I don’t know about you, but I’m somewhere between a night owl and a morning lark. I’d love to be one of these super humans who wakes up full of energy at 5am every morning to meditate, journal, exercise and get all their work done before 9am – but I’m not. I like to go to bed around 11pm every night, and my natural body-clock wakes me up somewhere between 7am and 7.15am. And I’m one of those irritating people who gets up as soon as I open my eyes. No lying in for me – even on weekends.
By the way, it wasn’t always like this for me. Before I learned the secrets to getting a good night’s sleep, my sleeping pattern was all over the place. But I digress …
My partner has a marginally different sleep schedule to me. He gets up at 6.30am (with an alarm that ‘snoozes’ a couple of times) for work every day and likes to be in bed by 10pm – 10.30pm every night. And he’s asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
Now, as most couples go, our individual sleep patterns don’t clash as much as others’. A study by a bedroom furniture company found that 75% of couples go to bed at different times to each other up to 4 nights a week – for reasons including long working hours, separate social lives, online shopping/surfing the web and video games. And one third of these couples say that their conflicting sleep schedules create arguments because their partner disturbs them or wakes them up, etc.
Ideally, of course, you and your partner would have similar circadian rhythms and sleep schedules as this has been shown to have a number of positive factors on relationships including less arguments, less stress, more intimacy and better quality sleep, to name just a few. However, we know that individual’s body clocks are rooted in biology – so much so, that according to sleep physician, David Cunnington, going to bed at the same time as our partner is ‘biologically irrational’. And habits aren’t always easy (or productive) to change.
So, what you can you do if you and your partner have incompatible bedtimes?
There are some obvious ‘sleep hygiene’ things you can try, such as buying a bigger bed, having your own duvet, adjusting lighting, limiting use of electronics in the bedroom, and minimizing noise (tip: wait for at least an hour after your partner goes to bed before you creep in – they’re more likely to be in deep sleep and your noise is less likely to wake them)
Fortunately, you don’t have to resign yourself to insomnia or divorce … try these tips for enhancing your sleep and your relationship happiness!
#1: Accept your natural differences. If your current bedtime routine (e.g., online shopping, working late, playing computer games, etc.) is causing you to stay up way longer than you should be, and causing poor sleep or insomnia, then it’s time to change habits. However, if your nighttime routine is in line with your natural body clock, then tampering too much with it may leave you drowsy and unproductive, so it’s more constructive to find solutions (for both of you) that work with your natural tendencies.
#2: Communicate. Communication is always key to resolving any issue. Talk with your partner about your needs and work together on finding a solution. Can you find a time earlier in the evening to have quality ‘together time’? Can he/she get undressed in a different room so as not to disturb you when they come to bed? The important thing is to focus on the solution, and not the problem. And on that note …
#3: Address root causes. Is there something deeper going on? It may be easier to argue about sleep schedules when it’s really something more sensitive that’s troubling you.
#4: Deal with stress. If you have a lot of stress in your life, sleep becomes even more important (if that’s even possible!). Our stress ‘hormone’ cortisol is also our ‘awake’ hormone and impacts our production of melatonin (our sleep ‘hormone’). There are many documented strategies for dealing with stress, such as meditation, yoga, and solution focused hypnotherapy. You can also find smart tips on stress management in our ‘free stuff’ and courses.
#5: Consider separate bed(rooms). If you have enough space to make it work, of course. According to a recent sleep survey, 36% of couples now sleep in separate beds, with 1 in 10 opting for separate bedrooms. If you take this option, it’s important to ensure that you ‘drift-proof’ your relationship through activities such as date nights, and taking the time to spend quality time together.
#6: Make staggered bedtimes work for you… especially if you have children. Staggering bedtimes can be a convenient way to divide up parenting responsibilities; for example, if one of you takes care of the kids’ morning routine and the other is responsible for baths, pyjamas and a bedtime story.
#7: No kids in bed! According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 8 out of 10 married adults who allow their children to sleep with them in bed, report having a sleep problem. So, make sure you put your children to bed in their own beds – and keep them there!
Bonus (weird!) tip: Studies show that sleeping outdoors can help to restore your internal body clock. So, if you fancy a fun way to start working on healthier sleep schedules, try putting up a tent in the garden or go away camping for a weekend. Although this one might be a bit tricker in winter!
The most important thing, is that whichever arrangement you decide on, make it a priority to spend quality time with your partner at a time that works for both of you. And make each other a priority.
Even if you’re a night owl married to a lark, or vice versa, you can have a good night’s sleep AND a happy marriage.
Let me know how you get on!
Dr Marcelle Crinean, PhD, owner and director of Brain Reframe, is a highly qualified therapist, coach and lecturer.
In her busy practice, Marcelle successfully treats sleep and stress-related issues (including insomnia, anxiety and depression) as well as disordered eating, binge-eating and undereating. She regularly holds workshops and webinars, and trains business executives across the UK and Europe in the art of sleep and stress management.