Problems in the bedroom aren't all related to sex. A significant trigger in stressful relationships does however relate to poor sleep. Lying next to someone who fidgets, snores, thrashes, shouts out or kicks is no fun.
Not being able to sleep properly can stir up all sorts of potential problems. Fatigue has an effect on the planning and self-control centers of the brain. Men who don't get a proper sleep will often become snappy, impatient and quite forthright in some of their comments. Women under stress tend to worry more. They often ruminate for long periods of time, not uncommonly with the cause of the problem lying next to them. A bad night's sleep can easily affect relationships the following day.
The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) estimate that 40 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. Sleep disruptions are associated with anxiety and depression and a host of other aspects relating to an individual's life. If one of the people in a relationship has a condition that affects their sleep it will almost inevitably affect their partner too. Several studies have examined this very issue. For example, in a study on the effect of partners who sleep next to someone with sleep apnea (McArdle et al, 2001), most reported moderate to severe disturbance, had poor quality sleep and poor self-reported health status.
More recently, research abstracts presented at the June 2009 Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, pointed to a bidirectional association between sleep quality and relationship quality. Brent Hasler, the principal investigator and a doctoral student at the University of Arizona said:
"in this cycle, conflict with one's partner in the day leads to worse sleep that night, which leads to more conflict the next day . . . the woman's perception of the relationship seems particularly important, as it impacts both her and her partner's subjective sleep quality that night."
So what can be done to break the cycle? A lot depends on what partners find acceptable. For example, even though separate beds may appear an obvious choice in some circumstances, it may be regarded as a deal breaker in some relationships. There are however some general tips that may help:
- Always try to resolve disputes before going to bed.
- Try to avoid conflict on days following a poor night's sleep.
- Try not to discuss issues like finance, work or stress-related topics before bed.
- Avoid stimulant drinks like coffee before bed.
- Avoid stimulating activities like surfing the web.
- Prepare for bed by winding down. Have a bath, read a book or watch a program you both enjoy.
- Go to bed at the same time.
- Having sex releases endorphins that have a sedative quality.
Resolving sleep problems often comes down to compromise and common sense. For some couples the idea of sleeping in separate beds is the start of a slippery slope, yet many couples have found perfectly workable solutions. Two single beds pushed together is one idea. Some double-beds are now made so that each person has their own mattress. For people who move around a lot at night it allows them and their partner a much better night's sleep.