‘Good sleep delivers good daytime wellbeing, affecting our energy, concentration, mood and personal functioning. Without good sleep our lives and our relationships can become compromised,’ says Professor Colin Espie, clinical and scientific director for sleep improvement programme Sleepio.
What effect does insomnia have on relationships?
A study by the University of California in 2014 found poor sleep quality was linked to greater marital conflict and poorer relationship satisfaction. ‘The next day you may be more likely to argue with your partner, are less likely to make up, and may lack empathy, so it makes it harder for you to understand their point of view,’ says Dr Neil Stanley from The Sleep Consultancy.
Your partner could even be making your insomnia worse – research shows that 50% of sleep disturbance is caused by our bed partner. Dr Stanley says, ‘Over time, this can turn your feelings from ‘You’ve disturbed my sleep again’ into ‘You’ve ruined my life’!’
It’s also easy to resent your partner for sleeping soundly next to you when you’re struggling with insomnia. If they snore too, that can push your tolerance to the limit; there’s some evidence that couples who struggle with sleep apnoea also have a high divorce rate.
What can I do to protect my relationship?
You need to prioritise your personal sleep. ‘Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do, but putting your sleep first means your relationship will improve,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘Hold off on calling the marriage counsellor – in many cases, a good night’s sleep means a good relationship.’
Expert tips to sleep-proof your relationship:
- Get separate beds – we have a romantic idea that we should share a bed, but this is a modern concept. Before the Industrial Revolution couples slept apart but were forced into the same bed due to a lack of living space.
- Invest in a bigger bed – if you can’t do separate bedrooms, a bigger bed could help; a standard double is now 4ft 6in, but a single bed is 2ft 6in. This means you have nine inches less sleeping space than a child.
- Go to bed at separate times – rather than going to bed together, go when you want to go to sleep. This will stop you lying in bed next to your partner, getting frustrated that you can’t nod off.
- Have a grown-up discussion about sleep – you talk about everything else with your partner, and sleep is just as important. Set out how much sleep you would both like and how you can help each other achieve that. They may need to be more understanding for a while, until you beat your insomnia.
- Don’t panic about intimacy – sleeping in separate beds doesn’t mean you won’t have sex. You can still be intimate with your partner and then retire to your own beds.
- Create a sanctuary – your bedroom should just be for sex and sleeping. Clear out any clutter, such as clothes, kids’ toys or paperwork. There should be nothing in your bedroom that is not related to falling or staying asleep.
Don’t watch TV in bed – apart from the light disturbing your sleep, you should avoid activities that stimulate your brain before bed. Watching TV is also a ‘daytime’ activity, which is not conducive to good sleep.