I'm Thinking About Sleeping - And Science

06/09/2017 10:13 am ET

So, I have to admit it, I haven’t given much thought to sleep. That is before I met Dan Gartenberg.

Daniel Gartenberg, PhD / Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn State
Photo: Steven Rosenbaum
Daniel Gartenberg, PhD / Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn State

Dr. Dan is a sleep doctor, and a fellow TED Resident. He’s also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn State, studying how we can get a better, more restorative sleep. He wrote an awesome blog post, and I’m sharing it here.

How your sleep environment can save your relationship (and your sanity)

Sleeping with a partner can be tricky. No matter how much you love your significant other, sometimes you can’t wait for them to go out of town so you can finally plop down in the middle of the bed and spread out to your heart’s content. Whether your partner is hot as a furnace, won’t turn off the TV, or is making noise way past your bedtime, read on to see how a few small changes to your sleep environment can help you feel refreshed after a night’s sleep - and keep you from buying twin beds for you and your beloved!

1. Split blankets, not beds

Your body naturally regulates its temperature during the day and during most sleep stages. This is called thermoregulation. Basically, we shiver when we’re cold and sweat when we’re hot. These important body functions cease when we’re in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. As a result, our bodies have trouble regulating our temperature during REM. If your partner likes it hot in the room and you get sweaty, then your body could shift you out of REM and into a lighter sleep stage, so that your body can start regulating your temperature again. This decreases the quality of your sleep. Since your body shifts you into a lighter sleep stage if you’re too hot or too cold, you don’t spend as much time in restorative REM.

It’s crucial that your body stays at its optimal temperature for sleep (~68-72°), so consider investing in a separate comforter for yourself. If you’re constantly hot while your partner is always cold, let them use a heavy blanket and get a lighter one for yourself. Keep in mind that women generally run a few degrees colder than men. A blanket that makes a man nice and cozy might not be enough for a woman, while a man might sweat under the heavy blanket that his sleeping partner loves.

Changing your blankets to suit your personal temperature needs can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. So break up with your shared comforter, and enjoy better sleep with your partner.

2. Change your lighting to wake up rested

Find yourself unable to wake up in the morning? Many Americans find themselves pushing the snooze button 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5 or 6…) times every morning before they can finally wake up. If you’re one of these people, then changing your light exposure before you go to sleep, during the night, and after you wake up can have a huge impact on how you feel in the morning.

If you expose yourself to light right when you wake up, it will become easier to wake up in the mornings. Conversely, if you are exposed to light before you go to sleep and throughout the night, then it will be harder and harder for you to wake up.

Your habits might be subtly harming the other person’s sleep quality if you and your partner have different sleep schedules. When you go to sleep after your partner, make sure you aren’t exposing them to light, and be careful not to wake them up by adding light to their sleep environment. Use your phone or a flashlight instead of turning on the light, and close the bathroom door before you turn on that light!

Early risers should be sure to keep the sleep environment dark, but make sure to expose yourself to as much bright light as possible to help wake yourself up. Try using a wake-up lamp in your bathroom to help jump-start your day. Wake-up lamps should emit at least 10,000 Lux of lights in order to mirror the light of the sun. Check out our Blog about wake up lamps here.

If you sleep longer than your partner, encourage them to shine all the lights they can - just not anywhere near you! To ensure that you get a good night’s sleep, eye masks are an inexpensive way to keep light from affecting your sleep.

Whether you and your partner are early birds or night owls, going into another room and limiting light exposure while one of you is sleeping will help each person get their best night’s sleep possible.

3. Turn the noise down and turn up your sleep

Just as light can seriously affect your sleep, noise pollution can also decrease the quality of your sleep. Any sound your partner makes, like watching TV, listening to music, chatting with others, or snoring loudly, can negatively impact your quality of sleep. Even if your partner is in other parts of your home, any noise they make can penetrate your sleep and lead to you feeling tired and poorly rested in the morning.

White noise and other relaxing sounds can help mitigate the effects of nighttime noise and snoring, because white noise muffles those stirring sounds. Try playing white noise from your computer, phone, or a white noise machine while you sleep. The SleepMaker app has tons of different sleeping sounds to help lull you to sleep and keep noise from disturbing you, and you can customize how long you want the sound to play.

If your significant other can’t part with their TV or music while in bed, ask them to wear headphones. Or, you can take matters into your own hands and wear earplugs before you go to bed. Earplugs can help you get a higher quality sleep if your partner snores or talks in their sleep or if there is a noise pollution outside your window, like car horns or traffic. Some people find that wax earplugs are best; others love their silicone or standard polyurethane ones. Either way, be sure to squash any sound that comes your way, and you’ll be waking up refreshed in no time.

Your sleep is too important to ignore. If you and your partner have different sleeping habits, don’t fret! By making these easy changes to your nighttime routine, you can have restful, rejuvenating sleep. Remember to be selfish with your blankets, limit your light exposure, and keep the noise to a minimum when you’re sleeping. By following these suggestions, your best night’s sleep can be tonight!

To learn more about Dan and his work, check out his website: www.sonicsleepcoach.com.

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