The Matt Walker Podcast

#33: Sleep and Sex – Part 1

October 24, 2022 Dr. Matt Walker Season 1 Episode 33
The Matt Walker Podcast
#33: Sleep and Sex – Part 1
Show Notes

A few years ago, a survey by the Sleep Council in England found that 1 in 4 people in a couple would get up during the night and go to another room to get a good night’s sleep. Following that, a report by the National Sleep Foundation in America demonstrated that almost the same number (25%) of couples admitted to sleeping in separate bedrooms. In fact, a more recent anonymous survey found that 30%-40% of couples sleep in different beds. 

Part of the societal stigma (and anxiety for individuals couples) surrounding a “sleep divorce” is the incorrect assumption that if you’re not sleeping together, then you’re not *sleeping* together. Because of the negative connotations, the world’s leading export on the topic, Dr. Wendy Troxel, has suggested renaming it a “new sleep alliance.” Whatever we call it, though, it seems clear that more people are admitting to sleeping separately. Of course, sleep divorce isn’t for everyone. Some couples feel safety and security when co-sleeping. 

The science is rather clear. On average, couples do not typically sleep as well with a partner next to them as when they are alone. When one person moves in their sleep, there’s a 50% chance that their partner will wake up or suffer worse sleep as a consequence. Moreover, the sleep-stage quantity and quality of that sleep is objectively worse across numerous metrics when sharing a bed relative to sleeping alone. 

However, there’s an interesting twist in this tale of co-sleeping: despite sleep being objectively worse, couples will often say they still feel more satisfied overall with their slumber experience when they are sleeping in the same bed. 

All of which begs the question of what are we to do here? Matt offers four actionable suggestions: 1) be honest with yourself about your sleep needs; 2) have a gentle, honest conversation with your partner about your sleep needs as a couple; 3) suggest testing out your agreed new sleep arrangement for a period of time; and 4) try to retain much of what you would get by sleeping together while you’re sleeping apart. By this, Matt means the bookends of sleep: the saying good night and good morning. It’s a small price to pay for both partners getting great sleep at night, which will also improve your relationship.

Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.

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