At some point in your life, you may share a bed with a partner. Sleeping next to them during the early stages of the relationship may feel comfortable. Eventually, you or your partner might start to spend more time wanting space in bed than cuddled up all night. Some people worry this shift indicates something is wrong.
Sleep positions are often chosen based on what feels comfortable in that moment of sleep. That said, there is some research suggesting that a couple’s sleeping positions and patterns may give some insight into the health of the relationship.
Challenges of Sleeping With a Partner
Many people choose to share a bed with their partner. While this may be an act of intimacy during the first few months of the relationship, sleeping with a partner can impact relationship health. Sleep problems and relationship issues tend to follow similar patterns in that during times of significant relationship stress, sleep satisfaction is also impacted.
Sleeping with a partner may mean that you are sleeping in a position that is new and different for you. Adults tend to shift positions throughout the night. Sleepers generally spend 54% of the time on their side, more than 37% of the night back sleeping, and 7% stomach sleeping. If sharing the bed restricts your movements and keeps you from moving between comfortable positions, stiffness and pain upon waking could potentially occur.
Benefits of Sleeping With a Partner
Sleeping with your partner can positively impact your mental health and overall wellbeing. Intimacy between couples goes beyond sex, and when you sleep with your partner, your heart rhythms synchronize. If you touch while sleeping, that can lead to further benefits. Physical touch can prompt the release of oxytocin, which is soothing and makes you feel less stressed.
Sleeping with your partner may also improve your sleep. There is evidence to suggest that co-sleeping with a partner increases REM sleep in addition to sleep quality and time spent asleep. Additionally, sleeping naked with a partner can potentially promote better self-esteem.
What do Couples’ Sleep Positions Mean?
Researchers haven’t extensively studied the meaning of couples’ sleep positions. One psychologist, in partnership with a hotel chain, did survey 2,000 couples about their sleep positions, however. This expert also has hypotheses about what different sleep positions might indicate, although these meanings would need further study to be verified as true.
Spooning, in which both partners sleep on their sides, with one facing the back of the other partner, is a classic sleeping position for romantic partners. A reported 18% of couples sleep in a spooning position at night.
How closely you and your partner spoon could be more telling than the position itself. Researchers have found that the farther apart a couple sleeps, the less close of a relationship they have. If you and your partner spoon tightly, this may suggest relationship closeness.
During the warmer months, spooning may be too uncomfortable for some. If you want an intimate sleeping position that doesn’t cause you to overheat, you could try sleeping apart but facing each other. In this position, you can lightly touch each other’s hands instead of embracing.
When sleeping back-to-back, both members of a couple lie on their side, but facing opposite directions. The name of this way of sleeping depends on if bodies are touching or not. When they are touching, this couples’ sleep position is called the cherish position. When bodies are not touching, this is called the liberty position.
If one partner is sleeping in the fetal position, it may indicate they’re feeling anxious or sensitive. If this is the case, it may help to set aside five minutes before bed to connect with each other and address any anxieties before going to sleep.
Back-to-back sleeping could also mean that you’re comfortable and secure in your relationship and you don’t need constant touch to feel grounded. Back-to-back sleepers may have been in their relationship longer and prioritized sleeping comfort over cuddling.
When you and your partner are sleeping on the opposite side of the bed, as far apart as you can get from one another, this may indicate a rupture in the relationship. Maybe you have recently had a fight or a disagreement. Taking time apart to decompress and calm down is considered an appropriate way to approach any rupture in a relationship.
Sleeping in the cliffhanger position also has a practical explanation. This position is most likely the best temperature option for couples who sleep hot or are sleeping in hot environments.
Sleeping intertwined with your partner — also called the lovers’ knot — is an intimate sleeping position that involves sleeping face-to-face in an embrace, with legs intertwined. Eight percent of couples sleep in this position. It could indicate that you are extremely close to your partner. It could also signify that you are in the early stage of your relationship and enjoying the process of bonding.
This position may become uncomfortable or even result in limbs falling asleep. As a result, many couples prefer to only stay in this position for ten minutes or so before adjusting into another position.
Head on Shoulder
Lying with your head on your partner’s shoulder, as they lie on their back with their arm around you, is not only a position of closeness, but also of protection. Only 4% of couples report sleeping in this position.
Maybe you gravitate toward this position because of stress, and your partner is subconsciously holding you close to help you feel safe and protected. Because this position often interferes with spinal alignment, it may result in neck pain or numbness in your arms. As a result, this position may not be a viable option for all-night sleep.
How to Get Better Sleep With Your Partner
People often report nighttime wakings due to a partner tossing or turning. Sleep disruptions can be caused by a variety of issues and an old mattress can be one of them. Investing in a mattress that is designed for couples may be the first step in reducing sleep disruptions when with your partner. New sheets and new pillows may also help you feel more comfortable and fall asleep faster. Trying other sleep aids, like earplugs or an eye mask, may help you and your partner get a good night’s sleep, together.
Dr. Wendy Troxel, a behavioral and social scientist, advocates for finding a sleeping agreement that works for both partners, even if it is not the social norm. While the current social assumption is that couples sleep together, sleeping apart may work better for some. Talk to your partner about what type of sleeping arrangement they feel most comfortable with, and leave space for uncommon or new ways of approaching sleep as a couple. You might find a solution that leaves both of you feeling more rested and rejuvenated than if you slept in the same bed.
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