Why jumping into bed with someone every night is healthier than you think
Published 19/05/2015 | 07:43
Given that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, who we share our beds with is an important decision.
Over the years, research has shown that it is far healthier to sleep in the same bed as your partner than to be alone in a separate room, with some studies even suggesting that co-sleepers live longer than their lone-sleeping counterparts.
Latest census figures show there are almost 400,000 people living alone in Ireland, but recent findings maintain that women in long-term relationships fall asleep faster and wake up less often than women who sleep alone. This leads to them having lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone associated with depression and heart disease.
We spoke to experts and regular bed-sharing women to find out what they think of this research and whether it's always harmonious between the sheets - or do they sometimes long for the peace of a bed of their own.
Joann is a stay-at-home mother. She is married to Michael and has two children - Tony (3) and Isabelle (15 months). She can't imagine how anyone would want to sleep in a separate bed to their partner and believes this to be something associated with older people. However, she says while she enjoys a good sleep every night, she likes to ensure she has her own space.
"I haven't a clue why people sleep separately from their partner. I suppose for some people it's because they want space or have different routines.
"I think on a permanent basis it seems to be older couples who sleep apart, but this could be due to many issues like poor health.
"I don't know any couples my age who would sleep separately except when trying to have a good night's sleep after a newborn arrives or maybe one of them is working a night shift and doesn't want to wake the other.
"I think it's nice for kids to know their parents share a bed as it gives a sense of being together and being close as partners and friends first and then as parents - I suppose it sort of unites you.
"I hadn't heard that sharing a bed contributes to a longer life but my husband may disagree as he gets shoved over to his own side often enough.
"I love to have my own space in bed as I am a super-light sleeper, hence a super-king was my choice of bed. Although I haven't gone so far as to insist on separate duvets yet as things aren't that bad. I definitely have a better night sleep with my husband in the bed.
"Firstly, I know that if the baby wakes up, there is someone else to settle her - but mostly for the security and having someone to chat with at the end of the day.
"My husband is basically my counsellor, so after I have a good vent then I will get a better night's sleep which I guess contributes to a healthier life and, therefore, a longer one too."
Niamh lives in Portmarnock with her husband Tim and their six-month-old son, Adam. Usually working as a company team leader, she is currently on maternity leave. She believes that sharing a bed helps to keep couples close and although she says there can be niggling irritants involved with co-sleeping, for the most part their marital bed is a harmonious place.
"I think people who share a bed live longer because of the sense of security and the release of other positive emotions such as love and happiness which contribute to your overall wellbeing.
"Over the years, I shared a bed with sisters growing up at home, friends, and now, my husband. I have found the most random light-hearted conversations can take place right before you nod off. I would say all of this contributes to the release of very positive endorphins in your body, which help alleviate any stress and anxiety.
"Of course, there can be some irritations such as snoring, shuffling or putting the duvet all over on my side and what I refer to as building forts (putting pillows down the centre of the bed) - my husband has nailed down each of these to a fine art on occasion.
"If alcohol has been consumed by my other half, I would definitely prefer to be sleeping alone, but apart from these little issues, I would say I do sleep better when we are both together."
Lisa is a placenta encapsulation specialist and runs her own business turning placentas into vitamin pills (www.placentaencapsulationcork.com). She is married to Aonghus and has three children - Amber (3), Sofie (2) and Finn (4 months). She believes it is very important for couples to share a bed, both for the sake of their relationship, and also to show unity to their children.
"I believe 100pc that people who share a bed live longer. Having someone to cuddle, hold and cry with in bed really takes the weight of the world off. I also believe it is really important for parents to sleep together so their children can see that they are a team as this will make them feel secure.
"I think some people sleep in separate beds to get more sleep, particularly if they have kids.
"Of course, there are times when one or other of us has slept in the spare room but that would be to allow the other to have a night off kids duty. On those occasions, I have got a better night's sleep, but I can only do it for one night at a time as otherwise I would get lonely.
"Mind you, there are times when my husband snores and keeps me awake - this can be very frustrating, but I am actually very nice about it and just give him a rub on the arm and tell him to turn over.
"I know some women kill their husbands for snoring, but it's not like he is doing it on purpose and, more often than not, it can't be helped. But if he's been out for the night, he will automatically go to the spare room to sleep as no amount of arm-tapping will wake the beast on nights like that.
"So, apart from the snoring, I think sharing a bed is a really nice thing and is an important part of a relationship."
Judi is a psychotherapist and certified family mediator at the Johnstown Therapy Centre in Dublin 18 - she says having time alone is important.
"Having a good relationship depends on the quality of communication between the couple and this seems to reflect on many aspects of the health of the partners - not just physical health but psychological and emotional health too," she says. "So, if sharing a bed is what the couple have chosen for themselves, then it is probably because, overall, they enjoy it, and if they enjoy it, then it is good for them.
"But if they have a good relationship but don't enjoy sharing a bed, they need to factor in time for privacy, especially if there are children in the house because time is something they may not have a lot of. So they might need to find a way to share a bed but not lose out on the quality of their sleep in order for it to be good for their relationship."
The qualified therapist says there are many benefits to sharing a bed but there can also be issues between the sheets, which should be discussed rather than ignored.
"Besides the intimacy it offers, sharing a bed is believed to increase levels of happy 'healing' hormones like oxytocin and to decrease stress hormones like cortisol," she says. "This happens naturally, in a good relationship. So we can't really tell yet if the benefits come from sharing a bed or if it is from the fact you are in a happy relationship - mostly because the research is limited and relatively new. What we do know is that couples in happy relationships are more likely to experience better health and therefore live longer lives.
"But sleep disturbance does happen and couples deal with it in different ways - with everything from earplugs to separate bedrooms and anything in between.
"Again, communication is key here. If they can talk it through and agree on ways to deal with sleep disturbance then the issue doesn't grow into a bigger problem than it is already. It's usually the lack of communication, or lack of acknowledgement of the problem, that causes the conflict."
The days of 'being on the shelf' are long gone and many people are single for a lot, if not all, of their adult lives. But while this is not a problem, it can make it more difficult to adjust to bed-sharing after years of sleeping alone.
Coyne says it is important to take things slowly and allow a period of adjustment. "If sharing a bed is a new experience for you, take it slowly and let yourself adjust over time," she advises. "If, after a realistic period of adjustment, you are still not comfortable then it needs to be addressed by communication.
"Talk through the options available to you both, how you are both feeling about the issue - as you won't know unless you talk it through."