‘Til Sleep Do Us Part

How couples can get a better night’s sleep

‘Til Sleep Do Us Part

Many people find that their partner's bedtime habits interfere with their sleep quality. Stop tossing and turning; try a natural solution!

You found the person of your dreams. But what if that loved one—with whom you now share a bed—is waking you from your dreams and ruining a peaceful night’s rest? While many of us share a bed with a partner or spouse, more than a quarter of adults say they sleep better when this person’s gone.

In a study conducted in South East England, researchers used sleep actigraphs to monitor couples’ sleep patterns, finding that whenever one sleeping partner moved, the other person in bed had a 50 percent chance of being disturbed.

But don’t let such statistics keep you up. If your loved one’s bedtime antics are turning you into an insomniac, a better night’s sleep is just within a pillow’s reach.

Things that go bump in the night

In a Better Sleep Council report, almost half of us complain that the tossing and turning of our spouse or partner is a major problem keeping us from sleeping. Psychologist Ramani Durvasula says this tossing could be due to restless leg syndrome or other factors, which each have a unique solution.

Restless leg syndrome

A qualified health care practitioner may prescribe supplements and lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and heating pads, and may also test for iron deficiencies.

Muscle aches and pains

Soak in a hot bath. Your partner can also massage painful pressure points with essential oils before bed.

Stress

Journalling your to-do list and your anxieties can release tension. Relaxation therapies such as deep breathing may also help, while L-theanine and 5-HTP supplements may decrease tension and stress and increase deep sleep.

For a quick fix, Durvasula recommends pushing together two separate mattresses. This allows you the intimacy of a shared sleeping space, but the tossing and turning done on one mattress doesn’t affect the other mattress.

Nighttime noises

A quiet room is crucial for good sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Alas, noises from outside your bedroom (the neighbour’s dog, buzzing traffic) or from your partner (nighttime bathroom trips, snoring) can shut out great shut-eye.

Snoring is a common culprit. Approximately 45 percent of us snore occasionally, while a quarter of us make it a regular habit. Investigate the underlying causes before reaching for earplugs.

Sleeping positions

Lying on your back creates the highest risk of snoring. Encourage your partner to sleep on his or her side for snoreless ZZZs.

Obstructed nasal airways

Allergies or cold and sinus illnesses make you more likely to snore. Vitamin C, ginger, and inhaling steam from a humidifier may help.

Alcohol

An evening drink may soothe the nerves, but alcohol can make snoring worse.

Sleep apnea

If none of the above are issues, your partner may have sleep apnea. This sleep disorder—a very common cause of snoring—is where your partner stops breathing for 10 to 30 seconds. More than one in four Canadians have risk factors or symptoms linked to having or developing this disorder, warns the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Lifestyle changes make a big impact. If you’re overweight, losing just 10 percent of your weight can dramatically reduce sleep apnea symptoms. Engaging in regular exercise and avoiding alcohol and smoking can also help, but talk to your doctor before attempting to self-treat this disorder.

Noise Abatement

If you’re still finding evening noises too disruptive, try these tips.

  • Use earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Invest in a white noise generator, such as an air conditioner or bedroom fan that drowns out sound, or a gadget or app that creates white noise, such as a radio that produces nature sounds.
  • Insulate with carpeting or rugs that help soak up vibrations and muffle sounds such as snoring.
  • Install blackout window treatments, which can prevent light from getting in and also insulate the room from outdoor noises.
  • Change bed positioning to keep your bed away from windows, bathroom-sharing walls, or other sources of noise.

Talk it out

Mismatched schedules and different before-bed habits play a huge role in how well each individual in a relationship sleeps. For such issues, it all comes down to communication. “Sometimes people think and act as though they have no choice,” says psychotherapist Pandora MacLean-Hoover. “I encourage clients to give another look at whether [an evening] pattern is fixed or whether there may be room for change.”

She worked with one couple where the husband always accepted evening overtime shifts, setting money-making as a priority over peaceful sleep and intimacy as a couple. “The tip is to identify why each person is doing what they are doing and whether they still have to do it,” she says.

There are several key areas that couples can focus on.

Mismatched schedules

Plan ahead. If one person needs to enter the bedroom late at night or get up early in the morning, do as much as possible ahead of time (for instance, setting out work clothes the night before) so you aren’t rummaging around the bedroom and turning lights on and off.

Bedtime habits

If one of you likes to watch TV before bed or read a book in bed, talk about it. Be honest with your partner about what each of you likes to do before bed and whether that disrupts the other person’s sleep. “Communicate and come to a compromise about when it has to be ‘lights out,’” says Durvasula, “otherwise the reading or watching may need to take place in another room so the sleeper can go to sleep.

“Sleep is one of the most important things we do for our health and well-being, and couples need to make changes and compromises to ensure that everyone is getting the rest they need.”

Sleepy supplements

“Magnesium is the main sleep aid I recommend,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean. She notes that it prevents muscle tension that can interfere with sleep and is also important for production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Dean recommends magnesium citrate powder, available at most health food stores.

These other supplements may help, too.

  • Melatonin, a favourite with jet-lagged travellers, may reduce how long it takes you to fall asleep.
  • Hops, valerian, and skullcap “have soothing and mild sedative effects on the nervous system,” says Dean.
  • Camomile, popular as a tea, may calm your nerves.

Sleeping with man’s best friend

More than half of all dog owners and cat owners sleep with their animal companion. However, pets can contribute to insomnia and be just as disturbing to your sleep as a human. If you can’t bear sleeping apart, try these tips.

  • Keep pets clean and groomed. Excess fur and other allergens may cause you or your human partner to snore.
  • Exercise your pet. A tuckered-out animal will be less likely to disturb you in your sleep.
  • Have a litterbox nearby or take your dog outside to relieve itself before bed so you’re not constantly woken by a pet that needs to be let out.
  • Make pets sleep above the covers. This minimizes allergen exposure and helps keep you cool, promoting better sleep. 

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