Is sleeping with a partner helpful or hurtful?
Couples who sleep together tend to coregulate their sleep habits.
If you are fascinated with the sleep world, check out Dreamland by David K. Randall. I highly recommend it. I read this book when it came out in 2012 and have looked at it several times over the past few years. Mr. Randall did an excellent job discussing some of the questions we all have about the impact of sleep on our lives.
One of the particular oddities he described was our desire to sleep with our partner. He interviewed Neil Stanley, a renowned British sleep expert, who was quoted as saying, "No one can share your sleep." He is not a fan of people sleeping together and feels that it may actually be harmful. Stanley says that we are 50% more likely to have disturbed sleep than someone who sleeps alone. He feels we should "visit" our partners for sexual activities, but sleep separately. However, he points out that sexual availability is probably why we sleep together in the first place.
In a recent study from the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, couples were examined to see whether concordance was related to self-reported sleep quality, whether attachment style was related to concordance of sleep, and whether marital satisfaction affected sleep. (Concordance refers to whether couples are asleep or awake at the same time.)
Actigraphy was used to measure sleep in the couples. Actigraphy measures movements and helps determine the presence of sleep. Forty-five percent of the couples had been married 1 to 4 years, with 10% being married more than 15 years. Most of the couples did not have children living in the household. Length of marriage and having children in the household were not statistically significant.
Results showed that couples tended to get in and out of bed at the same time, marital satisfaction was positively correlated with concordance, and higher attachment anxiety was associated with higher sleep-wake concordance in husbands only.
This information showed that "sleep may be one type of biological coregulation that occurs with close, romantic relationships". Findings were consistent with other studies that have shown that satisfaction, attachment, and concordance are associated with a couple's relationship health.
New research may focus on how other relationships affect our sleep health, including how children or other family members may affect our individual sleep. I'll be looking out for that research and reporting it as it becomes available.
Sharon M. O'Brien, MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing clinician with an interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.
- Gunn HE et al. Sleep. 2015; doi: 10.5665/sleep.4744.