When you can't sleep next to your partner

You love everything about your partner – except their sleep habits. Here’s how to get a better night's sleep together.

Written by Milly Edgerley

Do you really know someone until you live with them? What if they leave the toilet seat up? What if they’re the kind of person who lets food turn into a veritable science experiment in the fridge? What if they leave their socks in the bottom of the bed?

When I moved in with my partner last year all those worries crossed my mind. What I didn’t anticipate was that the biggest adjustment would be sleeping in the same bed.

It turns out that whilst staying at each other’s house three nights a week might feel like adequate practice, transitioning from your own bed to ‘our bed’ is harder than you might think.

I thought we’d be pros at co-sleeping. But my smugness was sadly misplaced as the first month or two of spending every night in the same bed was peppered with many a sleepless night and extremely cranky morning.

I’m happy to report that, one year on we have found our groove. Here are some tips to help you get an excellent night’s sleep whilst sharing a bed.

Make some space

As my partner is infinitely fond of telling anyone who stands still long enough, I am a classic bed hogger. What can I say, I like to spread out. Or, as he puts it, “You don’t want to be near me, you want to be in the exact space I am currently trying to sleep in.”

We tried to harmoniously work through this problem (him poking me awake in the night and hissing “MOVE OVER”) like the adults we are (I shouted “NO” as I wriggled to get comfortable again) but in the end we opted to get a bigger bed.

Whilst it might sound like a drastic measure, the Sleep Health Foundation suggests the dimensions of your bed can greatly affect how you co-sleep. Bigger bed, better sleep. One trip to IKEA later and the improvement in our respective nights’ sleep was immediate.

Dr Moira Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation, also points out that blanket-stealing and flailing around can be signs that you’re overtired.

“Restlessness and things like hogging the doona or kicking the other person and moving around too much can be indicative that your sleep quality is not great, and you might be a bit overstimulated,” Dr Junge says.

“Take the time to wind down for sleep and focus on improving your sleep quality. People can do that through mindfulness, eating better, reducing the booze and nicotine, and reducing stress.”

It’s all about compromise

Everyone’s night-time routine is different. Perhaps you like to get straight into bed and are out like a light. Or you need to read in bed for an hour or two to send you off to sleep. Unless you’re extremely lucky, it’s unlikely that you and your partner will be on the exact same page when it comes to settling down for the night.

It takes me hours to get to sleep, whilst my partner could doze off during an earthquake at a heavy metal concert. I’m used to reading at night and falling asleep with a lamp on, book in lap. He likes absolute pitch black and silence.

I know, we’re made for each other.

Dr Junge suggests making personal adjustments to your sleeping environment that don’t affect the other person too much. “You can try earplugs or an eye mask. You can be in the same bed, but each have different bed coverings. Or you could have a fan that hits one person and not the other. For people who really like a bit of white noise, they can probably do that with headphones.”

In the end, she says, communication and compromise are essential. “It’s important for both partners to be open to the possibility that they can change their preferences,” she says.

“They’re not necessarily set in stone, and you can learn to adapt to different environments.” Our compromise? I bought myself a head torch. One of the most unattractive accessories I have ever worn but simultaneously the most useful. I get to read whilst my partner enjoys the relative darkness of the bedroom. Happy days.

Say no to cuddling

I’ll hold up my hands and say it, I’m a space invading cuddler. Unfortunately for my partner I also have skin that is roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun. After suffering in overheating silence, he finally laid down the law and banished me to my side of our much larger bed when the time came to go to sleep. He also, rather rudely in my opinion, took to building a pillow wall between us.

I hate to admit it, but I sleep much better in my own space and the pillow wall has become a permanent fixture.

And Dr Junge says that’s perfectly fine. “It’s important for people to not see it as symbolic of a problem within the relationship,” she says. “Incompatibility with these sorts of things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re incompatible as life partners. There’s a lot of room for adaptation and compromise and being creative around this.”

Stop the snoring

Whilst I may be a boiling hot space invader, my partner is not without fault. He is a snorer. And it’s frankly deafening if you catch him on a bad night.

Rolling my partner over onto his side (the Sleep Health Foundation says snoring is worse when lying on your back) and introducing a firmer pillow has worked wonders for this, but there are other things you can do if the problem persists. The Better Health Channel suggests trying simple steps like treating nasal congestion, avoiding alcohol in the hours before sleep and making sure that the air in your room is neither too dry nor too humid. And if all else fails, a good pair of earplugs can be your saviour.

Of course, Dr Junge says it’s important to be aware that snoring can sometimes be more serious. “It’s really important to get snoring checked out to see if it’s just simple snoring, or if it’s actually related to sleep apnoea – a sleep disorder that can be easily treated, and the snoring goes away.”

Speak up and be proactive

Communication is important in every aspect of a relationship and sharing a bed is no different. If you’re lying awake at night, watching your partner merrily snore away whilst you wonder if it’d be more comfortable to go and sleep in the car, chances are it’s not doing your relationship any good.

Your partner might be completely unaware that they are keeping you awake. However, it’s likely that they’re tossing and turning as much as you. Having an honest conversation about what you need to get your eight hours will benefit you both in the long run.

What about separate rooms?

If all else fails, Dr Junge says sleeping in separate rooms is not the end of the world – and it’s more common than you might think.

“It’s really nice sleeping next to someone, but if it’s affecting your quality of sleep and therefore quality of life, it’s really worth looking at solutions. And separate rooms is certainly one of them, only if it suits both partners,” Dr Junge says.

“From my point of view, it’s common that couples don’t sleep in the same room, but a lot of couples find that idea really confronting – like it means they’re one stop short of divorce. Sometimes it’s just the best option in the name of getting a good night’s sleep and the health of both people, at least some of the time.

“It’s really important that people talk about it more and take the stigma away. You can still have closeness and intimacy, but also a good night’s sleep.”

Senior couple

Medibank Better Minds

Whether you’re unsure of what you’re feeling, looking out for a family member, or you simply need to hear another voice, we’re here to advise, guide and support you through your mental health journey.

Written by Milly Edgerley

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