Falling into blissful slumber is one of our society’s biggest problems. Stress, the pace of life and unhealthy habits are the main reasons why so many people suffer occasional or chronic sleep disorders. The resulting lack of rest also affects the immune, cardiovascular, metabolic, muscular and nervous systems. For decades, the norm in Western societies has been for couples to share a bed, which has thus become symbolic of the couple’s of the commitment to the relationship and the desire for shared intimacy. So when we talk about incompatibility with our sleeping partner, our relationship weakens.
What happens when, far from being anxiety or other personal problems, the reason for poor quality sleep is our partner? “I am a fervent defender of what I call ‘voluntary nocturnal separation,’ which means couples sleeping in separate rooms to guarantee a good night’s sleep and the rest that is so necessary in our daily lives. We might believe that sleeping apart would ruin the relationship, but we should look for other times during the day to show each other love and affection. And we should have sex when both partners can be together outside of the usual sleeping hours and when they are not already tired from an intense day. If we are not getting enough sleep due to snoring, we must always rule out that the one (or both) is not suffering from sleep apnea. The condition is treatable, and once under treatment, couples can continue sleeping together,” says Nuria Roure, a psychologist specializing in sleep disorders.
“When we don’t sleep well, our emotional state is altered. That is, we are more irritable, more anxious, we suffer more mood swings and we are less sympathetic or tolerant, and we tend to take it out on the people closest to us: our children and our partners. I am sure that many arguments, fights, and even divorces are due to not getting enough good quality sleep. So, let’s think: What can spoil the relationship? Not resting by sleeping together, with the negative consequences the following day, or sleeping separately at night after having emotional-sexual relations and enjoying a good relationship as a couple during the day?” the psychologist asks. “Sleeping as a couple is beautiful. In a micro-awakening, you turn around and find your partner, you hug each other and go back to sleep, the two of you together. If that is the scenario, there is no problem. The problem arises when the reality is not so pretty, and then it is better to sleep apart,” says Roure.
When faced with this idea, couples opt for the so-called “sleep divorce.” Each partner sleeps in a separate bed or even in a different room to avoid problems with sleep and, therefore, create problems in the relationship. The study Sleep and Partners Research 2023, by The Better Sleep Council, indicated that while the majority of those who live with their partner say they sleep better at night together, a quarter say they sleep better alone. Although sleeping with a partner can intensify feelings of attachment and love, it can also negatively affect the quality of your sleep, which can cause relationship problems. By the way: Melania Trump and Donald Trump sleep in separate rooms, and according to the biography Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch,’ Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip slept separately. It was quite common among the British aristocracy, and as Lady Pamela Hicks, the prince’s cousin, explained to Woman and Home: “In England, the upper class has always had separate bedrooms.”
Is it selfish to get a good night’s sleep?
There are also defenders of the Scandinavian method, which consists of sharing a mattress, but with two different duvets. “Sleeping in bed with another person does not magically transform us into some kind of two-headed monster. We are still two individuals. It is liberating to remember this fact. It’s very easy to assume that everyone only uses one duvet, because that’s what we’ve always seen,” say the creators of Scandinavia Standard, a website that explains the benefits of the Scandinavian lifestyle and supports the idea of each member of the couple having their own quilt.
“The bed is a very meaningful space in terms of intimacy and in terms of coupledom, and so something like separate blankets or duvets can threaten that sense of oneness or intimacy due to the cultural standard that we set for ourselves, but the most important thing about sleep is getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do. You can’t share your sleep. And we know that if one partner in a relationship has one bad night’s sleep, they lack empathy, they have more arguments, and have more negative feelings toward their partner the next day. That’s not a recipe for a happy relationship. When you’re sleeping, prioritize your sleep! All the rest of the time, prioritize your relationship,” Neil Stanley, author of How To Sleep Well, tells Refinery29.
Raquel Marin Cruzado, author of Feed sleep for a healthy brain, points out that the temperature of the room must be taken into account, the type of mattress or even the type of pillow may be incompatible between two people who sleep together. “When we talk about incompatible schedules, it is even more important to respect each other’s body clock, particularly with people who have night jobs. Merely due to the fact of having a job in the evening hours, sleep disorders intensify. If you add to that the handicap of having light or auditory pollution in the phases of deep sleep, insomnia occurs, and with it, a definitive decrease in mood and general quality of life. This also affects libido, so we can enter a vicious circle of decline in the quality of relationships,” he says. “When I talk about this with my students in my program, Sleep at last, I always recommend that together, with their partner, they agree on a time to go to bed together to have “cuddle” time. Once that time is over, the person with a more nocturnal body clock or schedule gets out of bed and the other person, with a more morning schedule, stays in bed to be able to sleep,” says Nuria Roure.
Perhaps you don’t always have to do sleep as a couple in order to get a good night’s sleep. But does that mean that spooning’s days are numbered?
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