We know sleep is a necessity in life, but what happens when you start literally sleeping with another person? Relationships come with a number of compromises, and bedtime is one of them. What was once a solitary experience becomes yet another thing couples choose to do together. Not only are your sleeping-in-starfish-position days over, but you also now might find yourself having to fight over covers and mattress comfort and potentially deal with snoring. Even the heaviest of sleepers can be disturbed by sharing a bed with another person. While cuddling and the comfort of another warm body next to you might be enough for you to forgo more than a few sleepless nights, how healthy is sharing a bed with your partner? And how might it affect your relationship?
“According to data from the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of quality sleep,” Stephanie D. McKenzie, a certified relationship and sleep science coach, tells SheKnows. “A lack of quality sleep affects most body systems, as sleep is a requirement to recharge the cycles in our body.”
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That’s why we asked a number of medical and relationship experts to weigh in on the drawbacks of sharing a bed with your partner. Because we all deserve a solid relationship — and a solid snooze — here are five of the biggest downsides.
You’re more irritable with each other
A cranky or irritated partner may be a sign your sleep routines need some work, says McKenzie.
“When partners lack the same basic sleep hygiene practices, sleeping styles or if one or both have sleep disorders, this can affect how both individuals act throughout the day as well as in the evening,” she notes.
Similarly, Terry Cralle, registered nurse and clinical sleep educator, explains to SheKnows that studies have shown that couples who slept for less than seven hours a night for two consecutive nights were more likely to be irritable toward their significant other than well-rested couples.
Your differences in sleep patterns could drive you apart
While most couples have a lot in common with each other, it doesn’t mean they have the same sleeping habits, Maria Sullivan, relationship expert and vice president of Dating.com, tells SheKnows. One person may be a night person, while the other prefers mornings. One may prefer to sleep in complete silence, while the other prefers to listen to ocean sounds.
What to do? Cave in, and you might end up both resenting your partner and compromising your sleep. “While you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” says Sullivan, “you can opt to sleep separately instead of bending and compromising your sleep patterns for one another.”
You might gain weight
By not getting that quality restful sleep with your partner, says McKenzie, you might end up gaining weight. Of course, putting on weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and every body is different, but it’s good to know that it’s a possibility when it comes to sleeping with a partner.
According to Dr. Kent Smith, sleep expert and president of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, 30 minutes less sleep per night over a year leads to a 17 percent increase in obesity and a 39 percent increase in insulin resistance.
This means that those who wish to maintain or lose weight must have adequate sleep to support that goal, says McKenzie. So if your partner is keeping you awake and in turn is hindering your weight-loss goal, you could end up resenting them.
You could feel claustrophobic with your partner
Being in a long-term committed relationship is a lot of work, especially if you live together, says Sullivan, which is why practicing alone time is important and key to maintaining a healthy balance.
“For some people, bedtime is the best opportunity to be alone and lay [sic] (literally!) deep in your own thoughts,” she says. “For those people, sharing a bed with a partner can impede on that alone time and cause feelings of claustrophobia within the relationship, which can in turn lead to feelings of stress. If these kinds of feelings continue to brew, it’s likely the relationship won’t last.”
You might end up divorced
We don’t mean to be alarmist, but hear us (well, hear the experts) out: “Snoring is often laughed off as a joke, but the breakdown of your relationships is no laughing matter,” says Smith. “It accumulates to the point where both of you can’t take the disrupted sleep and the subsequent physical, emotional and psychological toll of sleep deprivation.”
Not only are serious health problems associated with sleep disorders, says Smith, but couples who have to deal with snoring and its cousin, sleep apnea, encounter a higher divorce rate. “Because both people in the relationship are lacking proper shut-eye, they often experience an increase in conflict and tension, which results in a strain on the marriage or relationship,” she adds.
When to stop sharing a bed
“My advice to couples is to sleep together until you can’t sleep together any longer,” says Sullivan. “While there are potential downsides to sharing a bed, being close and intimate with someone can provide bonding time that can strengthen your relationship and boost the romance in your love life. Try sleeping together and talk about what works and what doesn’t. See if you can make slight adjustments to make bedtime more enjoyable for both parties.”
However, if the couple is sharing a bed “under duress,” says McKenzie, then it is not beneficial. “Sleeping together is a very modern concept. Couples in the 1950s and 1960s did not always sleep together. Sharing a bed should be something that benefits both partners and not something that is done because they are both afraid of what others will think if they don’t.” This is why couples should reflect on just how energized and refreshed they actually feel when they sleep together or apart.
“A couple should never be afraid to sleep apart,” McKenzie adds, “especially if it creates stronger and more energized people throughout the day.”
A version of this story was published February 2019.
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