Does sharing a bed affect sleep?

However you sleep well — whether it’s with CBD, eye masks, warm baths, or avoiding screens — getting a good night’s sleep for eight hours a night is crucial for brain and body function. And when you exercise regularly, the most important thing you need is a good nap to rebuild your muscles, support your hormones, and give you enough energy to get back to training the next day. But what if your sleep isn’t the problem?

It turns out that your partner’s sleep can also have a huge impact on how you doze off — and therefore how you recover from your workout. According to data from fitness tracker Whoop, sharing a bed is associated with negative effects on recovery. In fact, it was the third leading cause of poor recovery, beaten only by illness and alcohol use, and was worse than late meals and being stressed.

Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi has noticed this effect since moving in with her boyfriend. “When we first lived together, we were roommates in a three-bed house, so we each had a bedroom to ourselves. This meant we could sometimes sleep together but really have deep, uninterrupted sleep on our own when we needed it.

“However, we recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment and we both sleep much worse. I wake up at 4am to pee, he gets up around 5:15am and especially on weekends I never get the lie I used to look forward to. I’m about ten times as drained as I used to be.”

Is it bad to share a bed?

For some people, sharing a bed “can improve their sleep, probably in part through a sense of intimacy and security. A person who is more comfortable sharing a bed may fall asleep faster and wake up less at night than when they sleep alone,” says Dr. Greg Potter, Chief Science Officer at Resilient Nutrition and one of the UK’s leading specialists in nutrition, sleep, circadian rhythms and metabolism. But what about those of us who, like Miranda, find that sharing our bed leaves us drained? Is it really true that none of us feel safe or comfortable?

A couple sharing a bed
Sharing a bed with a partner could either put you at ease or make you jittery

Apparently, it really could be the case — new relationships or new sleep arrangements are linked to brain activities that affect sleep. “There’s a phenomenon known as the ‘first night effect,’ where sleeping in an unfamiliar environment results in a shorter and lighter sleep than usual,” says Dr. Potter. “This is the result of a reduced depth of sleep in a brain hemisphere that presumably evolved to stay alert to potential environmental threats.”

In couples who have been together for a long time, lack of sleep can result from the same stress response. “If you’re struggling in your relationship and find your partner stressful, you may feel nervous lying in bed next to them,” says Dr. Potter.

But then there are the less psychological reasons, like the noise, the exercise, and the different sleep schedules between you and your partner. “If your partner’s alarm clock wakes you up earlier than you would otherwise get up, you’re likely losing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a sleep stage that occupies a much larger portion of sleep late in the sleep stage than early in it,” adds dr Potter added. On the other hand, if someone keeps you up past your bedtime, you will most likely lose out in the deep sleep stages.

“The presence of another person in bed also affects the temperature under the covers, which can be either good or bad for sleep,” explains Dr. Potter. We need a cool room to fall asleep, since the circadian rhythm is based on a drop in internal temperature, which is accompanied by a release of sleep hormones. Research has shown that warmer temperatures are associated with less time in restorative sleep stages like slow wave and REM sleep.

How poor sleep affects training

The fatigue you feel from lack of sleep can have a huge impact on exercise performance and recovery. according to dr Potter is associated with less sleep with shorter time to exhaustion in endurance sports like running and slower top speeds in activities like cycling. In the gym, it’s also been shown to decrease performance on multi-joint strength-endurance exercises (remember, if you’re doing 10-rep squat sets, you can lift less). It also decreases the ability to be powerful and explosive and decreases coordination – not good for sports like tennis and soccer.

“In terms of recovery, it appears that athletes who say they sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to develop certain types of injuries than athletes who say they get more sleep,” says Dr. Potter. One reason could be that sleep deprivation produces hormones that lead to a loss of skeletal muscle tissue.

A woman using a squat rack at the gym
Fatigue in the gym can lead to reduced performance and the risk of injury

How to sleep better when sharing a bed

Perhaps the easiest way to get fatigue under control is with a flexible exercise schedule. Strategically plan your workouts based on the days you know you’ll be sharing a bed — for example, don’t plan a big session for the day after you’re at your partner’s house. But when you live together, it’s not that easy.

If you find yourself in pain for days after a workout, tired after spending nights with your partner, or just lying up all night listening to them snore, you need to talk to them about what’s going on. “We all compromise in relationships, so hopefully you can find a solution that’s acceptable to both of you,” says Dr. Potter. “Meet in the middle if you have very different sleeping preferences. If noise is the problem, maybe try ear plugs. If your partner’s movement during the night is frustrating and you currently have a small bed, it may help to invest in a larger bed if possible.”

If the goal is to improve your workout, try working out at lunchtime or in the evening. This way you can catch up on sleep in the morning and don’t set an early alarm that disturbs your sleep – after all, it works both ways.

dr Potter also recommends a sleep separation as one of the best ways to find harmony in your sleep schedule, exercise routine, and relationship. “The term is unfortunate because the use of ‘divorce’ contributes to the stigma associated with the practice, but simply sleeping in separate beds can be so transformative,” he says. Not everyone has the means to do so, but if it’s just fear of social judgment that’s stopping you from hopping into the guest room, know that “sharing a bed isn’t the norm in all parts of the world, and it is.” Of course, it’s still possible to have a solid, loving relationship if you sleep in separate beds. Because when you sleep better, you’ll be a better version of yourself every day – you’ll be more rested, emotionally stable, happier, and less anxious.”

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