Sharing Your Bed
My parents have been married for the best part of 50 years. Lately my mother has been dealing with some ill health, the symptoms of which have kept both her and my father awake. Rather than both of them be constantly sleep-deprived she offered to make up the spare room for him so he could get some sleep, to which my father replied that he would rather be awake at night and next to her than awake because he was away from her.
So this lovely story got me to thinking, when we share our bed with others how do we juggle our need for sleep with our need to feel close? And what can I as a therapist suggest to help the situation?
Sometimes your bed can feel like a war zone. By this I mean that many of us can struggle to get a peaceful sleep with our partner present. We like to think that falling asleep in each other’s arms is deeply romantic, but at some point one person’s arm goes numb and you start to yearn to just relax enough to sleep. Think about the reality of sleeping together: the struggles for the duvet, the snoring, the bouncing around as the other person tosses and turns, the fact that you feel you are sleeping in a furnace if they get too close in the night, and then the next morning you are crabby and exhausted. So much for romance!
And yet, research suggests that while women tend to bear the brunt of the problems that come with sharing a bed (argue about that one later) sleeping with a loved one can help you to decrease stress hormones and feel more protected, so should you stay put in the bed or should you go elsewhere to sleep? Maybe there are some practical solutions you can discuss and try out, such as:
- If you feel suffocated because your partner likes to snuggle all night, suggest a compromise such as cuddling while you fall asleep, and then each moving to your own sides of the bed.
- If one of you can’t sleep, don’t turn on a light or a TV (in fact you should try and keep the bedroom for sleeping or intimacy only), leave the room to go and read or do something calming elsewhere and let your partner sleep.
- Get a bigger bed (if your bedroom and budget allows you can go right up to a California King these days).
- Get two separate single mattresses on one bed base so your tossing and turning or competing mattress preferences don’t bother each other.
- Try a memory foam mattress that doesn’t transfer movement across the bed. Some people say sex on these mattresses is more challenging, but decide if your priority is sleep or a bouncing motion! Use two separate duvets under one bed cover that gives the appearance of a regular double bed during the day. That way you each get to choose whether you want light or hot quilts, and you don’t need to end up hanging on to the edge of the duvet for dear life in case your partner hogs the lot during the night.
- And if your partner snores or talks a lot in their sleep? That is a tough one. Either they seek medical help to see if the snoring can be reduced, or you wear ear plugs, or you (or they) sleep elsewhere and make sure you still make time for intimacy along the way. Or maybe you both figured out a better solution? I do remember one couple where the girlfriend said she could never put up with his snoring and feared therefore that the relationship was doomed, but along the way they both got more committed and happier with each other, and then one day she said she just didn’t hear it anymore. You never know. Whatever you do, though, do not give in to the temptation to cover your partner’s face with a pillow and hold it there!
Co-sleeping or having a family bed – this is another kind of bed sharing where young children sleep in close sensory proximity to their parents. It is common in many parts of the world where cribs are not used as often, and bed sharing of young siblings together is also common in many cultures. In countries such as the U.S., however, the official stance of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that while room sharing is okay, bed sharing is not recommended as it has led on some occasions to the death of children through accidental suffocation (often attributed to drug and alcohol use by the parents).
When you turn the couple bed into a family bed, problems can occur with lack of intimacy for the parents, especially if one partner is less keen on having the kids so close 24/7 and would prefer to have their partner to themselves at night. I also see problems in therapy where one partner tries to reduce intimacy by deliberately bringing a child into the bed or regularly going off to sleep with one of the children complaining that the child is unable to sleep alone.
My advice here is to talk to your partner about how to balance the needs of the couple relationship with the needs of the children. Co-sleeping can bring a lot of comfort for everyone when the children are small, but don’t be afraid to put a boundary around the couple’s need for private time. One compromise is having regular date nights where the children sleep over with grandparents or friends, or you can become more inventive about how you find quality time together. I once visited an elderly couple who lived in a small apartment on a housing estate in London. They told me they had raised all their kids in the apartment which was once the family home, and I commented that I wondered how they ever managed to find time for intimacy. They both just chuckled and said where there is a will there is a way!
So don’t let your bed become a place of stress. Sleeping with others, whether it be your partner or young children, should be a comfort. If it becomes a battle-zone then work together to find a solution. If problems in the bedroom are indicative of deeper problems in the relationship, then consider seeking counselling and don’t let small niggles turn into bigger issues.
If you are feeling stuck with your life and can’t see a way forward, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to explore your options. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person