Sharing sleep spaces is a choice that can potentially inhibit sleep. This can be a touchy topic since it involves potential conflict among beloved family members and pets. That makes it all the more important to explore because sleep is crucial for disease prevention and vitality, something we should want for all of our loved ones, including ourselves.
There is research supporting both sharing sleep and solo sleep, so finding a path that works for each household and individual is recommended. Approach discussions around sharing sleep spaces with curiosity, empathy, and communication. One person might love the idea of their own sleeping space, while another might not. And others could be torn between sleeping with someone and their innate drive for dependable rest.
History of Sharing Sleep Spaces
Humans have shared (and not shared) sleeping spaces for various reasons over time and there are even a few books written on the subject matter. In the 1850s separate beds and even rooms were viewed as part of a healthy lifestyle, especially if one sleeper was “weaker” than the other. Doctors in that time period emphasized the need to breathe pure, clean air and not share germs at night. Some houses were even constructed with small rooms meant just for sleeping.
For a while couples were viewed as modern and forward-thinking for having their own beds or rooms.
In the 1950s, sleeping in separate beds or rooms was seen as a sign of a failing marriage and it fell away, perhaps for image reasons. If people are separated at night due to marital troubles this makes sense, but if it’s a conscious choice for wellness, that’s different.
Today, bedrooms are sometimes a full living quarters within a home, taking up a lot of space. One in four couples (National Sleep Foundation, 2017) sleep separately and it seems many people are looking for middle ground. Beds are now being designed with two sides to them, where a person can customize his or her half to be more firm or soft depending on preference.
Pros of Sharing Sleep Spaces
Relationships are vital to health and considering them is important. Being close to a loved one or pet at night can boost the feel-good hormone oxytocin and feelings of closeness. Especially if days are busy, this is a time to be together. Some people cannot sleep well unless their bed/room partner is there beside them.
Staying warm during colder months can also be a cozy benefit of sharing a sleeping space, unless of course one person gets over-heated.
Cons of Sharing Sleep Spaces
Relationships are crucial to a happy, healthy life, but they cannot make up for disturbed sleep and those relationships themselves will suffer if a person’s health begins to decline from chronic sleep loss. Being grouchy and irritable with family members during the day is a prime symptom of low sleep.
Circadian Rhythm misalignment
Each individual is born with a specific chronotype (early bird/night owl), which includes an ideal timing for sleep and ideal volume. Sleep/wake preferences are pre-programmed to an extent and when respected can provide for optimal daytime function. This issue can be solved by keeping the sleeping space dark and quiet from the time the early bird goes to bed until when the night owl wakes up and agreeing to allow each person to sleep and wake as they choose.
Consider these five physiological sleep factors when making a sleep space accommodating.
Being woken up at night
Even with a well-crafted sleeping space, one person in the room might have a sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea that causes excessive movement or noise at night. Or, one person might have nighttime allergies or illness. The brain runs various programs at night that helps the body restore itself and when they get interrupted, it has effects on daytime functioning. Especially when it compounds across several nights, weeks, or months.
In this case, working with a medical provider to treat nighttime illnesses or other underlying health conditions is recommended. Otherwise, separate sleeping quarters might be the only choice. It then becomes important to make connection and intimacy a priority outside of sleep times to maintain relationships.
Having both relationships and sharing sleep spaces successfully is possible by exploring this tough topic and finding solutions. Next time a client complains of tiredness is a perfect time to ask some questions and find out if a sleep partner might be the culprit. It’s not your role as a personal trainer to troubleshoot this issue, but you can still be a good listener and share this article.