Waking Up Together
Learn how different sleep schedules affect people in a relationship
Jan 29th, 2021 •
For many Americans, achieving blissful sleep is no easy feat. In fact, 1 in 3 adults doesn’t get enough sleep. That’s often the case even without accommodating the sleep patterns of a potential romantic partner.
Spending nights with someone else may mean adjusting to two different bedtimes, two separate alarms, or even two separate beds. Individuals may feel they need more or less sleep than their partners to function normally – and snoring can be an issue, as can the decision to cuddle.
With all of these potential sleep preferences in mind, we surveyed 1,001 people across the country, all of whom were in romantic relationships. We learned how matching (or mismatching) sleep schedules, habits, and preferences affect everything from relationship satisfaction to sexual activity. Continue reading to discover the intimate role dyadic sleep patterns play in the modern American relationship.
As it turns out, the majority – over 60 percent – of Americans in a relationship did not share the same sleep schedules as their romantic partners. Whether this is due to work commitments or natural preferences, less than 40 percent of people in a relationship found that their sleep schedules currently aligned. With sleep playing such an important role in health and happiness, it’s easy to imagine the toll it can take on couples.
Women, however, were less likely than men to match their partners’ sleep patterns: 61.8 percent had sleeping schedules that diverged from their partners. Men, on the other hand, experienced this divergence 57.9 percent of the time. While some research has shown that women may need more sleep than their male counterparts, mismatching sleep schedules can take energetic tolls on any person, regardless of their gender.
Of all the generations studied, Gen Xers were the least likely to match their romantic partners’ sleep schedules. Almost 66 percent of those aged between 39 and 54 were not aligned. The generation most often in sleep sync? Millennials. This generation matched their partners’ sleep schedules over 42 percent of the time.
Thirteen percent of our respondents also admitted to having separate bedrooms from their partners. This may have to do with the relationship between separate beds and separate schedules: Of those who decided to forgo a shared bed, 86 percent had different sleep schedules. If diverging dyadic sleep patterns interfere with the relationship, this may be an option romantic couples want to consider. Some therapists believe that sleeping in separate rooms can actually foster the health of a relationship, regardless of sleeping habits.
13% of respondents said they sleep in a different room than their partner. Of these respondents, 86% followed a different sleep schedule than their partner.
Sleeping Well Together
Focusing only on respondents with different sleep schedules, we examined their particular habits that correlated with the inability to sleep and rise in sync with their partners. The most common issue was simply that one person took longer to fall asleep than the other: 39.6 percent cited this as the primary reason for their diverging sleep schedules. Conflicting work schedules prevented synced sleep schedules as well.
Falling asleep, however, was only a part of the problem. Respondents’ varied wake-up times prevented the alignment of sleep schedules also. Nearly 31 percent of respondents said their sleep schedules diverged due to their partner waking up earlier, while 26.7 percent said their partners woke up later.
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Streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu are no strangers to the bedroom either. Nineteen percent of respondents with diverging sleep patterns blamed their status quo on their partner choosing to watch TV or movies before bed. Another 11 percent complained about their partners using their phones before bed.
Couples’ Beauty Sleep
For some, even seven-plus hours of sleep don’t result in a “refreshed” morning feeling upon waking. When respondents shared similar sleep schedules with their partners, 52.9 percent woke up feeling refreshed. Less than half – 47.1 percent – felt refreshed when their sleeping schedule conflicted with their partner’s. Moreover, respondents who followed a different sleep schedule than their partner were 52 percent more likely to feel fatigued in the morning.
Of course, feeling refreshed is much more likely if you have more time to rest. Hours of sleep also varied depending on the alignment of respondents’ sleep patterns. Those with conflicting sleep schedules obtained an average of 6.5 hours of sleep each night, while partners whose sleeping patterns were more aligned slept an average of 6.9 hours. For our sleeping-in-sync respondents, this added an extra 2.8 hours of sleep every week. With the busyness of modern life, this gift is no small thing.
Sleeping for Relationship Satisfaction
Satisfaction within a relationship depends on a variety of factors, one of which is sleep. For the most part, our respondents agreed (over 81 percent) that following an aligned sleep schedule as a couple promotes a healthy relationship. Those who shared a sleep schedule with their partner were satisfied with their romantic relationships almost 88 percent of the time, compared to 83.7 percent of people whose sleep schedules diverged from their partner’s.
This increased satisfaction may have to do with the more intimate qualities that sleep can affect in a relationship. People with a similar sleep schedule as their partner were over 3 percentage points more likely to trust their partner than respondents whose sleep schedules conflicted.
Gratitude, however, most significantly separated the satisfied from the unsatisfied. More than 69 percent of people who shared a similar sleep schedule with their partner frequently expressed gratitude in their relationships. This percentage actually increased among partners who did not share sleep schedules: Divergent romantic sleepers expressed frequent gratitude 74.4 percent of the time. This additional sense of gratitude may come from not spending as much time with their partner and feeling more grateful for their presence when enjoying time together.
According to some psychiatrists, gratitude can help strengthen all relationships. If you and your partner are fortunate enough to share a similar sleep schedule, perhaps that can be the theme of your first expression of gratitude for your loved one.
The Intersection of Sleep and Sexuality
The frequency with which a couple has sex has long been considered a barometer for the health of the relationship. That sexual health within the relationship, in turn, can depend on whether a couple can sleep and rise at similar times. Couples with similar sleep schedules had sex an average of eight times per month, whereas couples with conflicting sleep schedules only shared this intimacy six times each month, on average.
Overall satisfaction with respondents’ sex life also strongly correlated with sleeping schedule alignment. Respondents with conflicting sleep schedules were more than twice as likely as people with similar sleep schedules to be dissatisfied with their sex life. If sexual satisfaction is truly the barometer for the health of a relationship, it then becomes even more important to find a way to align your sleeping schedule and patterns with those of your partner.
Upsides and Downsides
Ultimately, the grass always seems greener on the other side. Whether you choose to follow the same sleep schedule, there are definite positives and negatives associated with both options. We asked respondents whose sleep patterns diverged from their partner to let us in on both the benefits and drawbacks of diverging sleep schedules.
As far as drawbacks go, 32.7 percent felt that less time with their partner was a major drawback to sleeping at a different time. Another 27.8 percent agreed there was a loss of intimacy incurred, and 15.1 percent experienced feelings of loneliness at night.
On the brighter side of things, over 19 percent of people who slept separately agreed it was easier to fall asleep if their significant other followed a different sleep schedule. Almost 19 percent found additional free time in the morning, while 14.7 percent got more sleep when on their own sleep schedule.
To Cuddle or Not to Cuddle
Overall, 40 percent of people in a relationship followed a similar sleep schedule as their partner. Of those people, 43 percent fell asleep cuddling with their partner. Studies have shown that cuddling your partner, even for 10 minutes, can trigger the release of chemicals that not only help you feel close to your partner but also help you decompress after a stressful day.
If cuddling does, in fact, encourage bonding and downgrade stress levels, it may be something partners want to try before bed, even if they prefer to forgo physical contact while attempting to fall asleep. That said, 16 percent of our respondents said they followed a “no touching” rule within their relationships at bedtime. However, of those who did fall asleep cuddling, 75.9 percent slept well at night, compared to 60 percent of those who chose not to cuddle.
Sleep On It
Just as couples may disagree over choices of restaurants and movies, so too can a couple disagree over how to sleep. Cuddling may be an option, snoring may be a problem, and lighting may be non-negotiable. Nonetheless, our research has shown a strong correlation between syncing sleep patterns with your partner and sleeping longer and better.
Ultimately, you and your partner know what’s right for your relationship. With sleep playing such an integral role both within and outside of that relationship, it’s important to broach the topic. Straightforward and honest communication will always foster healthier outcomes and so will a good solid night’s rest. At Mattress Advisor, we can help improve your sleep as well with a team of experts who can personalize a mattress recommendation to your individual needs. Head over to start finding your way to better sleep and refreshed mornings.
Methodology and Limitations
For this study, we administered online surveys through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk – a crowdsourcing marketplace. We collected responses from 1,001 people in an active relationship to explore how similar and diverging sleep patterns affect sleep quality and relationship measures such as satisfaction, trust, and gratitude. Any respondent who failed the screener questions were not permitted to take the survey. To keep labels concise, we defined “similar sleep patterns” as couples who typically fall asleep and wake up at the same time. Inversely, couples who don’t fall asleep and wake up at the same time were grouped as having “diverging sleep patterns.” Some answer choices were reworded for brevity.
Of the 1,001 people polled, 44.5 percent identified as male, and 55.5 were female. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 73 with a mean of 37 and a standard deviation of 11. Additionally, 10.5 percent were a part of the baby boomer cohort, 26.5 percent belonged to Generation X, and 60.6 percent were millennials. The remaining respondents (2.4 percent) were from Generation Z or the silent generation. Only generations with a sufficient sample size of 26 were included in the generational breakdowns. To ensure the accuracy of our findings, we employed attention-check questions throughout the survey. Respondents who either failed to answer the attention-check questions correctly or entered inconsistent data were ejected from the survey. Outliers were also excluded.
To measure the frequency of gratitude expressed in relationships, we used a Validated Scale of Expression of Gratitude in Relationships Measure from the Association of Psychological Science (APS). The “Benefits of Expressing Gratitude: Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Changes One’s View of the Relationship” was conducted by Nathaniel M. Lambert, Margaret S. Clark, Jared Durtschi, Frank D. Fincham, and Steven M. Graham.
We didn’t have a validated measure for relationship satisfaction and trust, so we designed our own. To gauge relationship satisfaction, we utilized a 7-point scale (with 1 extremely dissatisfied and 5 extremely satisfied). To measure trust among couples, we asked participants the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “In general, you can trust your partner” and relied on a 6-point scale (with 1 very strongly agree and 6 very strongly disagree) as an answer choice.
The main limitation of the analysis is that the survey relies on self-reported data. There are a variety of issues with self-reporting because the data are subject but not limited to exaggeration, telescoping, and attribution. These findings haven’t undergone statistical testing and, therefore, are based on means alone.
Fair Use Statement
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