Common Sleep Compatibility Issues of Couples That Can Hurt Your Relationship


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This post looks at several common sleep compatibility issues of couples that can hurt your relationship if left unattended because getting enough sleep is vital for our physical, mental, and relational well-being.

But, millions of couples find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep next to each other for various reasons. And these issues only increase with age.

So, if this is a challenge for you, know that you’re not alone!

If your partner’s restlessness and snoring are keeping you up or you’re just planning ahead, this post looks at some tips to protect your sleep and your relationship.

But, before we look at strategies for couples to protect their sleep, let’s first look at some sleep stats from around New Zealand, and then secondly, WHY sleep is important in the first place.

According to the largest sleep survey done in New Zealand (2011), here are some research findings from around the country:

  • 13% of us wake up every night and have difficulty getting back to sleep (with another quarter of us waking up most nights) but that rises to 17% in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty and drops to just 10% in Wellington.
  • While 22% of us get up every single night to go to the bathroom (and another 25% get up most nights), 28% of Northlanders are nightly bathroom visitors but only 18% of Wellingtonians.
  • One in five of us takes 10 minutes or less to fall asleep while a third takes more than half an hour. Quickest to get to sleep are Aucklanders (17%) and Wellingtonians (18%) while the slowest are those in Otago and Southland, where 18% take more than an hour.
  • Single people take longer to get to sleep (18% an hour or more) compared to those with partners (12%).
  • A high 46% of us wake up during the night due to aches and pains but that rises to more than 50% in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and the South Island. Wellingtonians are the least afflicted (39%). Backache, hip and neck pain, headaches and allergies are the main problems.
  • North Islanders are daily nappers, particularly those in Northland and Auckland, while few South Islanders hit the hay in the afternoon.
  • The majority of New Zealanders share their bed with a partner every night (60%) with pets the next most popular bed “partner” – 12% of us sleep with Rover or Tiddles every night.
  • Cantabrians are more pet-friendly than most, with 16% sharing their bed with an animal each day, compared to just 10% in Auckland.
  • A third of South Islanders are woken by their partner snoring, compared to 26% of NZers overall.
  • About a quarter get woken by external noise but this drops to 18% in Otago and Southland.
  • More people in the North Island – 55% – have TVs in their bedrooms compared to 44% in the South Island.
  • Computers in the bedroom are more common in Auckland and Wellington (26% each) compared to smaller towns in the South Island (9%).
  • Mobile phones make it into more than half of bedrooms in the three main centres but only a third of the rest of the South Island.
  • About 9% of us manage to wake ourselves up with our own snoring.
  • 1% of us have a fridge in the bedroom.

But the big question is,

WHY is getting a good sleep so important to us?

According to HealthAmbition.com sleep has serious implications for your physical and mental health.

They say:

Sleep is where the body and mind is repaired, reordered and readied for the next day. Going without adequate amounts of it won’t just leave you tired and irritable, it can actually be dangerous, both to yourself and to others, and seriously deteriorate the quality of your life.

SelfdevelopmentSecrets.com further states that sleep is the mother of all rest, healing, peace of mind, and emotional stability. 

They make the point that “sleep is the be-all, end-all of good health, hygiene, romance, and childcare” and if you don’t get enough you’re setting yourself up for major struggles later on:

If you don’t get the minimum requirement of hours for your personal needs, you will accumulate a sleep debt. For example, if you have one less hour than your minimum sleep requirements, you will need to add an hour of sleep onto the next night. An accumulation of sleep debt over time leads to needing to sleep long weekends, overall depression, loss of hope and optimism, and significant depletions in your creative thinking.

Additionally, the large proportion of short sleepers in New Zealand is a major source of concern for experts, as short sleep has been shown to be associated with poor psychological well-being on a consistent basis in research studies.

But, even though sleep is super important for our physical, mental, and relational well-being, we also know that many people struggle with sleeplessness.

In fact, according to The New Zealand Medical Journal, based on a national survey of insomnia symptoms, they have estimated that 13.0% of New Zealanders aged 20–59 yrs are affected by at least one symptom of insomnia often/always, together with excessive daytime sleepiness.

That has serious implications for both home life and the workplace.

But, what if you’re struggling to sleep because of sleep compatibility issues, in other words, what if your spouse or partner is responsible for your lack of sleep?

More than that, if that is the case, what could that mean for your relationship?

Sleep compatibility

Now, there can, of course, be many different reasons why sleeping in the same bed as your partner is disrupting your sleep, but we’ll only look at a few common sleep compatibility issues below and what you can do about them.

If you have any others to add, please do so in the comments section at the end of the article.

Common Sleep Compatibility Issues for Couples

Coping with Snoring

I know this is a big one for many.

In fact, a number of years ago when I was seriously overweight (30kg to be exact), my snoring was a huge issue for my wife.

She kept waking up to get me to roll over and stop snoring, which ended up disrupting BOTH our sleep in the end.

But, once I lost the excess weight, changed my lifestyle, got fit and healthy, my snoring as a major sleep disruptor disappeared as well.

So, let’s look at a few more ways to cope with snoring you might benefit from.

Get Helpful Sleep Apnea

About 45% of adults snore at least occasionally and sleep apnea is one of the most serious causes.

In fact, according to healthambition.com sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition that affects an estimated 26% of adults.

It is a sleeping disorder that causes the airway to become blocked during sleep, preventing oxygen from entering the lungs.

According to Sleep Health New Zealand, sleep apnea costs New Zealand between $33- 90 million per annum (Societal Costs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome, New Zealand Medical Journal).

People with this disorder stop breathing momentarily and have a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Proper diagnosis and treatment can eliminate the condition with lifestyle changes alone or by wearing an airway pressure device.

So, if you suspect that you’re suffering from sleep apnea, it’s probably a good idea to get that checked out, for the sake of your relationship’s well-being, but definitely also for your OWN safety.

Change Your Sleep Position

Like me, some people snore only when they sleep on their back.

My wife says I snore in all positions, but I’m not so sure about that LOL.

I mean, I NEVER catch myself snoring so don’t really know …

But, switching to your side may be all you need to do, as it seems to do the trick most of the time.

Lose Weight

This is a big one. Pun intended.

Sometimes the culprit with snoring is just too much fat constricting your throat, and changing your sleeping position won’t make any difference at all, apart from changing the volume of your snoring!

So, in addition to all the other health benefits, maintaining a healthy weight may actually eliminate this sleep issue for you.

It definitely worked for me and made a huge difference to my wife’s and my quality AND quantity of sleep, so it’s certainly worth a try! 

Cut Back on Alcohol

I used to love a glass or two of red wine at night, so can’t tell YOU to stop drinking, even though alcohol is actually a toxin.

Having said that, the truth is that alcohol can interfere with sleep compatibility, as everyone is more prone to snoring after a few drinks since alcohol relaxes the muscles at the back of the throat.

Therefore, if you’re planning on having wine with dinner, drink plenty of water to get rehydrated and lessen the effects.

This is what I do by the way – having at least a litre of water after having had wine and before bed.

Just be cautious, too much water will cause you to wake up also to go to the toilet.

Sleep Apart

This is an interesting idea, but probably worth considering and rethinking the stigma related to it.

According to GrownUps.co.nz, sleeping in separate beds could actually help your marriage.

In fact, according to the largest sleep survey done in New Zealand, 60% of Kiwis sleep in the same bed as their partner every night, which makes you wonder what the other 40% does.

We know that apparently 25% of all American couples already sleep apart.

But, what about intimacy?

Surely that HAS to be impacted when couples sleep apart for the majority of the time.

To be sure, one could argue both ways – sleeping separately might undoubtedly result in a lack of intimacy; nevertheless, a lack of sleep, resulting in decreased energy levels and greater irritability, could also have a detrimental effect on intimacy.

For example, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey, improved sleep resulted in improved sex for 26% of respondents.

So, it’s not as simple as saying that sleeping in separate beds as a couple is detrimental to your intimacy levels since there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

You CAN have a happy and intimate marriage even if you sleep in separate beds IF the main reason for this arrangement is sleep compatibility issues or difficulties, rather than lack of emotional and physical connection.

OK, now that that point is settled, what if you know you could benefit from sleeping apart, but your situation makes it difficult or impossible?

Things You Can Do to Accommodate Sleep Compatibility Issues

Reconfigure Your Home

If separate bedrooms are beyond your budget, there are other arrangements.

Get a daybed, comfortable couch or take over your child’s old room when they leave home.

Now, sleeping apart with the aim of getting enough sleep in order to serve your relationship best in the end, is fine as long as you also …

Schedule Time Together

Intimacy is still very much foundational for having a healthy and happy love relationship, and as you’ve just seen, sleep compatibility issues are no reason for dwindling sex life.

Therefore, in order to maintain intimacy, as a couple, you will have to develop new rituals for getting together which might differ from other couples who are sharing a bed most of the time.

In the sense, sometimes sleeping apart can actually bring you closer together IF it forms part of your overall strategy to serve your relationship rather than avoid intimacy issues.

I’m sure you understand what we are getting at here.

Let’s also quickly look at a few other issues that might disrupt your sleep as a couple.

Making Other Adjustments

Control Noise

Earplugs will help block out the alarm if your spouse rises at dawn to start working from their home office, or for their early morning jog or gym session.

You could also play around with various alarm tones as some are more annoying than others.

Choose one that works for you both and set it to an appropriate volume.

Cut Down on the Glare

Use nightlights to avoid turning on the lamps when one of you comes home late, likes reading while the other one is sleeping, or departs early in the morning.

They’re also good for the frequent bathroom trips that often come with ageing.

Use Split Sheets

It’s typically quite annoying when waking up in the middle of a winter night, and your partner has “stolen” all the blankets.

But it doesn’t need to be a problem.

There are now split sheets and blankets that are divided down the middle that address all those blanket hogs.

You’ll both get your fair share of the covers.

Problem solved. This does not have to be a major sleep compatibility problem.

Limit Caffeine and Other Stimulants

Sometimes, your sleep can issues might have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with your pre-bed routines.

For example, you’ll sleep much better if you forgo coffee and energy drinks later in the day.

Some medications may also interfere with falling asleep, so if you suspect that to be the case, perhaps discuss it with your doctor.

Put A Curfew on Devices

If you’re not ready to banish the TV and computer from your sleeping quarters, you can still give them a bedtime.

But shutting everything off at least an hour before bed will help cut down on the mental stimulation that may make it harder to fall asleep.

However, if you like me, you might be reading books on your phone or tablet.

In that case, play around with light settings as well as blue light filter apps which reduces the glare significantly as well as the strain on your eyes.

Communicate And Negotiate

We don’t always know how our sleeping patterns or habits impact our partner’s.

How can you, when you’re asleep?

So, whatever the specific sleep compatibility issue is, communicate openly and respectfully and look for reasonable compromises and win-win solutions.

Some people may feel defensive about snoring or get strongly attached to a late-night TV program, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that long-term sleep deprivation will only hurt your relationship in the long run.

So have that talk sooner rather than later, and come up with some solutions that work for both.

Talk With Your Doctor

Similar to apnea, there are other health issues that could be involved in any serious cases of insomnia.

So, if you suspect that something else is going on with you struggling to sleep, perhaps it’s time to go see your doctor.

They can refer you to a sleep specialist if you need more assistance.

Take Away

As couples, we already have a lot going on and much to think about in order to create and sustain healthy, happy, and intimate relationships.

Thinking about sleep doesn’t usually come up, or even make the list of important things to consider until it becomes a problem.

But by then, it is usually already a problem.

So, my simple suggestion to you is to team up with your partner on getting a good night’s sleep, whether the answer is separate beds or more modest adjustments.

But, at the end of the day, being well-rested will help keep both your relationship and health in top condition for use to come.

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) which focuses on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He completed a graduate diploma in Psychology and is currently pursuing postgraduate Psychology studies at Massey University. He has been married to his wife for nearly sixteen years and is the father of two children. His articles have been published on Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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