Pillow Talk: The Science-Backed Secret to Sharing A Bed With Your Mate (Happily)
Pardon the humblebrag, but my husband and I might be the patron saints of the whole “relationship compromise” thing when it comes to co-sleeping.
I’m an early riser and my husband is a night owl. I zonk out almost immediately (well within the expert-recommended window to fall asleep), dream a bunch, and wake up easily and in good spirits. On the other hand, he battles insomnia, often oversleeps, and sometimes wakes up feeling like he didn’t get any rest at all. Luckily, our sleep differences haven’t been a source of friction in our relationship.
A little backstory: When we first met, he confessed that he was an insomniac. That worried me because I’ve never had sleep issues and didn’t want to inherit his. It ended up working the other way around: He slept better than usual the first night we shared a bed (that was a good sign). And I can report that his sleep has improved during seven years of co-sleeping, while my sleep health has remained intact. According to research, this is the result of a natural sleep adaptation process that many couples experience.
What Science Says About Sleep Compatibility
In a recent study, experts reviewed a large body of research on heterosexual couples, in an attempt to draw a correlation between their relationship quality and sleep quality using self-reported evaluations.
One of the most noteworthy findings for couples who have different chronotypes (meaning one is a night owl and the other an early bird): We can create new co-sleeping patterns in the name of love and harmony. The study reports, “Over time, couples evolve interactional rules and sleep routines that bind them together. These behaviors need some time to emerge in a new relationship and often imply a modification of sleep behavior.”
This got me thinking: Along with air, water, and food, sleep is one of the things we need to survive. However, we sleep together for a host of other reasons, like security, warmth, intimacy, and comfort. But that doesn’t mean co-sleeping in peace comes easily.
What Real Life Says About Sleep Compatibility
Things like room temperature preferences and what kind of sheets to buy can feel like insurmountable obstacles that can rob you of sleep.
So, how can couples who are aren’t on the same sleep wavelength find common ground in bed? The authors of the study say the general takeaway is to work together and compromise. You’re a couple, after all!
For example, my husband and I don’t agree on screens in the bedroom. He likes to look at his phone until he’s sleepy, and I diligently read a real-life paper book before passing out. Our compromise is that I go to bed a half-hour to an hour before he does. That way, I can read for approximately 90 seconds before my eyelids get heavy. And by the time I’m asleep, he can scroll through Facebook memes without me grousing about the blue light spectrum. Hey, it works.
At the end of the day, the more comfortable and well-rested your sleeping partner is, the better chance you both have at waking up happy. And isn’t that the point?
Kate Mercier is a 40-something writer, editor, and self-proclaimed “professional sleeper.” She lives in southern New England with her husband, a beagle named Eleanor Roosevelt, and a 7-foot tree named Tom Hardy Fig.