When “Opposites Attract” Includes Sleeping Habits

Is your significant other your polar opposite when it comes to sleep habits? You’ll sleep better with these tips.

Opposite may attract, but when your sleep styles don’t match, you could have an unexpected kind of bedroom drama going on.

Kylie Brusch, a public relations professional in California, has met some obstacles to falling asleep since moving into a new place with her boyfriend. “He is an incredibly heavy sleeper and falls asleep almost instantly and anywhere,” she said. “I am an incredibly light sleeper and need to use ear plugs and an eye mask.” It doesn’t help that he snores, loudly, which keeps her from falling asleep, or that his alarm goes off before hers, ending her slumber all too soon.

What to do? We asked experts for the best ways to handle sleep differences among couples. If these sorts of troubles plague your bedroom, try their suggestions to help you and your bedmate both sleep soundly.

Start With Sleeping Aids

When you can’t get to sleep because your partner’s sleep style is different from yours, the first step is to try sleeping aids to resolve whatever issue is causing the divide.

If you like your bedroom cool and your partner likes to sleep in the equivalent of a sauna, the answer may be inside a new mattress. “There are mattresses and mattress pads available that will heat or cool the sleep surface,” said Terry Cralle, RN, MS, CPHQ, a certified clinical sleep educator and lecturer based in Virginia. “Many of these are dual-zoned for bed partners with contrasting temperature preferences.” This can work if you find that your comfort and sleep quality is more closely associated with the temperature of your sleep surface than the room temperature itself.

What if your significant other likes the sensation of sleeping on a fluffy cloud, while you prefer a firmer surface? “Sleep partners can differ dramatically in weight, body shape, and sleep positions, and finding one mattress to please both sleepers can be difficult,” Cralle said. Try shopping for a mattress that allows you to adjust the firmness on each side of the bed.

The Argument for Separate Bedrooms

There may not be a compromise for some differences. Though you can try eye masks to block light or earplugs to block sound, these aids may not fully resolve the issue. If each partner truly needs a different environment in order to fall asleep and feel rested upon waking, it may be worth considering separate bedrooms.

“There is no shame in having separate bedrooms,” said S. Faye Snyder, PsyD, founder and clinical director of the Parenting and Relationship Counseling Foundation in California. Just make sure you continue to cultivate your relationship by having lots of dates and other interactions. She encouraged spending time together at home after work — meet on the patio for a glass of wine, plan special meals, and have sexual rendezvous as often as possible. Separate bedrooms may even help to keep the romance alive, she said. It gives you the chance to spend the night together on occasion without the burden of differing sleep preferences getting in the way. You can visit one another and then return to your own room for a restful sleep.

Cralle agreed. “Contrary to popular belief, sleeping apart and good relationships are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “I think it’s important that we take the stigma out of couples having separate beds for sleeping.”

Too often, major sleep differences can lead to conflict in a relationship if resentment festers over time, but solving your sleep problems may reduce the stress on a relationship.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to function at full capacity, think clearly, and react quickly. Problems from sleep deprivation include an increased risk for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Poor sleep can leave you feeling irritability and grumpy the next day and, if the lack of sleep is chronic, can raise your risk for depression, too.

Keeping a Sense of Humor

Brusch said she’s found herself on the sofa on occasion, but doesn’t think the problems are serious enough to warrant separate bedrooms. “If the snoring was persistent and bothersome, rather than waking him up and asking him to sleep on the sofa, I’ve just chosen to go myself,” she said. She keeps things light by joking about their sleep differences — she’s even recorded his snoring and sent the file to him the next morning in an unexpected, unexplained text message, which led to a chuckle on both sides.

“We realize that we each are different and have habits that the other won’t be too thrilled with,” she said, “but overall, it’s something we’re learning how to deal with.”

Mikel Theobald