When the Odd Couple Sleeps: Five Steps to Fix Conflicts in Bed

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1. First, acknowledge your differences.

The Odd Couple, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, work out their differences in bed
The Odd Couple, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, work out their differences in bed. Photo: Liaison Agency / Getty Images

If you and your bed partner don't have sleep habits in common, you may need to follow these five steps to fix your nighttime relationship conflicts. Before sending someone to the couch, it may be possible to make a few simple adjustments. Discover ways to resolve relationship conflicts in bed, from therapy for snoring and sleep apnea to insomnia treatment, and sleep better together.

Start by taking a few minutes to carefully reflect on how you and your bed partner differ in your sleep habits. It may start with what time you prefer to crawl into bed. Once there, do you go immediately to sleep? Or do you spend time watching television, reading a book, or having sex? How long do you prefer to lie there before deciding to doze off?

You may not even have the same preferences in the character of your bed, differing in the firmness or bedding options. Are you someone who likes only a sheet or do you bury yourself in blankets and a thick comforter? Are you a blanket thief, hogging them during the night? Do you like the intimacy of a smaller bed, or do you need a vast king-sized expanse to have your own space?

Do you like complete darkness or a nightlight? Is it better to have the room a little cool or warm? Do you sleep with your favorite pet at your side, or are they banned from the room?

Ideally, both bed partners would follow the general advice for good sleep habits. This, however, may not be the case –- and may prove to be a point of contention.

Finally, assess whether you have similar sleep patterns. If one of you is working nights, and the other is not, this will produce obvious difficulties. If one prefers to stay up late and the other gets up to wake the rooster, this may lead to additional conflict. The first step in addressing these differences is to realize that they exist.

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2. Speak up.

If your bed partner is disturbing your sleep, don't be afraid to speak up to address the problem
If your bed partner is disturbing your sleep, don't be afraid to speak up to address the problem. Russell Underwood/UpperCut Images/Getty Images

Like any problems in a relationship, they cannot be addressed if the other person is blissfully unaware, and this certainly extends to the bedroom. Once you have analyzed your differences, set aside some time to talk about them with your bed partner.

This conversation should occur at a neutral time when you are both relaxed and in a talking mood. This might be over dinner, after you’ve put the kids to bed, or once you’ve settled in to relax for the evening.

Though these problems can certainly be disruptive to a relationship, there does not need to be any contention in these discussions. Many of these differences aren’t a matter of choice, and there shouldn’t be any judgment about the other person.

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3. Seek middle ground.

Finding middle ground and seeking compromise may help you to sleep better together with your partner
Finding middle ground and seeking compromise may help you to sleep better together with your partner. PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

Once you have assessed the differences and made them known to your bed partner, you have to start seeking compromise to help get the issues resolved.

Recognize that you may not get your way completely. Be willing to make concessions if it will make things better. Perhaps you can tolerate the nightlight if the temperature of the room can be kept at 60 degrees instead of 80. Maybe rather than no television, it can stay on for 15 minutes before being turned off.

It will certainly depend on the differences, but in most cases a little negotiation may resolve the issue.

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4. If there are medical problems, get ’em fixed.

Snoring, sleep apnea, and insomnia may require treatment to sleep better with your bed partner
Snoring, sleep apnea, and insomnia may require treatment to sleep better with your bed partner. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Many serious medical problems disrupt the sleep of an individual and their bed partner. These will not go away with simple compromise, and should be evaluated and treated by a professional, which may involve seeing a specialist in sleep medicine.

There are a laundry list of potential sleep disruptions: snoring, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, parasomnias, REM behavior sleep disorder, and circadian rhythm disorders such as advanced and delayed sleep phase syndromes. Most of these will also bother the person with whom you are sleeping. There are also many general medical problems that may disrupt sleep.

In general, it will be necessary to see your primary care provider. If the treatment options available through this resource are ineffective, you may seek a referral to a sleep specialist. Often the diagnosis of sleep disorders will require an overnight sleep study. Snoring and insomnia can be resolved with appropriate interventions.

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5. Don’t be afraid to sleep apart to sleep better.

If you struggle to sleep with your bed partner, don't be afraid to sleep apart so that you both can feel better
If you struggle to sleep with your bed partner, don't be afraid to sleep apart so that you both can feel better.

If problems persist after analyzing the differences, making your concerns known, seeking compromise, and obtaining appropriate evaluation and treatment of medical conditions, it may be necessary to pursue the option of last resort: separate sleeping spaces.

Before dismissing this out of hand, remember that sleep is a profoundly important part of your general health and happiness. If having separate beds or bedrooms will improve the situation, then it could be your best option. You can still have sex, talk, cuddle, or bond for a short period of time at night before retreating to your separate sleeping quarters.

Hopefully with the above simple interventions, it may still be possible to enjoy sweet dreams together.

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