Sleep Problems for Couples

Sleep Problems Couples Fight About Most
disturbing the sleep
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It's the ultimate his/hers dilemma: What to do when differences in sleep preferences keep you from sharing a bed comfortably with your mate? Unfortunately, it's all too common. In a 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey, nearly one in four married couples reported sleeping in separate beds or even separate rooms. Here, the ten most common problems and how to solve them.

Problem: He wants it pitch dark; she needs to see her way to the bathroom.


  • A nightlight. Put a nightlight in the bathroom, then keep the door closed. The crack of light under the door will guide the way.

  • A flashlight or book light next to bed. Keep a small light on the bedside table to use as guide; point it at the floor so you don't wake your partner.

Problem: She prefers a soft mattress; he wants firm support.


  • An adjustable split mattress. We've all heard the radio ads for mattress systems that allow each side to be adjusted separately. Well, they work, say couples afflicted by this problem. One partner can adjust for firm support, while the other gets a softer surface.

  • A topper on half the mattress. A cheaper alternative to a sleep-system bed is to layer a soft foam topper on one half of the bed.

  • Two twins under one sheet. This innovative solution is used by many couples, but it requires a bit of creativity. A twin mattress is 39 by 75 inches, while an eastern or standard king bed is 80 by 76. So each of you can choose a twin mattress you like. Then you push them together and cover with one king-sized fitted sheet -- turned sideways.

Problem: He snores; she's a light sleeper.


  • Snore-stopper nose bands. Anything that stops or reduces snoring is going to help both partners sleep better. Experiment with nose bands, which you can buy at your local drugstore.

  • Ear plugs. If nothing works to stop him from snoring, you'll have to protect your ears. There are many types of ear plugs; experiment until you find a type that truly blocks noise without irritating your ears, or ask your doctor to recommend a product.

  • CPAP treatment for snoring. In a study at Rush University, when a snorer underwent two weeks of treatment using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), the partner's sleep efficiency jumped, her quality of life improved -- and the couple's marital satisfaction score improved. CPAP involves using a device that prevents the upper airway from collapsing, preventing snoring.

Problem: She needs to get up early; he can't stand the sound of a ticking clock or an alarm.


  • Sleep with your cell phone. Cell phones don't tick, and you can personalize the alarm to be a sound you both find more pleasant, such as a gong or harp. You can also set your phone's alarm to vibrate only and keep it inside your pillowcase.

  • Set your watch. The ultimate in personalized alarms, some watches can be set to wake you up. The close proximity to you should ensure it doesn't disturb your partner.

  • A truly silent clock. There are silent clocks; they're just hard to find. Go to a store that allows you to product-test, and find a clock that doesn't tick, click, rattle, or hum.

Problem: She likes to read in bed; he's kept awake by the light.


  • The iPad. Thanks to the option to dim the screen, the iPad is a great tool for readers who don't want to bother their bed partners.

  • A book light. Buy a mini book light, which gives off very little glow, then use it under the covers or with a pillow blocking the light.

More sleep problems couples fight about most

Problem: He has restless legs; she can't stand getting kicked.


  • Treat restless leg syndrome. A sleep expert can prescribe medications that in many cases can prevent or reduce the feeling of antsiness that makes restless leg syndrome sufferers kick out in their sleep.

  • A king-sized bed. That extra 16 inches in width can be just enough room to keep a partner safe from kicking legs.

  • Separate beds. Yes, this is the solution you've been avoiding. But if the other option is getting kicked awake, sleeping a few feet apart is preferable.

Problem: He likes the room warm; she needs it cool or wakes up sweating.


  • A fan. Use a small personal fan on the bedside table at the side of the hot sleeper.

  • Add a blanket. Double up a blanket or quilt on one side of the bed but not the other, or use a twin-sized electric blanket on one side.

  • Compensate with clothes. If he likes it warm, he can be toasty in flannel PJs, while she cools off in her birthday suit.

Problem: He prefers to sleep on the left-hand side and hates the right; so does she.


  • Address the underlying issue. If you figure out what it is about that side that's important to each of you, you might be able to address it. Is it that you sleep on your left side and prefer to face away from your partner because of his breath? A little dental hygiene might make all the difference. Or maybe you need to use the bathroom frequently and that side of the bed's closer? Solve the problem by moving the bed.

  • Take turns. It's not ideal, but having what you want half the time is better than not at all. Switch sides at the beginning of every month, preferably on laundry day.

Problem: She likes to watch reruns on TV or her laptop in bed; the noise keeps him awake.


  • Headphones. Using headphones with the TV or laptop prevents the sound from disturbing others. If the light is also a problem, he can try eyeshades.

  • Ban screens from the bedroom an hour before bed. Sleep experts say it's important to stop watching TV and using computers an hour before bedtime, as the light prevents the body's circadian rhythms from progressing to sleepiness.

Problem: He has to get up frequently to use the bathroom; she wakes up and can't get back to sleep.


  • Soft slippers. Keep foam slippers next to the bed to mask footfalls.

  • No drinking after dinner. Restricting fluids after 8 p.m. can prevent the need for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

over 4 years, said...

Any comments on 'night owls' sleeping with earlier evening retirees? Is the answer compromise? Or separate bedrooms? ;oD Also, what about those who have higher thermostats and get too hot with the required blankets of the chillier partner? What about those who require 'white noise' but the other wants complete silence?

over 6 years, said...

Sleeping in the same room with someone that has drastically different sleeping preferences can be difficult. A few issues that I personally face with my girlfriend is different bedtimes, different temperature preferences, wanting to read vs. not wanting to read, etc. Likewise, it can be very difficult when couples have different work schedules and thus go to sleep and get up at different times. One way we deal with the reading difference is by using a book light that attaches directly to the book. These lights provide minimal distractions to the person trying to sleep and still provide enough light to read. In regards to different sleeping temperature preferences, we used different blankets for years. However, these blankets would often times fall off the bed because they would be pushed to one side. A friend recommended a product called the Twovet ( which is a pretty neat idea. It's a blanket with two different thicknesses which looks much better than many different blankets. Although it is a little on the expensive side, it has saved a lot of hassle in deciding which blankets or comforter to use. It also makes my girlfriend happy because it looks much classier than a few different colored blankets.

about 7 years, said...

Simple solutions to nagging everyday problems for couples. Thanks indeed.

over 7 years, said...

obvious, obvious, obvious. No one ever suggested what works best if/when all else fails, and it often does -because women are chronic insomniacs for many medical and non-medical reasons, and most men snore for medical and non-medical reasons (some women do, too - even more than men!) . You need two rooms, two beds, and conjugal visits - REGULARLY! Everyone sleeps better and you even enjoy the sex more. Maybe not as often, but probably more.

over 7 years, said...

I dont have any problem, I just want to be hugged while sleeping

over 7 years, said...

Melanie Haiken-editor, has her advise all wrong on putting 2 twin mattresses together and adding the fitted sheet--turned sideways. Make no since to me. I do beleive that one could be creative by purchasing 2 twin (X-LONG 38"x80") matresses fitted next to each other that would equal the exact same size as a eastern king which is 76"x80". Then there is no need to jerry-rig your sheet set by turning it side ways.

over 7 years, said...

Well...the sleep apnea solution won't work for us because my husband doesn't want to address it. He would rather just 'put up' with it. Yes, he's the one with SE. He also has restless leg syndrom, so he needs all of our king-sized bed. He already takes blood pressure meds, so he has no interest in adding to his list of prescriptions. He also has tenitus (ringing in the ear), so he wakes up easily. Worse still, he hates to be anywhere near me while sleeping; any closeness wakes him up. In short, he's a very restless, loud, tactile sensitive, light sleeper. When I slept in our bed, I was allowed all of 12 inches along the edge of the mattress and had to keep my back to him, because even the sound of my breathing woke him up. So...we sleep in different beds in different rooms, with said rooms at opposite ends of the house from each other. Not the best solution to our problem, but - it's better than a divorce (I do love him, despite his idiocynracies). So, in short, any problem is solveable IF the person with the problem wants resolution. If they would rather just suffer than go through the temporary discomfort or to adopt changes that would benefit, then no matter how miraculous a pill or apparatus is, it will do little good. Just saying.