I’m awake at 3:20 a.m., again. No, I don’t have insomnia, nor do I need to pee. My lovely, wonderful, sexy partner is snoring like someone’s paying him based on the volume. I love falling asleep next to him, but waking up to the sound of a chainsaw on a frequent basis is not helping me obtain the rest I need.
Most people believe sleeping next to your partner is important, imperative even, for intimacy. The snoring issue is as old as time, but it’s only one of many things that can get in the way of sleep. Some people toss and turn so much they really don’t need additional exercise. Others talk in their sleep, which might be amusing if it didn’t wake you up from the very best dream starring puppies and pizza. The unfortunate folks who suffer from nightmares will wake with a jolt at the least, and at worst a screaming punch at an imaginary foe who might turn out to be their sleeping partner woken up in an extremely unpleasant way.
If you’re lucky enough to be compatible snoozing partners, sharing a bed with your partner can and will offer a level of intimacy enjoyed in a way that two specific people can only offer to one another. You learn what your partner needs to feel comfortable and safe. Perhaps it’s seven pillows and the blanket tucked just so under his chin. Or, that even with morning breath that could be used as a torture device, you still want to kiss her the second your eyes open.
Science proves that sleeping next to your love has psychological benefits that supersede getting more REM time. Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist. Her life’s work is to study sleep and it’s effects on couples specifically. In her work, she’s discovered that the benefits offered to couples who sleep in the same bed are significant in the improvement of each individual’s health.
Andrea Peterson wrote an in-depth article for The Wall Street Journal on the subject and offers this through her report: “While the science is in the early stages, one hypothesis suggests that by promoting feelings of safety and security, shared sleep in healthy relationships may lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Sharing a bed may also reduce cytokines, involved in inflammation, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone that is known to ease anxiety and is produced in the same part of the brain responsible for the sleep-wake cycle.” So even though sharing a bed may make people move more, “the psychological benefits we get having closeness at night trump the objective costs of sleeping with a partner,” adds Troxel.
But the trouble with studies is that they are dependent on a sample of people, and there are 7.6 billion of us. The reality is that some people simply cannot sleep together and it’s a universal truth that we require a certain amount of sleep to function properly. College students may argue with this, but the truth is evident. So what’s a couple to do if they’ve tried everything from CPAP masks to help with sleep apnea to California king-sized beds and custom-made pillows, still to no avail?
Even when the answer is obvious, we often reject it because we fear the negative effects. Will we lose intimacy? Will we stop having as much sex? Will our kids think it’s weird? Will this disable our connection?
We can define things as problems to solve or we can embrace the reality of our given situations and decide there’s not a problem if there’s a solution. According to a 2005 survey, The National Sleep Foundation reported nearly 25% of American couples sleep in separate bedrooms. The reasons are, of course, varied, but the takeaway is that sleep is vital and can’t be sacrificed. If you can’t function properly during the day and find yourself falling asleep at inopportune times and in strange places, it’s time to look at alternatives.
We don’t need to be sheep. There is no shame in needing to sleep solo. If you’re cranky all the time because you are sleep deprived, and you don’t have a newborn baby, being unwilling to look at the option of sleeping in different rooms may in fact compromise your overall happiness and well-being. Clearly, not everyone has the option of so many bedrooms that everyone can have their own, but if the situation is dire enough, perhaps there is some nook of the dwelling that can offer a quiet place for much-needed rest.
If you’re worried about the lack of connection and intimacy you may suffer as a result of choosing to sleep separately, don’t. Loving communication, acknowledgment of what’s true, and the willingness to do what is best for our health all go under the intimacy umbrella. This doesn’t prevent us from cuddling or playing with our partner right before going to sleep or going in to wake your significant other with a cup of coffee and perhaps your naked body. If we buy into the idea that sleeping in the same bed is more important than our wellness, our mental health will also suffer the toll.
By Lara Falberg
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