Sleep Incompatibility -- Is Your Partner Keeping You Awake?

How to deal with a partner's snoring or other bad bed habits.

Don't lose sleep because of a snoring partner.
Don't lose sleep because of a snoring partner. Stockbyte/Getty Images

Sharing the bed with a partner brings many positives: physical and emotional intimacy, a chance to talk privately, the easy comfort of falling asleep in the presence of the one you love. But there are many downsides as well: loss of sleep due to your partner’s snoring, tossing and turning or blanket hogging, to name just a few. One solution is separate rooms – and a sizable percentage of married couples prefer to take this route, though the number is hard to pin down: anywhere from 9% according to a study from The Better Sleep Council to 23% in a survey from the National Sleep Foundation.

Perhaps those results shouldn’t be so surprising, however – most surveys on couples’ sleep habits reveal that sleeping alone equals a better night of sleep.

Still, separate bedrooms aren’t for everyone. If your partner is keeping you awake, there are many ways to cut down on the most common sleep-disrupters without moving to another bed.

Snore No More

The most common reason couples retreat to separate rooms is snoring. Severe snoring can hit 80 decibels -- louder than intense traffic -- and lead to the equivalent of road rage in the non-snoring partner. Some studies estimate that partners of heavy snorers lose an average of one to two hours of sleep each night – that adds up to a year or more of lost sleep over a 20-year marriage.

If your partner shows signs of sleep apnea -- indicated by loud snoring punctuated by sudden pauses in breathing that are followed by loud gasps for air or snorts -- he needs a medical evaluation to rule out this common and serious sleep disorder.

For run-of-the-mill snoring, however, there are several tricks to help muffle or eliminate the sound.

  • The snorer should avoid alcohol before bedtime. Drinking can trigger snoring.
  • Have the snorer try nasal strips or decongestants if nasal congestion is a problem.
  • Soft earplugs are quite effective at blocking out moderate noise.
  • Run a white noise machine to cover soft snoring.
  • Use positioning pillows, or the old trick of taping a tennis ball to the back of the snorer’s pajamas, to keep the snorer off his back. Most people snore more in this position.
  • Load up your MP3 player with a sleep app, soothing music or a guided meditation to help you sleep while covering up the snores beside you. Soft headphones that are designed for sleep will keep you comfortable.
  • Prop a down pillow between your heads to muffle sound.

Night Owl Meets Early Bird

Partners often have different preferences and schedules when it comes to determining what time to go to bed and what time to get up. If your differing sleep schedules have become a problem, try some of the following tips.

  • Hit the sheets together at the early bird’s preferred time each night, and spend some time together cuddling, talking or enjoying intimacy. When the early bird falls asleep, the night owl can quietly get up and retreat to another part of the house until she is ready for sleep herself.
  • Enjoy couple time early in the evening, before either of you are thinking of sleep.
  • Agree to spend time lounging in bed together on weekend mornings.
  • Both the early bird and the night owl need to be quiet and considerate when their partner is asleep.
  • Sleep masks and white noise machines are both useful for blocking out light and sound if you are trying to sleep next to a wakeful partner.

The Blanket Hog (or Temperature Wars)

Tired of waking up freezing because your bed partner is hogging all the blankets? Sick of sweating through the night because your partner likes the heat turned up high? When it comes to comfortable bedroom temperature, many couples are in disagreement. The easiest way to solve these two common problems is to each have your own blanket and sheet. Sure, it makes bed making a bit more complicated, and it might look funny, but it beats losing sleep or arguing, right? On a queen or king bed, use two twin-size sheets and blankets, one on each side. The partner who tends to feel chilly can add blankets as necessary, while the warm sleeper can subtract.

Cover up the divided bedding with a single quilt or comforter, if you’d like to make the bed more attractive.

Tossing and Turning

An overwhelming need to move the legs while sleeping is a symptom of restless leg syndrome, but some people simply move a lot while they sleep with no underlying medical condition. Unfortunately, having a partner that tosses and turns can leave you awake and irritable. If you’re starting to get seasick from your partner’s nighttime gymnastics, one of the best ways to mute the vibrations is with a memory foam mattress. The thick, moldable foam was designed to protect astronauts during rocket travel, but absorbs movement just as well here on earth. If a memory foam mattress is too expensive, try a 2 or 3-inch memory foam topper instead. You’ll get a peaceful night of sleep without waking up each time your partner turns over.

Sharing a bed is one of the joys of traveling through life with a partner. But the joy is lost if you’re left irritable, fatigued and frustrated from too many nights of disrupted sleep. If separate bedrooms are starting to sound appealing, first try to solve your sleep incompatibility with the tips listed here. There’s an excellent chance you’ll soon be sleeping soundly once again.