snores or moves around a lot at night:
Troxel notes that the first thing to do here is to recognize that this could be a problem for your partner, too, and they should make sure that these sleep disruptions aren't a symptom of a more serious sleep disorder.
"As a partner, we can be really important early diagnoser of an actual sleep problem—which continue to be really underdiagnosed," she says. "If your partner is snoring excessively, loudly, and nightly or is really tossing or turning or thrashing, it is important to encourage them to speak to their health care provider about these symptoms—particularly if they're having other sorts of daytime consequences like feeling sleepy during the day or feeling like their sleep is unrefreshing."
Once you've ruled out a medical condition, you can experiment with some new tools for minimizing noise and movement transfer: noise machines and earplugs for snorers; special mattresses or pillows for thrashers.
The deep and restorative sleep you've always dreamt about*
Troxel has also seen people have success with some variation of the Scandinavian bed method, wherein two separately made twin beds are pushed together with a blanket on top to create the illusion of a king bed. (All the pre-bed cuddling, none of the middle-of-the-night kicks!)
Finally, cleaning up your sleep hygiene routines by prioritizing turning off electronics early, keeping bedroom lights to a minimum, and eating calming foods and/or supplements before bed can ultimately help both you and your partner sleep more deeply through any distractions.
If your partner has a different sleep schedule than you do:
"If one partner loves the morning and the other is more of a night owl, that can create challenges," Troxel says. She adds that spending quality time together in the morning and at night engaging in soothing touch (cuddling, holding hands) can be really beneficial for both partners.
So it might not be a bad idea for the night owl to spend a few minutes in bed with the early bird every night before quietly getting up and going on with their evening. Vice versa, the early bird might choose to get back into bed with the night owl once they wake up in the mornings, to share a coffee or read next to each other.
The bottom line.
Mismatched sleep routines don't always need to end in sleep divorce—or, as Troxel more gently calls it, unconscious uncoupling. By discussing your sleep needs early and often with your partner, you can work together to put any issues to bed.