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.)