Who Sleeps Better, Couples or Singles? The Debate Rages

Hold on to your mattresses, single people living alone: "Couples may get health benefits simply from sleeping in the same bed, a burgeoning field of study is showing."

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Following in all the recent talk of single people living alone, conversations spurred largely by a recent book by Eric Klinenberg exploring the subject, The Wall Street Journal offers up a piece on how singles and couples do at lying down in their beds, closing their eyes, and sleeping. Hold on to your mattresses, single people living alone: "Couples may get health benefits simply from sleeping in the same bed, a burgeoning field of study is showing."

This is not, necessarily, another case of smug marrieds rubbing single people's noses in their superior health-based lifestyles — though you could read it as such if you were so inclined. But we prefer to take the more fact-based view. The Journal's Andrea Peterson writes, "The new research runs counter to studies that show women don't sleep as well with a partner and both men and women move around more when sleeping together." This new study, then, attempts to debunk that, and to show that sleep-deprived couples can face their problems without having to resort to "separate bedrooms." Thank goodness, that would be weird!

The University of Pittsburgh's Wendy Troxel published studies in 2009 that found that "women in long-term stable relationships fell asleep more quickly and woke up less during the night than single women or women who lost or gained a partner during the six to eight years of the study." This may be because of that devious so-called "love hormone" oxytocin, which makes women put up with all sorts of nonsense for the psychological benefits of closeness. But, couple-sleep is not all wine and roses or pillows and snores or whatever.

Here are some of the troubles couples face while sleeping in the same bed: 

  • Sheet-stealing.
  • Different bedtimes.
  • Different room-temperature preferences.
  • The need to sleep a different numbers of hours per night.
  • "Mismatched body clocks—a night owl with a so-called lark, for example."
  • The partner who requires less sleep dubbing the sleeper who needs more hours "lazy." 
  • A partner who rolls around a lot at night, thrashes, snores, talks, has sleep apnea, falls out of bed, or creates any number of disturbances, willfully or accidentally.
  • The trouble of having to adapt to your partner's schedule making you "sleep deprived and really grumpy," or possibly making you fight more and becoming distant from each other, which then makes you sleep even worse.
  • Thinking of all the single people luxuriously sleeping all alone, which prevents you from sleeping.

Here's how one couple fixed it:

Now, some nights, the Los Angeles-based couple goes to bed at midnight. Other nights, they go to bed at 10 p.m. On nights when they have different bedtimes, Ms. Ellis may take an Ambien sleeping pill, which keeps her from waking up when Mr. Ellis comes to bed later. In the morning, Mr. Ellis usually gets up with their three children and Ms. Ellis sleeps in.

Well, their solution, at least, is sleepiness-inducing. Other fixes to bad couple-sleep include creating a schedule in which couples retire together, then the night person can get up and do things the way he or she likes. Sleeping with separate blankets. Or, purchasing Tempur-Pedic beds, which are said to prevent the transfer of motion from one side of the mattress to the other, or even a wine glass from spilling when the night owl sets it on the mattress and jumps around like an idiot.

Here are some of the troubles single people sleeping alone face:

  • Not knowing which side of the bed to sleep on, or if they should just take the whole thing. (Take the whole thing. Lie diagonally! Pretty soon you'll be in a couple and unable to do this.)
  • Staying up too late to watch random YouTube videos for no apparent reason and being really tired the next morning.
  • Waking up at 3 in the morning because you drank a little bit too much wine and not being able to go back to sleep. Related: Falling asleep, sometimes, with one's shoes on.
  • What do you mean? Single people don't have any problems sleeping that couples don't have, except, perhaps, the "problem" of not being in couples. As one single man told The Atlantic Wire when asked if he had any problems with his solo sleeping situation: "Not really, I like sleeping alone. Lemme drink some coffee and I'll give you something better."

Image via Shutterstock by Maridav.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.