What do you do when your partner keeps you awake?
February, with Valentine’s Day, is the month of love. A time when you might snuggle in bed with your special someone. What do you do, however, when that special person you share your bed with makes your night’s sleep a nightmare?
There are many ways that your sleep can be disrupted by another person. Perhaps they snore, or go to bed much later than you do? Maybe they toss and turn all night or you both disagree about the ideal temperature of the bedroom? Does your partner sleep talk or sleepwalk in the night, disrupting your sleep? What can you do to make sure that you both get a good night’s sleep?
Almost half of people snore from time to time, and a quarter of people are habitual snorers. Being kept awake by a snoring partner can quickly take the romance out of the relationship! There are a number of things you can do to reduce snoring:
- sleep on your side
- try to lose weight if you are overweight
- cut down on smoking
- reduce drinking alcohol
If your partner has already tried these things but they still snore then you could try using ear plugs so that you can’t hear their snoring. One important point about snoring is to be aware of a condition called obstructive sleep apnea – this is a condition where someone stops breathing several times during the night (their snoring may stop for a short while and then they will take a gasp of breath and the snoring will resume). If you think that your partner stops breathing during the night, then make an appointment to speak to your doctor, as untreated sleep apnea can significantly impact your quality of life.
Larks and Owls
Some people are “larks” who go to bed early and wake early, while others are “owls” who go to bed late and want to get up later the next morning. If you and your partner are different, then understand that this is a genetic fact and something that is hard to change. “Night owls” aren’t just being lazy when they stay up late and want to lie-in the next morning. Instead of fighting it, you could make the most of your differences – especially when it comes to parenting shifts with a young child. The “owl” can take the first night shift, and the “lark” the early morning shift.
Tossing and turning
If you are struggling to fall asleep, then rather than tossing and turning and disturbing your partner’s sleep, the best thing you can do is to get up out of bed. If you haven’t got to sleep within about twenty minutes, then get out of bed and go to a different room to do something relaxing for a while until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed. Spending excess time in bed trying to sleep when you can’t sleep is associated with insomnia and is not helpful for you or your partner.
Another tip is to use separate blankets or duvets so that you can move them without disturbing your partner. A good quality mattress that absorbs movement can also help so that when you do toss and turn, you will minimally disrupt your partner. Try having the largest bed you can manage, allowing you both to have space to stretch out without disrupting the other person.
An ideal room temperature overnight would be between 16-18oC, which may seem colder than you might expect. As we fall asleep our body temperature naturally drops, so a colder room allows our body temperature to fall. That is why it is so hard to fall asleep in a hot bedroom during a heatwave. If one of you wants a warmer room than the other, then try adding blankets or warmer pyjamas rather than increasing the room temperature.
Sleepwalking and sleep talking
Sleepwalking and sleep talking are kinds of sleep disruptions which are relatively common in children. However, there are also many adults who will still occasionally sleepwalk or sleep talk. When a person sleepwalks or sleep talks they are not actually acting out their dreams, but rather they will be in a deep NREM sleep. Because the sleepwalker or sleep talker is in a deeper sleep, they will be hard to wake up and often will not remember it the next morning. Symptoms of sleepwalking can range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the house and even leaving the house and driving long distances! If your partner is sleepwalking then the best thing to do is to gently lead them back to bed. Incidences of sleepwalking and sleep talking are more likely to occur when the person is sleep deprived, stressed, or has had a heavy meal before bed. Also, some medications and alcohol can also make someone more likely to sleepwalk or sleep talk.
If your partner is frequently sleepwalking or sleep talking then they may be stressed or just need to get more sleep. A relaxing pre-bedtime routine can be helpful. It is important to make sure that the bedroom is free from trip hazards or other potential dangers and to lock windows so that it is safer if they did sleepwalk. You may also wish to speak to a doctor about the possibility of any underlying illnesses.
Benefits of co-sleeping
Snuggling your partner in bed is fantastic for your relationship. When we hug or kiss someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and helps us develop a strong bond with our partner, giving us the “warm and fuzzy” feeling we get when we are in love. Oxytocin is released by our pituitary gland and lowers both our heart rates and our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
However, despite the huge benefits of physical contact with your partner in bed, if you aren’t getting enough sleep because of your partner you could be left irritable and sleep deprived. Many people find that their relationships actually are helped by sleeping in separate beds. A 2018 YouGov poll suggested that 15% of British people would rather sleep in a separate bed than their partner. The Queen and Prince Philip are reported to sleep in separate bedrooms. So, perhaps after some oxytocin producing snuggle time, you could retire to separate bedrooms to sleep like royalty, if you have the room to spare!
Dr Lindsay Browning is a sleep expert and Chartered Psychologist who offers help to people of all ages with sleeping difficulties at her private practice Trouble Sleeping. www.troublesleeping.co.uk