Sleeping with the Enemy

I’ve been prompted to write this piece because recently I seem to be seeing a lot of people who struggle to share their bed with their partner. I’ve also experienced this first hand and it’s no joke. Love and/or connection aren’t the issue. It’s simply about compatibility once you hit the sack (and not in that way). This is important because we need our rest – perhaps more than we ever have done; life is so fast-paced and demanding. We need to recharge and replenish at night so that we can face the day and whatever it brings. But what if you simply can’t share your cave with this human being?

Many of the people I work with are very sensitive human beings. In fact, in my first book Tired but Wired I distinguish Sensitive Sleepers (sleep is easily affected by sights, sounds and smells, need their own side of the bed, travel with their own pillow and/or blanket, can’t sleep if they’re stressed) from Martini Sleepers (can sleep anytime, anyplace, anywhere, can sleep on a problem, don’t understand why I have a job!!). Such Sensitives are also very aware of other people, they tend to be highly empathetic to the point of too readily taking on other’s problems, are often attracted to caring or healing professions and therefore need to be very mindful of emotional boundaries.

I recently worked with a woman who had all of these sensitive characteristics. She especially needed her sleep as she was recovering from breast cancer – but she wasn’t getting it because of the ‘sleep incompatibility’ with her Martini partner who snored horrendously. She’d lie there listening to him breathe, snuffle and snore and feeling a nervous hyper-alertness in her body and mind. Her relationship with her boyfriend was close but her inability to sleep with him had resulted in them sleeping apart which was causing them both heartache and putting a strain on the relationship.

We discussed the options:

The bed – you need to get the biggest bed you can fit in your bedroom, ideally designed so your partner’s movements don’t disturb you. Change your mattress every 7 years or so as it loses its elasticity and supportive properties. Separate duvets are good if one of you is a duvet hogger and white noise or at least a fan in the room can act as a buffer (to some extent) against intrusive snores and snuffles.

Conscious communication – She read Gary Chapman’s excellent ‘The Five Love Languages’ and worked out how to communicate – with some delicacy – their differences starting with talking to her boyfriend and explaining the difference in their ‘sleep personalities’. She also – again with some delicacy – encouraged him to increase his hydration levels, reduce his alcohol intake, remove the TV from the bedroom, and exercise regularly to tone his respiratory airways.

Practice sleeping together – we talked about them practicing having a nap together. These naps could be done over the weekend, for no longer than 20-30 minutes at a time and at some point between 2 and 4pm. During this time they were to do nothing else but rest ;

Separate caves – finally we talked about them lovingly negotiating when they would sleep together and when they would sleep apart depending on her level of tiredness and what she had on the next day. The emphasis in their communication was on building trust and being able to share openly without blame.

I haven’t needed to see my client again as she recently sent me an email saying that not only had the situation improved but that she and her partner were now being ‘playfully curious’ about sharing their sleeping space and that it now no longer seemed to be ‘a thing’.

There’s a line Kahlil Gibran’s poem on marriage which is beautifully relevant – ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness’. There are times when sharing your cave just has to be navigated with loving consciousness and a light touch of playfulness.

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