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Getting a good night's sleep can be hard enough, but if you're one of the seven in 10 Americans who share a bed at night, it can be even tougher. Just ask the doctors, researchers and sleep experts who say that sleeping next to someone else can keep you from getting the zzz's you need.
“You might be bothered by a bed partner’s snoring, excessive movement during the night, excessive generation of body heat [or] crowding the bed,” said Dr. James K. Wyatt, director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “There are all sorts of environmental circumstances.”
From snoring to a late-night Netflix addiction, here are five ways your partner may be keeping you up at night, and how you can find your way back to a restful night’s sleep.
1) Their snoring keeps you up
Research shows that partners of people who snore or have sleep apnea are more likely to wake up during the night, and they’re twice as likely to report fatigue and daytime sleepiness, increased muscular-skeletal pain symptoms and increased marital dissatisfaction, according to Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, the co-director for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. “There’s very ample evidence that their sleep quality is very much affected,” he said.
One strategy is to treat the snorer while the other is to lessen the impact of the snoring. That can include using earplugs or a white noise generator to drown out the sound. Wyatt said it’s important to consider whether the person is a chronic snorer or someone who only snores when they’re on their back. It’s also important to distinguish if the problem occurs when they’ve been drinking alcohol or when they have excessive nasal congestion. “ … Those are pretty easy to modify,” he said. But gasping or pausing during breathing could be signs of sleep apnea and should be looked at by a doctor.
2) Night owls and early birds don’t mix
Blame it on circadian rhythm: Night owls naturally feel sleepy later in the evening, while early birds feel compelled to turn in early and wake up with the sun. Dr. Eric Zhou, a sleep medicine expert at Harvard Medical School, said this can lead to conflict for couples because their only time together is often at the end of the day. ”If somebody physically feels their body’s internal clock is telling them, ‘You should be in bed by 9 p.m’ [but] their partner doesn't naturally feel sleepy, their partner wants to go to bed with them because they want to be a good husband or wife,” Zhou said. “But they end up spending hours in bed not sleeping because they just physiologically are not there,” which can create frustration.
That’s something doctors agree you want to avoid at all costs — even if it means going to bed and waking up at separate times, which is a must for shift workers and couples on different schedules. Morgenthaler recommended each partner be as quiet as possible during the other person’s sleep, even if it means setting out the next day’s clothes ahead of time to lessen morning disruptions. “Talk about it and do a little bit of planning,” he said.
3) They’re working on their night moves
Whether it’s tossing and turning or periodic limb movement disorder, which the National Institute on Aging says cause people to move their arms or legs every 20 to 40 seconds, it may be worth buying a new mattress with ample space for each partner. You can also opt for bed surfaces that are known to isolate motion, like memory foam. This especially goes for couples whose kids climb into their bed at night, or the majority of dog and cat owners who let their pets sleep in their bed. Both children and pets move around more at night than adults do, while decreasing your precious mattress real estate. Pets can also cause allergies to flare up and germs to spread.
“The goal here would be to go after the root of the problem,” Wyatt said. “Make sure that pets have their own place to sleep. Make sure that children have learned good sleep habits on their own and feel safe and secure in their own bed.”
4) They don’t agree on the temperature
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal bedroom temperature, but that far from settles it for couples.
For Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of marketing and communications for the Better Sleep Council, the mantra “cool head and warm feet make for a good night’s sleep” leads the way. She suggested setting the bedroom thermostat to the lowest preferred temperature and having the person who wants to be warmer put on socks or invest in a weighted blanket. You could also get two twin size comforters or duvets so that each person has their own and can layer up or down as needed. There are also mattresses and pillows advertised with cooling elements like gel or moisture-wicking fabric.
5) They’re not winding down before bed
Experts recommend sticking to an evening routine that includes winding down an hour before bedtime. “For somebody who goes out and runs for 10 miles, it would seem ludicrous for that person not to wind down afterwards,” Zhou said. “At the same time, we would watch a really awesome Emmy-award winning TV show, keep our brains firing, and expect that when we close the iPad, we’re going to fall asleep.” The same goes for scrolling through social media and answering emails, which can be a tricky balance for partners.
“The priority is to find a way that you both get quality sleep, because that’s an investment in your relationship,” said Dr. Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation who studies the links between close relationships and sleep. “When we’re sleep deprived, our mood suffers, we’re poorer at making decisions and problem solving, our communications skills suffer, we often have reduced frustration tolerance, and we’re less empathic.” All of which, she notes, are keys to maintaining a healthy relationship in the first place.