Early on in my career, I had the opportunity to meet with Robert Meadows, Ph.D., a sociologist from the University of Surrey, who was doing some fascinating work on the shared nature of sleep. In one study, in which he measured couples’ sleep using actigraphy, he and his colleagues showed that “one-third of the variance in sleep is accounted for at the couple level.” In other words, when looking at an individual’s sleep pattern through the night, 30% of that individual’s sleep (or lack thereof) is influenced by the bed partner’s sleep.
And in Meadow’s words, “You can no longer ignore the impact of the bed partner on one’s sleep. Interdependence may be the defining feature of relationships, and in societies where it is common for adults to share a bed, it is also perhaps the defining feature of sleep.”
Sharing a bed can be particularly detrimental to the bed partner’s sleep if the other partner is a snorer—as you can likely imagine. In fact, if you sleep with a snorer, you can blame your partner for up to 50% of sleep disruptions. Given that men are more likely to be snorers than women, this may also be why several studies have shown that women’s sleep is more disturbed than men’s when men and women share a bed.
Sleep loss can set us up for greater emotional distancing and negative conflict tactics within relationships, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention how sleep loss can negatively affect our physical connection and intimacy.