I was amused last week when the media summarized new findings about how well men and women sleep when they share the same bed. If you're a woman, let me guess: you'd say your partner sleeps better. You have to contend with his snoring and abrupt shifting around, which awakens you easily. Now there's proof in the pudding. Men are indeed more likely to sleep better than you in the same bed. And here's the kicker: they also are more likely to be snoozing soundly because of your nearby warmth.
There were two items in the particular to read in between the lines from the study and that every woman should heed:
1) it's not abnormal to have fragmented sleep during the night; and
2) seeking solutions to living with a bad bed partner--without having to vacate--can be key to keeping the love. (As an aside, why is it the woman is always the one to entertain such a move? A topic for another day.)
First, it's not surprising that women are more likely to be "light" sleepers and experience fragmented sleep throughout the night as a result. Researchers speculate that brain wiring differences can be the cause. Which could be rooted in evolution--ahem: historically, women are the caretakers tending to middle-of-the-night emergencies and cries coming from the children's dens. Okay, so I know there are some men out there who've taken on these roles, too. But in mainstream family circles, women often carry the caretaker's torch and feel obligated to stay semi-awake even while their teens, for example, are out on a Saturday night.
But the new findings highlight something else that's worthy of lively conversation: how much we value our literal "bedtime" with our partners. Contrary to popular stereotypes, studies show that men are very dependent on close relationships, and men show much clearer benefits from committed relationships. Studies and anecdotal evidence also say that married men are happier and healthier than their unmarried counterparts. But this isn't necessarily the case for women. (I won't comment on that today.)
Granted, we all can agree that the quality of our sleep factors into the quality of our lives in general. But who knew we'd be able to say that unattached men could be taking on bigger health risks than married men (whose wives of course still bunk with them)?
I'd venture to guess that women who do have less-than-perfect bed partners would love to find solutions to getting a restful night's sleep without moving out. You shouldn't have to simply give up and become a member of the 23 percent club who sleep apart from their partner.
Sleep docs like me recommend conquering the sleep problems before taking desperate measures that can put a crimp in your romantic--and dare I say sexual--life. At the end of the day, there's something primal-y comforting about snuggling next to a beloved partner. Whether or not this behavior translates to better health for women or not, I think women can admit that sharing a restful night's sleep is an ideal to live up to. Don't you think?
PS: If you need help finding the right solution to your snoring partner, click here. (Yes, shameless advertising for my own site, but there's just too much info to replicate it here.)
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor