Getting a good night's sleep is a major challenge for millions of Americans. The National Institute for Health reports that more than 60 million Americans struggle with sleep issues—from waking repeatedly during the night, to snoring, to sleep apnea, to full-fledged insomnia.
But take a look at how it's affecting couples. According to a 2005 study done by the National Sleep Foundation (www.SleepFoundation.org):
- Sleep problems can be contagious. One spouse's sleep problem can cause the other spouse to lose up to an hour of sleep a night. That's 365 hours a year!
- Seventy-seven percent of respondents report that their partner has a sleep-related problem, and the most common problem is snoring.
- Seventy-eight percent of those spouses admit that they also frequently experience a sleep problem.
- One-fourth of couples have sex less often or have lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy.
- Thirty-three percent say they have problems in their relationship because of their partner's abnormal sleep.
- Twenty-three percent report that, as a result of a sleep problem, they or their partner sleeps in a separate bed, bedroom, or on the couch. "I've found when couples are forced to sleep apart because of one partner's sleep problems, it often has a terrible effect on the relationship," says Meir Kryger, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Boniface Hospital Research Center at the University of Manitoba in Winnepeg and co-chair of the 2005 study. "It's a move of last resort; the partner whose sleep is disturbed feels there is no alternative, but both partners are often devastated by this action."
If you're struggling to get your or your spouse's sleep back on track, here are some options.
Go to bed together the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning, including weekends. That way, one of you won't lie awake, staring at the ceiling, while the other is sawing logs.
Go easy on the caffeine. Limit your intake to mornings and early afternoon.
Avoid alcoholic beverages close to bedtime. You think that wine is making you drowsy and will help you sleep better? Think again.
Schedule time for intimacy. Plan to make love before you fall into bed exhausted.
Keep the bedroom a place for sleep and lovemaking. No laptops, no phones, no TV, no work.
Visit your primary care physician. See if any medical issues are present, such as depression, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea.
Try to wind down before you go to bed. Tuck in the kids, then spend some time with each other. Cuddle. Dim the lights. Listen to relaxing music. Even if it doesn't work out every night, try it at least a few times each week.
Change the lighting in your bedroom (try a three-way bulb with a dimmer switch). And add a floor fan. The white noise will help—and you'll still be able to hear any children who need attention.
Exercise. Believe it or not, being overweight can affect the quality of sleep. Having trouble getting started? Try exercising together.
Avoid talking about stressful issues—such as finances and work—after 8:00 p.m. Instead, schedule a time to discuss these problematic issues at a better time earlier in the day.
Pay attention to the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you know you need a certain number of hours a night, make a commitment to be in bed—no excuses.
John Thurman is a professional counselor, speaker, and writer. www.JohnThurman.net
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