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Meeting Couples’ Different Sleep Needs

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 13, 2021

Sharing a bed can make you feel closer to your partner, but it may also be a struggle when you have different sleep needs. Snoring, staggered sleep schedules, and a room that’s too hot or too cold are all common sleep problems. But it’s still possible to manage these issues and get a full night’s sleep with your partner.

Sleep Hygiene Basics

Whether you sleep with a partner or alone, your bedroom should be as dark, cool, and as quiet as possible. Keep to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Try to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or heavy meals 3 to 4 hours before bed, as they can keep you awake. And turn off your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and TV. The light from these devices can slow your brain’s release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep.

“Some people can’t go to sleep because they can’t turn their brains off,” says Lynn J. Goodloe, MD, medical director of Pacific Rejuvenation Medical in West Hills, CA. “Rather than working on the computer, do something relaxing before you go to sleep.”

To help yourself relax, try breathing exercises: Take slow, deep breaths through your nose using the muscles of your diaphragm. Visualization exercises are another way to relax that helps you lessen stress through the use of mental images.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a common sleep problem for many partners. Nearly half of us (45%) snore some or all of the time.

For those who sleep with a snorer, think about going to bed before your partner. If you’re already asleep, it’s easier to tune out the noise. You could also wear earplugs, use white noise, or listen to music as you fall asleep. Just be sure it turns off on its own so it doesn’t wake you back up.

If snoring is keeping you up at night, here are some other things you can try:

  • Stay at a healthy weight. When you’re overweight, extra tissue in your throat can lead to snoring.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking raises your chance of snoring.
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol slows your central nervous system and over-relaxes the muscles in your neck, both of which lead to snoring.
  • Sleep on your side. When you sleep on your back, your tongue is more likely to slip into your throat. This narrows your airway and blocks airflow. One idea: Sew a tennis ball into the back of your pajama top to help you stay on your side.
  • Treat nasal blockage. Nasal problems like allergies, congestion, a cold, or a deviated septum (crooked tissue between your nostrils) can all block airflow in your nose and cause snoring.
  • Wear nasal strips. You put these strips on the bridge of your nose to expand your nasal passages for better breathing.
  • Sleep on an incline. Lift the head of your bed by about 4 inches.

Besides snoring, you may briefly stop breathing or gasp for air. These are all signs of the sleep disorder sleep apnea and call for a visit to the doctor. They’ll ask about your sleep and medical history and may also ask your partner to share what they’ve observed.

For a mild case of sleep apnea, your doctor may first suggest lifestyle changes, including losing weight, and if you smoke, quitting. If it turns out that you have moderate to serious sleep apnea, they may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. While you sleep, you’ll wear a mask that sends air into your nose and mouth. The steady flow of air opens your air passages and stops sleep apnea.

Studies show a CPAP machine could improve sleep quality for both partners, and a supportive partner can help you stick with treatment. But there are hurdles. Keep in mind that it takes time and patience to get used to a CPAP machine. But in the long run, it will help you to avoid more problems related to sleep apnea.

Sleep Schedules

You’re an early bird, while your partner is a night owl. How can you make sure you both get enough sleep? “The big thing is just be respectful of the other person’s habits,” says James Rowley, MD, medical director of the sleep disorders center at DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

For example, if you stay up late to watch TV while your partner sleeps, be sure to go to another room. Also, be as quiet as possible when getting in and out of bed to avoid waking your partner.

Room Temperature

A cooler room, between 68 and 72 degrees, is your best bet for optimal sleep. If you get cold while your partner sleeps hot, you’ll have to compromise. “It’s easier to add covers than take them away if you’re already hot,” Rowley says.

You may want to try each sleeping with your own blanket for the perfect sleep temperature.

Mattress

The right mattress is crucial for a good night’s sleep. Keep these things in mind when you shop for a new mattress:

  • Stability. The bouncier, or less stable, your mattress, the more likely you are to disturb your partner while they sleep. Look for a mattress that isolates movement and lessens the transfer of motion. Foam mattresses tend to be less bouncy than other types.
  • Support. Your mattress should support each person based on their height, weight, and sleep style -- whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach.

If possible, try out a mattress together before you buy it to make sure it works for both of you.

If it turns out that you and your partner’s sleep patterns are just too different, the answer might be to sleep in separate rooms. It’s not ideal, but it could mean a better night’s sleep.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Lynn J. Goodloe, MD, otolaryngologist, medical director, Pacific Rejuvenation Medical, Los Angeles.

James Rowley, MD, president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, medical director, sleep disorders center at DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital, Detroit.

Sleep Foundation: “Relaxation Exercises To Help Fall Asleep,” “Healthy Sleep Tips.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Snoring,” “Sleep apnea,” “CPAP machines: Tips for avoiding 10 common problems.”

Mayo Clinic: “Snoring.”

Sleep.org: “How to Share a Bed With Your Partner.”

Consumer Reports: “Best Mattresses for Couples.”

Sleep Health: “Couples' experiences with continuous positive airway pressure treatment: a dyadic perspective.”

Behavioral Sleep Medicine: “Patient and partner experiences with obstructive sleep apnea and CPAP treatment: a qualitative analysis.”

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