Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sleeping Together

Okay, sorry to mislead you—not! I bet you thought this posting would be about sex, also, like the last one. It’s not. It’s actually about sleeping. You know, like being asleep through the night and all. I’m going to look at the issue of sleeping together, but not in THAT way. This is the first of several entries I make on the subject of sleep. Over the past couple of years, my colleagues and I (especially Howard Markman) have become very interested in the subject of sleep and how it affects individuals and couples. Speaking for myself, that could be because I’ve had a harder time sleeping well in the past few years.

Apparently, problems sleeping are nearly a national epidemic. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) just released the results of a huge study (based on surveying 400,000 people in the U.S.) on sleep. Overall, they estimate that about 1 in 10 people have a serious sleep problem. One of the headlines from their report is that people on the East coast (especially West Virginia) have the highest number of sleep problems and people on the West Coast have the lowest number. Remember, with research, it’s always on average. Some people in New York City, no doubt, sleep like babies and some people in California have not slept well for years and years (certainly, you’d think people in charge of the state budget there are not sleeping too well).

I have a theory. I think people on the East coast don’t sleep as well because they have to get up so much earlier than everyone else, and especially those of us out West. You know, the sun gets there a whole lot earlier than it gets to us here in Colorado; and it gets later still to the West coast. I’d hate to have the sun coming up so early every day!

Now, back to the idea of sleeping together. (Hold it a second. I hope you figured out a moment ago that there is a flaw in my reasoning about the East coast. Egads. Did some of you think I was that stupid? Or worse, did my logic about the East coast make sense to you? If so, you really ought to work on not trusting everything you read.)

Now, for some really interesting research. A sleep researcher named Dr. Neil Stanley (no relation), in England, recently caused quite a stir by recommending that people would sleep a lot better if they slept alone—as in, not sleeping with their mate. You can read more about what he said, here, courtesy of the BBC. His main point is that all kinds of sleep problems are compounded by sleeping together. Since I’ve been studying sleep issues with couples, I have come to believe that he is correct, and he is backed up by numerous solid studies on sleep. A number of studies show that behaviors of one partner will negatively affect the other’s sleep, especially things like snoring and tossing and turning.

While I believe this other Dr. Stanley is correct in the basics, I’m not buying into the idea that most partners should sleep apart. Most people aren’t going to follow his advice. It is true that sleep problems are compounded between partners, and women are particularly affected by this. A lot of the sleep problems women have are related to snoring or restless husbands (actually, it’s more often the wife who is “restless”). Men snore more and that makes it harder for women to sleep well.

Here’s a really interesting fact. People think they sleep better when sleeping with their partner, but it’s not true based on some pretty strong studies. If you go to the BBC link earlier, note the comment by Dr. Robert Meadows near the end of the article. I’ve looked at the studies that back this point up, and they are impressive.

Where does that leave sleeping together? It’s complicated. People think they sleep better sleeping together, but many don’t. Sleep problems like snoring, or having one partner toss and turn a lot, makes these dynamics much more of a concern. Women, especially, value sleeping with their man in terms of emotional comfort, but studies also show that women pay the greater price in terms of their own sleep quality. (Remember, “on average” okay?)

I’ve been doing something particularly fun this year. I’ve been consulting for the mattress company, Tempur-Pedic, about sleep issues with couples. I’ve enjoyed this immensely. Their interest in having me give them input was perfectly timed with my own growing interest in the topic of sleep and how it affects couples. Given my growing interests, and my consulting role for Tempu-Pedic (paid, by the way), I’ve been thinking a lot about simple things couples can do to improve their quality of sleep. I’ll share some of those things in the next post or two.

Sweet dreams. (I better expand that a tad: May you have wonderful dreams that you are perfectly unaware of. Research (at least as of some years ago) shows that we only remember dreams if we wake up during them. If you regularly have vivid, clearly remembered dreams, it probably means you are waking up a lot, not that you are dreaming more than anyone else.)


Saturday, October 17, 2009

What’s My Line?

Ever think about sex? I have and I bet you have. In fact, while I don’t fathom how researchers can accurately study such a thing, it seems widely believed that people think about sex a lot. Add a sex-charged culture, and I don’t see how anyone avoids thinking about something related to the subject fairly often. In this post, I’m writing about sex and pre-commitments. The last two posts have been about the concept of pre-commitments and their effects on behavior. Recall that pre-commitment means this: Deciding ahead of time—before a situation or circumstance—what you intend to do. Research shows that pre-commitments make it more likely that we will do what we intended to do when the time comes.

Two posts ago, I mentioned a book that I think is pretty fascinating, called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. (Click on the book title to go to Amazon page for that book.) Ariely covers many interesting topics. His specialty is analyzing how people behave under various conditions. I highly recommend the book with a word of caution. Since I know that some portion of my readers of this blog tend to have more traditionally religious values, it’s worth noting that some of his experiments are, shall we say, something you likely would not yourself conduct or participate in, such as the one I’m going to focus on today. The results, however, are important, and I am going to talk about his study on sexual arousal.

He conducted this study with male college students. He advertised for volunteers on the campus in this way: “Wanted: Male research participants, heterosexual, 18 years-plus, for a study on decision making and arousal.”

He first got the young men’s opinions on questions like this (and many more):

Q: Could having sex with someone he hated be enjoyable?

Q: Would he tell a woman that he loved her to increase the chance that she would have sex with him?

Q: Would he encourage a date to drink to increase the chance that she would have sex with him?

Q: Would he keep trying to have sex after a date had said “no”?

Q: Would he use a condom even if he was afraid that a woman might change her mind while he went to get it?

These are just a sampling. Some of the questions were about what is arousing. Some questions were about how far the men would go to have sex with a woman. Some were about the subject of “safe sex.”

I’m going to skip over the methodology. Let’s just say that what Ariely did was get the opinions of the young men while there were not aroused, and then asked the questions again while they were in a state of high sexual arousal.

What did Ariely find? I will quote him:

“The results showed that when Roy and the other participants were in a cold, rational, superego-driven state, they respected women; they were not particularly attracted to the odd sexual activities we asked them about; they always took the moral high ground; and they expected that they would always use a condom.”

“In every case, the participants in our experiment got it wrong. Even the most brilliant and rational person, in the heat of passion, seems to be absolutely and completely divorced from the person he thought he was.”

Essentially, the values and predictions about what the young men would do or where they would draw lines sexually changed dramatically from non-aroused “cold state” when in an aroused, “hot state.”

By the way, while this study is on college males, it’s undoubtedly just as valid a result for college females—in fact, for people, period. It’s just that this particular study was more likely to be something you could get college males to do.

In this study, Ariely shows how much—and it’s a lot—a person’s beliefs and values can change when sexually aroused. Beliefs and values do not perfectly predict behavior, partly exactly because of phenomena like what Ariely was studying. The context one is in greatly affects behavior, and apparently, beliefs and values as well. That’s why part of being who you want to be in life is related to choosing who you hang around and where you put yourself. If that sounds a lot like situational ethics, it is because it is related. While many people do not like this notion, the fact is this: A gazillion (a really big number) of well designed experiments show that context greatly affects what people will actually do. Maybe I’ll do a whole blog on that. I should, and depending on circumstances, I will.

Does all this mean that one’s values and ethics do not matter? Not at all. Your values and beliefs are the starting point of what you bring into a situation. Let’s use that nifty notion of “sliding vs. deciding” again. Unless you are different from almost everyone else (this is not likely, I hope you realize), your values are like a set point from which you may slide given the circumstances you are in. I am suggesting—and I hope this does not offend any of you—that people do slide at times, and so do you.

Taking the idea of pre-commitment full circle, the question is this: where do you want to plant flags about how you will behave in certain circumstances? I think it’s fair to say that without planting any flags at all, one’s behavior will be much more determined by circumstance alone than anything else. There is nothing else if there are no flags planted. Planting flags is like deciding what territory you want to defend so that, if pressures do push you to slide, you know where you are at and where you might start to slide from. With flags, you know what you are trying to work toward when circumstances are bearing down on you—including your own emotional or sexual arousal.

This is all another way of asking the question, “What’s my line?” Especially for those in the dating mate-searching scene, where do you want your line to be about things such as sex? You’ll be tempted to slide from your line, but deciding ahead of time that you have a line that you are making a commitment to makes it a lot more likely that you’ll be able to hang around where you planted your flag.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

WHATEVER is annoying

Just a quick little fun note. I read this article today. Apparently, "whatever" is the most annoying phrase in America. See the article here in USA Today: 'Whatever' is, you know, annoying, but 'it is what it is'

Looks like letting WHATEVER happen to you is not only unwise to do, it's unwise to even say!


Monday, October 5, 2009


In my last post, I described the idea of pre-commitment. Now let’s apply it to relationships. Quick recap: A pre-commitment is deciding ahead of time—before a situation or circumstance—what you intend to do. Research shows that pre-commitments make it more likely that we will do what we intended to do when the time comes. Of course, pre-commitments don’t protect us completely from temptation to stray from the plan, and not all plans should be kept.

How effective are pre-commitments? It probably depends on scads of things, including the area of pre-commitment. Some things are harder to stick to than others. What kinds of things are hard for you to stick with in day-to-day life?

While not any panacea, it should be kind of obvious that deciding what you intend to do makes it more likely that you will do what you intend and not slide into whatever.

The opposite of pre-committing is letting WHATEVER happen. WHATEVER can be all kinds of things. WHATEVER can be good, but at important times in life, WHATEVER can be bad. A lot depends on if a lot is at stake. There is nothing wrong with sliding into WHATEVER if nothing WHATSOEVER is at stake.

Okay, time to work. You, I mean, not me. I’m going to be done working after I finish this. I’m going to assume that you, the reader, are in one of two categories:

Category One: You are a single or a sort-of-single. Either way, you are not done looking around for the person you might want to be with for the rest of your life.

Category Two: You in a committed relationship, and that means are not looking around because you have committed to someone (most likely, in marriage). Of course, you could be looking around, but that’s another story.

You category two types can get something out of pondering these questions in your relationship. However, I’m going to focus in on category one folks today.

Here are some steps you can take to up your pre-commitment game.

1. Think about the WHATEVERS that can happen in your love life that you might like to avoid.

2. Think about what you would like to have happen instead of various WHATEVERS. In other words, what is the anti-WHATEVER?

3. What pre-commitments could you make that would make it more likely that the best things would happen?

Here is one example. Sarah wants love in her life. She’s not been in a relationship for some time and she is feeling lonely. She has had serious relationships that, ultimately, didn’t go where she wanted them to go. Sarah happens to have a strong faith tradition and belief; however, she has not thought much about the beliefs that she wants or needs her future mate to hold, when she gets to the “to have and to hold” part she seeks. (I’m just picking one particularly important area of compatibility for Sarah, but you could apply this point to any number of things, including hobbies, looks, values, life motivation, beliefs about being green, etc.) Since she has no pre-commitment to herself about what she should hold out for, she’s looking for love in WHATEVER places she happens to be. She’s not guided by a pre-commitment to what she should see in a person before falling in love.

You could think about what pre-commitment means to someone like Sarah in terms of setting boundaries. These boundaries could be her minimum standards for a mate in areas like values, drive, or intentions about having children (or not). In her dating life, she could set boundaries about things like her romantic and sexual behavior. Where will she draw the line? Does she want there to be a line? Anywhere? I know it may sound quaint but people can decide who they are and what they will do, and not just let WHATEVER happen.

Yes, I’m talking about mate selection, again. I talk about that subject a lot because people have a lot of options—or at least some options—about where they will end up in their love lives. And people have the greatest number of options before they get settled on one path with a specific partner.

If you are seriously seeking someone, at sometime, what are some of the pre-commitments that you could make that would help you find lasting love? If you decide on some pre-commitments, are you willing to write them down? Do you have a good friend that you could tell them to—someone who’s willing to encourage you to stick to what you think is important?

Without deciding otherwise, WHATEVER will be will be.

Que sera sera, Sarah.