Sleep disturbances affect our lives in many ways, both psychologically and physically. Lack of concentration, weakened immunity and weight gain are just some of the negative aspects of insomnia sufferers. However, Dr. Wendy Troxel, senior scientist for Behavior and Socialism at the Rand Corporation, argues that sleep is also a social endeavor.
In her new book, “Sharing the Covers”, (Sharing the Sheets), she talks about why sleeping with a partner may not be better for a couple, because a good one sleep can lead to more productive discussions and has a direct impact on our closer relationships.
Is it bad if couples sleep apart?
In her fifteen years of study, this is one of the most frequently asked questions Dr. Troxel gets. People are seeing a lot of myths about what it means to sleep together, and this is producing some shame for couples who choose to sleep apart.
“Some of our sleep treatments actually affect the partner. I certainly advise and encourage couples to be involved in sleep treatment together.”
When measuring people's sleep, they actually sleep worse when they share a bed, compared to when they sleep alone. When you have another human being in the space shared with you, there are more opportunities for disturbance: the mattress shifts, he or she steals a sheet, he or she wakes up. And, we know that couples' sleep patterns are, to some extent, synchronized. This means that, at any time of the night, when one partner is awake or asleep, the other partner is likely to be in that same phase as well.
There may be psychological benefits to sharing a bed, even if it sometimes entails some sleeping costs. According to the expert, more than anything, it talks about the fact that we are, in many aspects, connected to society and trust our social connections when we feel more vulnerable, which includes our sleep.
The impact of sleep quality on our relationships
Dr. Troxel argues that couples often face social pressure to sleep together, even though this arrangement leads to a poorer quality of sleep.
Yes, we need healthy sleep and there are many things that can interfere with our sleep. And yes, we also have this overnight bonding boost. These are couples who find what works best for them, both to maximize their sleep quality and the quality of their relationship.
Sleep is a critical part of our mental and relational resilience. It affects aspects of our emotions, our moods, our ability to regulate our emotions, our propensity for conflict, our problem-solving ability, and our ability to communicate.
And when these things go wrong, the partner is more likely to have to bear the brunt of our bad moods and behaviors, which we know are consequences of poor sleep.
Is Sleep a Luxury?
It's a cultural trend to explore the importance of sleep. There are references to this in popular culture, in famous songs, by celebrities, by politicians, by various world leaders, who defend the idea that you sleep when you are dead. And, unfortunately, we also know that there are inequities in sleep, just as there are inequities in virtually every other health outcome. And this is particularly important during COVID-19, where we see existing inequalities being aggravated.
It's easy to allow our desire to fill as many activities as possible for a 24-hour day to dominate our attitudes. However, the list of health problems associated with poor sleep should be enough for you to prioritize this much underrated activity: painful arthritis, diabetes, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, among other things.
Of course, we don't always have complete control of our nights sleep. Age, for example, can be a big influence on this. In a 2005 national telephone survey of 1,003 adults aged 50 and over, the Gallup Organization found that only a third of older adults slept well each day. Less than half slept more than seven hours, and a fifth slept less than six hours a night.
Habits that impair the night also include: less physical activity, less time spent outdoors (sunlight is the main regulator of sleepiness and wakefulness in the body), less attention to diet, taking medications that can disturb sleep, caring for a chronically ill spouse, having a partner who snores, among many others.
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