Sleep and relationships: Beyond cuddling
Studies have shown that going to sleep with your partner by your side can give health benefits

MANILA, Philippines – Warmth and comfort aren’t the only benefits of having someone by your side during bedtime.

Studies have shown that going to sleep with your partner by your side can give health benefits, as long as both persons work out small problems in and out of the bedroom, from who gets the pillow to whatever you have been arguing over dinner.

An article published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, June 4, outlined several studies that highlighted the benefits couples get when they sleep together.

A 2009 study, led by Dr Wendy Troxel of the University of Pittsburgh, found out women had more continuous sleep when they are in long-term stable relationships, compared to single women or those who just left (or entered) a relationship.

Some possible explanations for this, according to the study, is that relationships  promote “feelings of safety and security,” and lower the stress hormone cortisol, as well as cytokines. They also boost the “love hormone” oxytocin.

“The psychological benefits we get having closeness at night trumps the objective costs of sleeping with a partner,” Troxel was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, a 2007 study published on the Sleep and Biological Rhythms journal showed how sleeping with someone by your side affects how many times a person wakes up in the middle of the night.

Women woke up more when they have someone by their side, while men slept the same when alone or when with a partner. John Dittami, lead author of the study, said that despite waking up more often when with a partner, women said they slept better, especially when they had sex.

Dittami explains, this could be due to women enjoying male presence psychologically despite sleeping less, leading to more positive feedback.

But what if you and your partner sleep at significantly different times? Or if one of you is a restless sleeper?

An older study by Jeffry Larson of the Brigham Young University showed that couples with mismatched body clocks tend to argue more and spend less time doing shared activities, including sex.

Accepting differences

Larson’s study recommended that partners having this difficulty should “accept” that they are different. To help partners adjust, Colleen Carney, an associate professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University, suggested several measures, such as “accompanying” the person sleeping earlier to bed until he/she falls asleep, then the late sleeper comes back later to go to sleep.

Another study, this time in 2010 and also co-authored by Troxel, showed that aside from sleeping patterns, what couples do during the day can interfere or enhance sleeping.

Men who slept better the previous night have lesser negative interactions with their partners the following day, according to the study. On the other hand, women sleep better if they have lesser negative interactions during the day.

In other words, how one interacts with his or her partner can affect both person’s sleeping patterns. Troxel said women “tend to drive the emotional content of the relationships.”

So for better sleep – and better relationships – resolving issues with your partner is key. Until these problems are solved, cuddling your significant other can only bring physical warmth and comfort. –

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