Do People Sleep Better with a Partner?

  • The researchers think that sleeping together enhances REM sleep, which then goes on to reduce emotional stress and improve our interactions.
  • But a loud or restless partner can be a recipe for a bad night of sleep.
  • And REM is just one part of getting a good night’s sleep. Anyone can improve their sleep with simple actions.

Couples who share beds have increased measures for better sleep, according to a new study. But as someone who is actively and happily sleep divorced, I’m not so sure the results apply to all couples.

Henning Johannes Drews, a researcher at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry and professor at the department of psychiatry and psychotherapy at Christian-Albrechts University Kiel in Germany, studied 12 heterosexual couples who spent 4 nights in a sleep lab.

He measured the sleep of the individuals together and apart using a technology that captured brain waves, movements, muscle tension, and heart activity. The couples also completed questionnaires about their relationships.

According to Drews’ team, couples who slept side-by-side had increased and less disrupted rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep compared to when they slept apart. This good-for-you stage of sleep has been tied to memory organization, emotion regulation, creative problem solving, and social interactions.

Also, the better they ranked their relationships, the more couples were in sync when sleeping side by side.

That said, you don’t have to have a partner to get a good night’s rest. Drews thinks some people are better off sleeping solo regardless of their relationship status.

“If you want to share a bed with your partner, there is nothing to be said against it. It might even be very good for you,” he added.

“If your partner hinders you to fall asleep or disturbs your sleep, and you are much more relaxed if you sleep alone, that is probably the best sleeping arrangement to do,” Drews said.

Sleep quality

Why do some couples who sleep together get better sleep, while others are happy to sleep in separate spaces?

First off, none of the participants had children. (I asked.)

The researchers think that sleeping together enhances REM sleep, which then goes on to reduce emotional stress and improve our interactions.

But REM is only one aspect of good sleep, according to Patricia Haynes, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Typically, slow wave sleep has more of a restorative function than REM sleep, she pointed out.

“Often, we see interrupted REM sleep in stress-related disorders. So, one responsible conclusion would be that an individual who is used to sleeping with a bed partner may experience a stress response when that partner is absent,” Haynes explained after reviewing the study abstract.

Also, sleep quality is how well we think we sleep, she noted. “Often, it does not match up with the quantity or the type of sleep we actually receive.”

Sleep busters

There are several factors that can interrupt our sleep. Namely, a loud or restless partner can be a recipe for a bad night (or the impetus for sleep divorce, as it was in my case).

Although past research measured movement during sleep between couples as a marker of bad sleep, a lot of movement doesn’t equate to a poor night of sleep.

Drews noted more limb movement in couples sharing a bed, but it didn’t interrupt their sleep in his experiment, he said.

Some of the people in the study were light snorers, and it didn’t have an impact on REM quality either, he told Healthline.

Decreased sleep quality and more fragmented sleep was reported by women in a 2009 study who slept with a snorer. But the sleep quality didn’t necessarily improve when the nonsnoring female slept alone for one night, according to that report.

Other issues that can impair rest include differences in temperature. “Some couples also struggle with differences in work schedule or bedtime practices, like watching TV in bed,” Haynes added.

Drews also thinks people with insomnia may not pair well with another person for good night’s rest. The person with insomnia may be preoccupied with not being able to fall asleep, and therefore may be susceptible to disturbances.

Sleeping for two

Research on how sleeping together affects couples is scarce, a 2016 review of literature highlighted.

Issues with sleep and relationships are likely to occur at the same time, especially during major life transitions, a 2010 study reported. The mental health of one or both partners may impair sleep: A 2016 report found that anxiety and depression can impact the duration of sleep.

According to a 2017 study, couples that get less than 7 hours per night of sleep are more likely to be hostile towards one another. They can also experience stress-related inflammation, which can cause a host of different ailments.

More research needs to be done to understand positive co-sleeping between partners. A more diverse sample, including older adults or couples with one person who has a disease, could provide better insights. His study was small and he doesn’t advise making recommendations based on it, Drews told Healthline.

Sleeping solo

Although REM improved with a partner in Drews’ research, that doesn’t mean you can’t get great REM sleep if you sleep alone. Whether you’re single or sleep divorced, a good night of sleep is still possible. (After more than 2 years of a sleep split, I say it’s better solo.)

“I think a person should follow the common instructions for sleep hygiene and for creating a sleep-promoting environment,” Drews said.

This includes no stressful activities before sleep, avoiding phone and TV screens an hour before bed, and keeping the area quiet and dark.


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