Are You and Your Partner Sleep Compatible?

Sleep disorders and incompatible nighttime habits can drive couples apart at night. But solutions do exist.

From the WebMD Archives


According to Paul Rosenblatt, PhD, a professor of family social studies at the University of Minnesota, sleep incompatibility naturally increases with age. "With older couples, sex is often in the past, snoring is a problem, plus they're going to the bathroom multiple times a night," he says. Lots of older couples end up not wanting to share a bed."

Other experts agree. "We get more complicated as we get older," Emsellem tells WebMD. "For example, there's the development of hot flashes in women, and snoring."

Sleep Incompatibility: Insomnia

Even in the absence of sleep disorders, getting a good night's rest remains elusive for many couples. "We often take sleep for granted," says Kevin Martinolich, MD, of the East Tennessee Center for Sleep Medicine. Martinolich says it's not uncommon to see patients who have suffered from insomnia for several years before seeking treatment.

If you suffer from insomnia, you may need to look no further than the pillow next to yours to discover what's keeping you awake. "You have to take a step back and ask yourself, 'Is it marital problems that begot sleep problems, or vice versa?'" Martinolich says.

Not sure? The answer may lie in what you and your partner are willing to do to overcome sleep incompatibility. "It poses the questions: 'How strong is the relationship? How flexible are the players?'" Emsellem says.

Strategies for a Better Night's Sleep: Sleeping Apart

An increasing number of couples, old and young, resolve sleep incompatibility by parting ways at night. A recent NSF survey reported that an estimated 23% of American couples sleep apart. British couples report similar habits. A survey by Britain's Sleep Council found one out of every four couples surveyed regularly sleep separately. The trend has become so firmly entrenched that architects now regularly design new homes with two master bedrooms. The National Association of Home Builders predicts that by 2015, more than half of all custom houses will have dual master bedrooms.

But many couples remain committed to cuddling at night. Rosenblatt, who interviewed 42 bed-sharing couples for his book Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing, reported that, snoring and other annoyances aside, the desire for intimacy and sheer closeness persuaded many couples to stay under the same set of sheets.