What to Do When Your Partner's Bad Sleep Habits Are Messing With Your Sleep Too
Here's how to fight back—without fighting with each other.
When you've got a scroll of bad habits that put a damper on the quality of your sleep, scoring high quality shuteye can be tough. Add your partner's bad sleep habits to the mix, and it can feel downright impossible.
"It's easy for someone else's bad sleep habits to impact our own because we're social creatures," says Kathryn Tipton, LPC, a Texas-based licensed professional counselor who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. "If your partner is doing something, you're going to be a lot more likely to go along with it—it's human nature."
And even though you know these things are messing with the quality of your sleep (alcoholic nightcaps, for instance), it's hard to make changes. "Most of us like to keep the peace and the status quo," says Tipton. "Making changes is hard, and we often resist doing things that make us feel uncomfortable." (Especially if those things might cause friction in our relationship.)
Sure, you can have a heart-to-heart with your partner about how desperately you need to sleep better and make it a team effort so that you both get more quality rest, but this doesn't always work. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep or the same conditions to sleep, so trying to create harmony between your sleep habits and schedules might end up doing more harm than good.
So what's a sleepy person to do? "I always encourage couples to be independent sleepers," says Tipton. Find what works for you as individuals, while also finding other ways to create intimacy in your relationship that don't (necessarily) involve hitting the sack at the exact same time. "The sooner you can let go of the ideals in your head, the more flexible you'll become on the range of options you have to solving your sleep woes," says Tipton.
The best place to start is to course-correct how you handle your partner's bad sleep habits in order to improve your own. One bad habit at a time, here's how experts recommend turning things around:
Bad Habit: Their Sleep Pattern's out of Whack
There are plenty of reasons for your sleep pattern not matching up with your partner's, but the cause is usually work-related—say, they do shift work or work a variable schedule they have little control over. They may also simply lack the self-discipline to go to bed at a set time, devouring television shows or playing video games until odd hours.
This can affect both the consistency of your own sleep schedule and the quality of your sleep, says Tipton. Instead of scoring an uninterrupted night of shuteye, your sleep might get chopped up by things like their alarm going off, phone ringing, shower running and other benign noises that, when you're sleep-deprived, can annoy your body into staying awake.
The Fix: "You can request that your partner keep a more regular sleep schedule, but ultimately, we're not in control of others," says Tipton. Keeping a regular sleep schedule yourself (especially a regular wakeup time) is extremely important in making sure your own circadian rhythm doesn't get out of whack.
To avoid waking each other up, start by switching to a vibrating alarm clock, says Tipton. Using ear plugs and a white noise machine can also be helpful in drowning out noise while your partner's awake, and these gizmos can do same for your partner while you're up doing your thing.
Bad Habit: They Fall Asleep to the TV
"People who fall asleep to the television have essentially developed a behavioral association or habit," says Anil Rama, MD, doctor of sleep medicine at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine in California. The television (or tablet) emits a significant amount of noise and melatonin-suppressing blue light, which will delay your partner's bedtime—and, unfortunately, yours too.
The Fix: If your partner isn't willing to fall asleep without a show on in the background, try reducing the brightness of the television or adding a blue light filter to the screen. Most TVs have a sleep timer and can turn themselves off after a certain amount of time, says Tipton. Similarly, you can direct your tablet to go into sleep mode after a certain period of inactivity.
If they find it difficult to wear headphones while trying to sleep, you can always resort to wearing an eye mask to block the light, and ear plugs to help muffle the sound, says Tipton.
Related: 20 Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
Bad Habit: They Let Your Kids Sleep in Your Bed
Many parents sleep in the same bed as their kids, but not every parent can score a good night's sleep with a restless child squeezed in next to them. (The elbows to the face alone are enough to keep even the soundest-sleeping parent awake.) "There's no right way to handle this, but ultimately, it involves you being in a child-free bed," says Tipton.
The Fix: If it's a once in a while thing, you can gently return your child to their bed once they've fallen back asleep. But if it's ongoing, you could either place another bed in your child's room for your partner to snooze in when a sleepless night hits, or (provided your child's old enough) you could leave a sleeping bag on the floor of your room for them to retreat to when they have a bad dream.
"They can feel comforted by being in your room, and not have to be in your bed to do it—a possible win-win," says Tipton.
Bad Habit: When They Can't Sleep, They Toss and Turn Instead of Getting Up
If you go to bed before you're truly sleepy, it's not likely that you'll fall asleep right away. "Over time, this increases frustration and anxiety over the lack of sleep—and the harder you try to sleep, the more difficult it becomes to do so," says Tipton.
You might be in the habit of going to bed only when you're legit sleepy, but if your partner isn't, their tossing and turning might lead to a choppy night's sleep for you too (especially if they decide to use their phone to pass the time).
The Fix: If tossing and turning has become your partner's status quo, consider buying a memory foam mattress. "The memory foam will absorb the movements of your bed partner and allow you to sleep peacefully," says Rama.
If you're super-sensitive to their movements, you could even go so far as to buy two extra long twin mattresses (when pushed together, they equal out to a king-sized bed). "If you're sleeping on separate mattresses with a one-inch gap between them, you'll feel much less movement," says Tipton.
Bad Habit: They Prefer to Keep a Light On
Too much light at night—especially right before bed—can disrupt your body's circadian rhythm and production of various hormones involved in sleep, says Tipton, like melatonin. (Even with your eyelids closed, the light is still detected and your brain struggles to determine whether to sleep or not, according to the National Sleep Foundation.)
The Fix: Talk to your partner about either switching to a light that can be dimmed or to a night light. "The less light in the room, the better for sleep for all parties involved," says Rama. You can also try wearing blue light-blocking glasses during your evenings at home to minimize melatonin suppression leading up to bedtime, then switch to an eye mask once you hit the sheets.
Bad Habit: They're Loud When You're Trying to Sleep
When your sleep patterns are out of sync, it can be tricky to not be kept awake by your partner, well, living their life in the rest of your home. It's only natural for your sleep to occasionally end up disturbed by their sounds and movements, says Tipton. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to reduce the likelihood of being woken up.
The Fix: "White noise can help muffle the tiny sounds that can wake you throughout the night," says Tipton, like box fans and white noise machines. Ear plugs can come in handy also.
Additionally, teaming up to make sure especially noisy things are kept to a minimum while the other is asleep—setting your ringer to vibrate, not having people over and ix-naying vacuuming as an option—can go a long way in keeping the quality of your sleep from plummeting.
Bad Habit: They Drink Alcohol Before Bed
Because alcohol causes your whole body to relax, including your throat, your partner drinking before bed could subject you to louder snoring. "Although it can initially make you sleepy, booze causes wakefulness as it leaves the bloodstream," says Tipton. This can lead to more tossing and turning later in the night, not to mention an uptick in bathroom trips.
The Fix: If your partner has no interest in nixing their nightcap, battening down the hatches to protect the quality of your sleep is paramount. Pull out all the stops—ear plugs, white noise machine and an extra blanket in case their rustling leaves you with a mere corner of the one you normally share. And if they're particularly thrashy as they get restless, you can put a body pillow between the two of you for added protection.