Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer-producer Emily V. Gordon (the couple known for the movie “The Big Sick”) recently shared on a podcast that they make a point of going to bed at the same time every night, regardless of how out of sync their schedules may be.
It all started several years ago, when Gordon had a job that required her to be up and out the door earlier than Nanjiani. The two made a pact to always go to sleep at the same time. Over the years, as their schedules shifted and Nanjiani found himself waking up earlier and earlier for work, the pair stuck with it — even if that meant calling it a day at 8 p.m. Going to bed at the same time helped the couple stay connected, especially when their schedules pulled them apart. “It’s a good system; it works,” Nanjiani said.
But many couples who struggle with competing sleep habits haven’t figured out how to deal. Thanks to our circadian rhythms, or the way our bodies naturally govern our sleep-wake cycle, some of us are night owls while others are morning birds. Or some people snore, struggle with insomnia, sleep walk and talk, or simply have work schedules that don’t align — which means a lot of us aren’t getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis.
And when we skimp out on sleep, everything seems to fall apart.
“If you don’t sleep enough, a whole bunch of things can go wrong — either acutely, where you’re going to be sleepy, irritable and cranky, and your cognitive abilities are going to degrade,” Meir Kryger, a Yale Medicine sleep expert, told HuffPost. In the long term, a lack of sleep can cause major issues with your heart, metabolism and immune system.
Rather than blame your partner for your sleep deprivation, sleep experts suggest working through it together. Here’s how:
Own the fact that you have different sleep needs
Most health experts agree that you need to recognize and accept that you and your partner have different sleep needs.
“The key thing to acknowledge is that you have individual differences; it does not mean you don’t like each other or you’re doomed,” said Rafeal Pelayo, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center.
Be open and communicative about what does and doesn’t work for you when it comes to your sleep needs.
“As in all areas of navigating relationships, discussing these issues before it turns into an argument tends to be more effective in maintaining a positive connection,” said Jessy Warner-Cohen, a senior psychologist at Northwell Health in Lake Success, New York.
Go to bed or wake up together
Nanjiani and Gordon seem to be onto something. If you and your partner have the flexibility to do so, it might be worth making a point to either go to bed or wake up at the same time.
“If one of you needs a little bit less sleep than the other, decide as a couple if you’d rather wake up together or go to bed together,” Pelayo suggested.
Research has shown that going to bed at the same time improves how females feel about their relationship the next day, as it provides a sense of comfort and togetherness.
Of course, this’ll take a bit of compromise on both ends, and you may have to gradually work up to having the same bed or wake-up time.
Go to bed with your partner until they’re asleep
Going to bed at the same time is inherently intimate. There’s the pillow talk, the snuggling and also the sex — all of which help couples feel relaxed and nurtured.
Even if you don’t want to have the same early bedtime as your partner, you can still go through the motions of getting in bed and connecting with them. Then, when they start to nod off, dip out and do your thing until you’re ready for sleep.
Upgrade your sleep environment
If you like to sleep in, there’s nothing worse than hearing your partner’s alarm go off in the morning — which is why Pelayo recommends talking about what kind of alarm clock you should have.
There are multiple types to choose from: dawn simulators, in which a light comes on, alarms that vibrate, ring or play a song. Ideally, you can settle on one that won’t be quite as disruptive to the person who’s still sleeping.
If there’s a noisy sleeper in the room, a sound machine can be incredibly helpful, Kryger said. Earplugs and eye masks can also work wonders.
For those who sleep next to someone who tosses and turns, it might be time to upgrade your mattress. A firmer mattress will move less as your partner shifts throughout the night, and a larger one will give the two of you some space.
See a sleep specialist
If one of you is dealing with a disruptive sleep disorder (think: insomnia, snoring, twitching, sleep walking), it’s time to see a doctor or sleep specialist. Not only are these issues dangerous for the person experiencing them, but they can really affect the bed partner’s quality of sleep as well.
“When one person has a sleep problem, the other person in the bed also ends up having a problem,” Kryger said.
A visit with a professional can help you identify what’s going on and provide some treatment methods to get your — and your partner’s — sleep back on track.
Sleep in different beds or rooms
Many people cringe at the thought of sleeping in a different bed or room from their partner, but it can actually be super beneficial for those who struggle with getting enough shut-eye.
“It is also OK to not always sleep in the same room all the time. If sleeping apart meets each person’s needs, especially if effort is made to connect in other ways, that may be something to consider,” Warner-Cohen said.
Some couples even opt to split it up and do a few nights together and a few nights apart. Play around to see what works best for you.
Kryger said his best advice is to make your sleep a priority.
“If you’re not getting enough sleep because of your bed partner and you’re miserable and you’re not functioning well and exhausted all day — you need to do something about it,” he said. You and your partner should aim to not only be compatible when you’re awake but to sleep compatibly as well.