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Are you and your partner sleep compatible?

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

A couple may get along all day long, but when it comes to night-time, they may not always be sleep compatible.

One person may like an early night, while the other is a night owl. When the night owl heads off to bed, it can wake up the early nighter.

Scores of couples suffer

One study of 2000 women - who are more likely to have sleep problems than men – found that almost two-thirds of them had interrupted sleep between one and three nights a week. Plus, restless sleepers feel it the next day, with poor sleep interfering with their next day's activities.

The culprit? In many cases it's a snoring or an incompatible sleeping partner.

Sleep experts agree that snoring, which can indicate the serious health problem sleep apnoea, presents the biggest conflict for couples at bedtime.

Other issues may include:

  • Differences in body temperature
  • Preferences for mattress firmness
  • Preferring windows open or closed.


Sleep incompatibility increases with age

Sleep incompatibility increases naturally with age, according to some experts. Lots of older couples end up not wanting to share a bed. Sex is often in the past, snoring is a problem, plus they're going to the toilet several times a night.

Along with snoring, there’s the development of hot flushes in women.


Even in the absence of sleep disorders, getting a good night's rest remains elusive for many couples. It's not uncommon for people with insomnia to wait for several years before seeking treatment.

If you have insomnia, you may need to look no further than the pillow next to yours to discover what may be keeping you awake.

Sleeping apart

An increasing number of couples, old and young, resolve sleep incompatibility by being apart at night. A survey by the UK Sleep Council found one out of every four couples surveyed regularly sleep separately.

But many couples remain committed to cuddling at night. According to the book Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing, apart from snoring and other annoyances, the desire for intimacy and sheer closeness persuaded many couples to stay under the same set of sheets.

Conquering sleep apnoea

Snoring may seem a superficial annoyance. However it is often linked to a potentially serious disorder called sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea causes the person to stop breathing for a short period, sometimes several times a night. In time sleep apnoea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.

Overcoming sleep apnoea doesn't happen overnight. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device may be needed.

The device is worn at night and includes a mask, tubes and a fan. The fan applies air pressure, pushing the wearer's tongue forwards and opening the throat to allow adequate passage of air.

That's where support from your partner becomes important. One study that explored the effects of bed sharing on adherence to CPAP treatment found that men prescribed CPAP therapy were far more likely to wear the device when their wives stayed in bed with them. Study results were published in a 2008 issue of The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Most severe cases of sleep apnoea require support from one’s spouse outside the bedroom, too. Weight loss, a huge component in eliminating sleep apnoea, comes much more easily when your spouse plays an active role.
Even a 9kg (20lb) weight loss - that’s about one and a half stone - can make a big difference.

This weight reduction can change full-blown sleep apnoea to positional apnoea, where the problem only exists when the person sleeps on his or her back.

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Reviewed on October 12, 2016

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