Sleeping in your own bed isn’t the norm for most couples, but there are huge benefits, according to a sleep expert.
However you get a good night’s sleep – whether it’s using CBD, eye masks, warm baths or avoiding screens – getting good rest for eight hours a night is crucial for brain and body function. And if you exercise regularly, you’re particularly in need of a good snooze in order to rebuild your muscles, support your hormones and leave you energised enough to train again the next day.
But what happens when your sleep isn’t the problem? According to a recent survey, commissioned by Mattress Online, 56% of women said they have resorted to sleeping in a different bed or room to get a better night’s sleep. And it turns out, your partner’s sleep really can impact how you snooze too – and therefore, how you recover from your workouts.
According to data by fitness tracker Whoop, sharing a bed is associated with a negative impact on your body. In fact, it was the third most common cause of poor recovery, beaten only by sickness and drinking alcohol, and worse than eating a late meal and being stressed.
Strong Women’s editor Miranda Larbi has noticed this impact since she moved in with her boyfriend. “When we first lived together, we were housemates in a three-bed house, so each of us had a bedroom to ourselves. That meant we could sleep together sometimes but have really deep, undisturbed night sleeps alone when we needed them.
“Recently, however, we’ve moved into a one-bed flat and both of us are sleeping much less soundly. I wake up to pee at 4am, he gets up at about 5.15 and on weekends in particular, I never get the lie in I used to look forward to. I’m about ten times as drained as I used to be.”
Is it bad to share a bed?
For some people, sharing a bed can “improve their sleep, probably in part to feelings of intimacy and security. A person who feels more at ease when sharing a bed might fall asleep faster and wake less frequently at night than when sleeping alone,” says Dr Greg Potter, chief science officer at Resilient Nutrition and one of the UK’s leading specialists in nutrition, sleep, circadian rhythms, and metabolism.
But what’s going on those of us who, like Miranda, find that sharing their bed renders them knackered? Is it really true that none of us feel secure or at ease?
Apparently, it might genuinely be the case – new relationships or new sleeping arrangements are associated with brain activity that impacts sleep. “There’s a phenomenon known as the “first-night effect” in which sleeping in an unfamiliar environment leads to shorter, lighter sleep than usual,” says Dr Potter. “This is the result of reduced sleep depth in one half of the brain, which presumably evolved to remain on guard against potential threats in the environment.”
For couples who have been together in the long term, a lack of sleep can come from that same stress response. “If you’re having relationship difficulties and you’re finding your partner stressful then you may feel on edge when you are next to them in bed,” says Dr Potter.
But then there’s the less psychological reasons, like the noise, the movement and the different sleep schedules between you and your partner. “If your partner’s alarm is waking you earlier than you would otherwise get up, you will likely lose out on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a stage of sleep that occupies a much larger proportion of sleep late in the sleep period than early in it,” adds Dr Potter. On the other hand, if someone is keeping you up past your bedtime, you’re most likely to lose out on the deep sleep stages.
“The presence of another person in bed will also influence the temperature under the sheets, which can be either good or bad for sleep,” explains Dr Potter. We need a cool room to get to sleep, as the ciracian rhythm is based around a drop in internal temperature that collates with a release of sleep hormones. Research has shown that warmer temperatures are associated with less time in restorative sleep stages, such as slow-wave and REM sleep.
How poor sleep impacts exercise
The fatigue you feel from losing out on sleep can hugely impact exercise performance and recovery. According to Dr Potter, less sleep is associated with reduced time to exhaustion during endurance exercise, like running, and slower maximum speeds in activities like cycling. In the gym, it’s also shown to reduce performance in multi-joint strength-endurance exercises (think being able to lift less when squatting for sets of 10 reps). It also reduces the ability to be powerful, explosive and reduces coordination – not great for sports like tennis and football.
“Regarding recovery, it seems that athletes who say they sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to develop certain types of injury than athletes who say they get more sleep,” Dr Potter says. One reason for that could be sleep deprivation is shown to produce hormones that result in a loss of skeletal muscle tissue.
How to sleep better when sharing a bed
Perhaps the simplest way to manage the tiredness is to have a flexible workout schedule. Plan your workouts strategically based around the days you know you’re sharing a bed – for example, don’t plan a big session for the day after you stay at your partner’s house. But if you live together, that isn’t so easy.
If you’re finding that you’re achey for days after training, tired after spending nights with your partner or simply lying awake all night listening to them snore, you need to talk to them about what’s going on. “We all make compromises in relationships, so hopefully you’ll find a solution that is acceptable for you both,” says Dr Potter. “Meet in the middle if you have quite different preferred sleep times. If noise is the problem, maybe you try earplugs. If your partner’s movement during the night is frustrating and you currently have a small bed, investing in a bigger bed might help, if feasible.”
If improving your training is the goal, see if you can you find a way to train at lunch time or in the evening. That way you can catch up with sleep in the morning, and also won’t be setting an early alarm that disrupts their sleep – this works both ways, after all.
Dr Potter also recommends a sleep divorce as being one of the best ways to find harmony in your sleep schedule, workout routine and relationship. “The term is unfortunate because the use of “divorce” contributes to stigma associated with this practice, but simply sleeping in separate beds can be so transformative,” he says.
Not everyone has the means to do that, but if it’s just fear of social judgement stopping you from hopping into the spare room, know that, “sharing a bed is not the norm in all parts of the world, and it’s of course still possible to have a committed, loving relationship if you sleep in separate beds. After all, if you sleep better then you will be a better version of yourself each day – you’ll be rested, more emotionally stable, happier, and less anxious.”
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).