Sage: Couples share their bed
until sleeplessness do them part
How many places can you find to take naps? If you had a spouse who tosses and turns and kicks his legs out around the bed … who snores like a giant rock crusher … who talks and shouts during his sleep … and who likes the bedroom temperature 20 degrees colder than I like it … well, you’ll find plenty of spots. ‘Sleeping’ next to him is really a misnomer – I sometimes doze off a few times, and then have to catch up with two or three naps during the day. Last week I fell asleep during two consecutive showings of John Wick 3 – Parabellum, which, I’m told, is one of the loudest films of the year – and in which the characters spill enough blood to keep the Red Cross supply at 100% across the country for a year. The kid closing up the theater had to wake me up! I’ve fallen asleep while alone in a kayak, on the john (numerous times), in church while I was supposed to do a reading, and one time on the Disney World Monorail – for five hours. Meanwhile, Hubby sleeps pretty well and says that part of a good marriage is sharing a bed. I’m almost ready to concede that he’s right, so long as he’s sleeping with someone else. What to do, Oh Sage?
– Awake near the lake in Madison, Wisconsin
The Sage would agree that you should share a bed under these circumstances – so long as the bed is the size of Wisconsin and so long as you are on opposite ends of it, although it might be a little hard to change the sheets every week. And if you could still hear the snoring, boy would you both have a problem!
One would assume that the stress level at your house is somewhere close to the red zone, if not smack in the middle of it. Pardon the pun, but if you are so exhausted – your Hubby may be pretty tired, too – you probably don’t smile a whole lot and say ‘Cheese Head’ very often. If you’re taking naps, pulmonologists and sleep doctors will question whether you are truly getting the refreshing deep sleep that we all need.
Both of you could be tempting fate in terms of potential illness, injury and your long-term health. What if you fell asleep behind the wheel, for example?
According to a Harvard Health publication, sleep deprivation ‘contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents ... Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do … (and) serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.’
In addition, the publication wrote, ‘Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.’
But wait – stay awake – there’s more!
You and your Hubby are not alone. The National Sleep Foundation reports: ‘Along with the physical changes that occur as we get older, changes to our sleep patterns are a part of the normal aging process. As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. In fact, research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood.’
As for you two: Has your other half ever had a sleep test for apnea? You might want to send him to his doctor and perhaps to a specialist, such as a pulmonologist who’s an expert in sleep disorders. There are treatments that can greatly reduce any snoring and prevent him from dangers, such as stopping breathing during the night. And, of course, any solution that works for him will help you return to normal sleep as well. How cool would it be not to fall asleep in the macaroni and cheese?
‘Untreated sleep apnea puts a person at risk for cardiovascular disease, headaches, memory loss and depression,’ the National Sleep Foundation reports. ‘It is a serious disorder that is easily treated. If you experience snoring on a regular basis and it can be heard from another room or you have been told you stop breathing or make loud or gasping noises during your sleep, these are signs that you might have sleep apnea and it should be discussed with your doctor.’
There are also medications available for Restless Legs Syndrome, if he suffers from that, too. A sleep test will often examine that condition as well as apnea, and he will end up with a report that shows how many apnea events occurred each hour during the test – how many times he stopped breathing (perhaps for as long as 10 to 60 seconds, which is common with apnea) – as well as frequency of movement. Warning: If the legs stop moving so much overnight, he may soon have enough energy to chase you around the house all day.
Also know that it’s normal for many couples, including older ones – surveys suggest as many as a quarter to a third, and some hypothesize that it’s even higher – sleep in different beds if not in separate rooms.
This can result in a concept called sanity. It helps relationships in many households. As the Better Sleep Council puts it, ‘Adequate sleep improves attitudes, moods, and promotes feelings of self-esteem and competence.’ This is likely to be important if one or more of the following occurs:
• One of you spreads out like a B-52 across the bed.
• Loud snoring and restless legs.
• Sleep walking or talking.
• Different circadian rhythms – one of you is a night owl, the other an early bird.
• One is a light sleeper.
• One likes noise, such as TV; the other needs quiet.
• Mattress firmness – and temperature – needs are different for each of you. For instance, one person may find that the other person’s body heat makes him or her way too hot.
A column written for Chicago Tribune local newspapers put it nicely: ‘I guess where in the house you get your sleep isn’t so important, as long as you wake up well rested. What matters more when it comes to a healthy, happy relationship is the time a couple spends together while awake. Laughing together, feeling appreciated and loved, being intellectually challenged, feeling sexy and attractive to each other, genuinely liking each other and enjoying your spouse, even when it’s just the two of you loading the dishwasher.’
Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told the Huffington Post, “Getting good-quality sleep is important for relationships ― bed-sharing or not. It’s a personal decision, not necessarily a sign of marital problems.”
Consider this: An article in Forbes quoted a British physician at the University of Surrey as saying that research showed that couples who share a bed ‘endured 50 percent more sleep disturbances than those who slept separately.’
It’s become so common that many custom-built homes are designed with separate master bedrooms, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The paper reported that the National Association of Home Builders calculated in 2007 that 60% of such upscale homes included the separate suites, and that the trend resumed after the Great Recession.
In other words, sleeping apart is a necessity for some couples. Rather than seen a stigma or a sign of a bad marriage, it can re-energize a relationship instead of enduring huge unnecessary stresses, and, as one woman told USA Today, may even keep you from feeling so much anxiety and pure exhaustion every day that you’re ready to file for divorce. Who knew – marital bliss by staying apart?
As for Awake in Wisconsin, the Sage hopes that you can figure out a solution – or multiple solutions, for both of you – by talking to your own doctor and/or to a specialist. Treatment may change your life, improve your outlook and your marriage, and help you enjoy kayaking on your beautiful lake – awake. In addition, it’s probably a good idea to find yourself on your clergyman’s good side and to enjoy a full day at Disney World, given the entry fees – not to mention taking advantage of the photo ops with Scrooge McDuck!
Here’s hoping that you enjoy a nice, quiet, relaxed retirement and learn to get good, healthy Zzzzz’s with ease.