We’ve all seen it in the movies. Couples in love falling asleep for the night cuddling, waking up from a deep sleep, rested and rejuvenated. But I’ll be the first one to put up my hand and say that I find it really challenging sleeping next to my boyfriend. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Last week, results from a health survey commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation showed that the total cost associated with sleep disorders in Australia was estimated at $36.4 billion. It also revealed that 39.8 per cent of Australians don’t get enough sleep. And I would not be surprised if a huge chunk of those people are sharing beds with someone else.
Before my current relationship, I’d throw them all out. No way were any of them sleeping over. These men were not one night stands. They were men I knew well. But I signed up for sex with them, not sleeping. You should have seen the looks! Wasn’t it every woman’s dream to have a guy cuddle her and hold her till she slept?
Not that they wanted to really do that. They just couldn’t be bothered moving, and they’d fall asleep. So I’d wake them, and show them the door.
I wasn’t deliberately being mean, I just can’t sleep with someone next to me. Or in my room. Or house. I’ve had sleep problems my whole life. It takes me one or two nights to get used to a new place when I go away on trips. The first night I won’t sleep at all. And at home, I sleep with a sound machine that emits a calming sound to block out noise. I like my space, I like to stretch out my arms horizontally across my bed, sleep diagonally, I just like my sleep.
Some couples live in separate houses. Some sleep in the same house but have separate rooms. Sleep is an important part of intimacy, so people in these living situations often have “sleep overs”. But they don’t sleep together every night, and they shouldn’t feel obliged to.
In fact, I believe sleep problems are amplified when we succumb to the expectations society places on us, that healthy relationships comprise of a couple who sleep in the same bed every night. This judgment, which we then turn onto ourselves, creates stress in our relationship, and for people with sleep disorders who are sensitive to stress, it worsens sleep and can sometimes deter us from wanting to be in the relationship. Lack of understanding about the issue at hand, on both sides of the relationship, can sometimes ruin a perfectly healthy union.
The truth is that many of us with sleep problems may never be cured of them. And you don’t need to be an insomniac. I can generally sleep quite well when I’m alone. Some people just have sleep sensitivities, and the best thing you can do in any of these situations is to accept yourself and try to work out what works best for you and your significant other, patiently.
In my own current situation, I found a phased approach most helpful. I communicated my problem with my partner. They need to know that it’s not them, or anything in the relationship. Sleepovers once a week (when I can sleep in the next day) and then increase the number when I’m ready, but in separate beds, or a couch if there is none. This is important in developing comfort in a safe zone, and over time, as trust builds, we’ll start having short little sleeps in each other’s bed and before long, a full night’s sleep. But there should never be any expectations by the healthy sleeper. They should never put pressure on the problem sleeper to sleep with them, or be negative about it.
And then there’s sex. Generally, after a man has sex he’ll fall straight to sleep. For women, it can be more like a workout, winding the brain up. If you are a female with sleep problems you may have to move sex to a different part of the day, or do it with the light on, or not in the bedroom, so you don’t confuse your body with its sleep cues. Cuddles when you get into bed are nice – but when it’s time to sleep, it helps me to mentally draw an invisible line between us where we stay on our own sides. This is where I trick my mind and tell it that I am sleeping on my own and there is nobody else in my bed.
Relationship success shouldn’t be based on whether or not you can sleep next to your significant other every night. If you’re married or have been sleeping in the same bed with someone for years uncomfortably, you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting a night of sleep in a bed on your own. Being in a couple is great, but we still have to look after ourselves and our needs, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
It’s one thing to sleep in separate beds because you are fighting and can’t stand each other, it’s another because you need to reboot your sleep cycle, or you just need your own room and space. Too often we associate the former with the latter when the two aren’t linked at all. You are allowed to sleep on your own and feel good about it, and the sooner you drop the guilt and expectations, the better you’ll sleep.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance writer, actor, performer, theatre and film maker and the author of Love and F— Poems. koralydimitriadis.com. @koralyd