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The benefits of sleeping with your partner

Last Modified: February 13, 2018

Family Medicine

For some, cover stealers, loud snoring and arguments over the thermostat can mean separate sleep quarters once the lights go out. While you might think individual bedrooms mean better, higher quality sleep, you might want to reconsider. Aaron Roberts, MD, PPG – Sleep Medicine, along with his wife, Rachel, a local mental health therapist, spell out the pros and cons of co-sleeping.

Do you and your significant other sleep in the same bed? If you answered no, you are part of the estimated 30-40 percent of couples who sleep apart from one another. Even more individuals admit they sleep better when they are alone compared to sleeping with a partner. There are a variety of reasons for this trend, but it begs the question: Is sleeping apart from one another healthy for a relationship?

The case for separate beds

Historically, it became the cultural norm for married couples in America to share a bed around the early 20th century. That was also the beginning of the thought sleeping separately meant your relationship was on the rocks and you needed help. Interestingly, if you examine the century prior to that, it was considered abnormal and unhealthy to sleep with someone else. David Randall, publisher of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep”, reviewed sleep in the Victorian era and found that co-sleeping was considered unsanitary and even dangerous. It was thought that if you were sleeping next to somebody, they could be draining your “life forces”. Today, while newlyweds are likely to share a bed, as couples get older they tend to be more pragmatic and sleep alone.

So why are there so many couples choosing the sleep in separate beds and even separate rooms now? Some reasons include snoring, being too hot or cold, hogging the blankets, rolling to the wrong side of the bed, having different sleep schedules and countless others, but these problems have existed for centuries. One study found sleeping apart from a bed partner resulted in deeper sleep and less nighttime awakenings. As more research is done, it may seem more appealing to sleep separately to obtain better objective sleep.

The case for co-sleeping

On the flipside, studies have shown couples' sleep patterns are likely interdependent because of similar sleep-timing behaviors and movement patterns associated with the physical presence of another person in the bed.

Choosing not to sleep together could mean missing out on significant emotional and physical benefits. For many couples, bedtime is the one and only opportunity to check in with each other before tiredness takes over. Going to bed at the same time and co-sleeping provides a relaxed environment for communication to occur between couples. Topics can range from recapping events of the day to brainstorming solutions for problems that have come up, planning/decision making, or simply checking in to see how your partner is thinking and feeling about things. Having these bedtime conversations can greatly increase the feelings of being supported, loved, comforted and provides security within the relationship. There is also a sense of unity as these thoughts and feelings are shared along with the feeling you are tackling life's problems with a great partner by your side. Not sharing the same bed with your significant other can be isolating since you naturally run through some of these problems before bed anyways. Not communicating them leads you to feel the pressure of processing and solving everything on your own.

Of course, there is also the spontaneous physical intimacy and cuddling that can happen as well. Cuddling in and of itself has been shown to increase feelings of nurture, love, happiness, comfort, satisfaction, bonding and appreciation. Due to the release of oxytocin during this time, couples are more likely to disclose positive feelings about one another leading to increased closeness, trust and relationship satisfaction. When an individual is feeling secure and loved within their relationship, it can lower stress in other aspects of their life. Less emotional energy and time is spent worrying about where they stand with their partner and what he or she is thinking. It may take a bit of effort to establish a bedtime routine that works for both of you and compromises might need to be made, but hopefully there will be some enjoyable aspects along the way.

Close relationships are also strongly linked to physical and psychological health outcomes through factors such as sleep. If you currently do not co-sleep because of snoring or restlessness, you may want to consider undergoing evaluation for a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. If there are emotional issues contributing to you and your partner’s sleep habits, consider meeting with a counselor. If you need general advice on how to get better sleep, read this post.  

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