Lack of sleep doesn’t just negatively affect your physical and mental health and performance. Failure to get enough sleep can also strain your relationship. People who don’t get enough sleep are often edgier and less able to control their reactions (particularly anger), or interact with others in a positive way. When you lack sleep, you’re more likely to blame others and less likely to take account for your feelings or actions, which can lead to more conflict. (It works both ways, too: Just as lack of sleep can contribute to relationship problems, relationship tensions are associated with troubled sleep. And supportive relationships, where you feel safe and secure, are linked to better sleep.
To get ahead of restless nights, ask your bed partner the following questions. Knowing the answers can help you both get the best night’s sleep.
Which side of the bed do you prefer?
You might take this for granted when you crawl into your bed at night, but with 2 people under the covers, it’s something worth talking about. Many Military Service Members feel more secure sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the door. Or perhaps you or your Warfighter has injuries or chronic pain that make sleeping on a particular side more comfortable.
What’s your nighttime routine?
This question is a biggie because it affects your ability to fall asleep more easily. Talk about whether you’re a night owl or a morning person and if you can agree on a good time to hit the hay together. It’s also important to discuss how to avoid waking each other if you go to bed at different times. If you agree to go to bed at the same time, find out how your partner feels about watching TV, reading, talking, or keeping certain lights on in your bedroom. You might be surprised to find your habits don’t always match.
What temperature is the most comfortable for sleeping?
With so many variations in body temperature and ways to regulate it, reaching a compromise about how hot or cool you keep your bedroom can be a challenge. Talk about how many covers you like on the bed, your ideal thermostat setting, and whether or not you like to crack open a window.
Are you a “snuggler”?
If you’re not used to touching while sleeping, trying to “spoon” or snuggle in bed can make it difficult to sleep comfortably. You might not want to bring up the topic for fear of hurting your snuggler’s feelings. Still, try to make it clear that your need for physical separation is not an attempt to avoid emotional connection; it’s just a comfort preference. It’s also important to recognize that in times of high stress, you or your partner might need extra physical contact, even if it’s just for a short while before turning out the lights. You might want to discuss if the size of your bed can accommodate the space you each need.
Do you snore?
You probably know the answer to this one—and often your partner’s first reaction will be denial, so be prepared! It’s usually the “listener” who suffers the most. Take some time—outside your bedroom—to discuss ways to help manage the issue. Managing weight, reducing alcohol intake, and treating allergy or cold symptoms can help relieve snoring. If you’re the listener, you might try wearing ear plugs or going to bed first.
Do you have any health issues?
Talk about how to handle concerns when minor illnesses (such as colds, allergies, or the flu) or major health challenges (such as traumatic brain injury, PTSD, or depression) get in the way of a good night’s sleep. For minor illnesses, consider sleeping in different beds until the illness passes. For long-term issues, talk about what makes the most sense. When nightmares (a common symptom of PTSD) occur, it can help to wake up and reassure your restless sleeper. If your Warfighter has chronic physical pain, it can be really hard to sleep comfortably. It’s best to discuss ways to keep everyone happy.
What’s your morning routine?
This can be as important as your nighttime routine, especially if you and your partner keep different schedules. Just as you talked about your nighttime habits, discuss ways to help you both get the rest you need. Try to agree on whether to use alarm clocks, particularly if you or your partner likes to hit the “snooze” button. If you both drink coffee, chat about who will make it. If you have kids, talk about who will wake them up. Your decisions can help ease your morning routine and even jump-start your day.
What are your kids’ sleep and wake habits?
If you have kids, it’s important to talk about how their sleep habits affect you and your partner. Children might have specific bedtime rituals, wake up in the middle of the night, or need extra help in the mornings to get ready. Your relationship with your children also can be affected by whether or not you get the amount of sleep you need, so be sure everyone is on board with healthy sleep habits.
Keep in mind
Remember, sleep habits can change, so you might want to revisit these questions periodically and keep the conversation going. Couples often feel safer and sleep better when they’re beside their partners. However, separations (such as those caused by deployments or shift work) might affect your shut-eye preferences and make sleep more difficult. The impact of sleep on your relationship is only part of the equation. Keep up with other healthy relationship habits as well to help ensure a peaceful night’s rest.
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Rosenblatt, P. C. (2006). Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
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Troxel, W. M., Shih, R. A., Pedersen, E. R., Geyer, L., Fisher, M. P., Griffin, B. A., . . . Steinberg, P. S. (2015). Sleep in the military: Promoting healthy sleep among U.S. Servicemembers. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR739.html