Bedfellows Have Health Benefits By Victoria S. Brkovich, MD

According to studies from the University of Pittsburgh, sleeping with your loved one (co-sleeping) may lead to better health.  The researchers found that couples who sleep together were less likely to awaken during the night and more likely to sleep soundly.  They also found that co-sleeping could actually help to lessen the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is behind feelings of anxiety and stress that eventually can lead to major health problems.  In addition, the study’s author, assistant professor Dr. Wendy M. Troxel, reports co-sleeping can help increase oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a “bonding” hormone that helps to create feelings of love and intimacy between couples, playing an important role in the couple’s relationships and sex lives.

Sleeping together in the same bed is not always as easy as it sounds.  Many couples want to sleep together but find it so disruptive that they give up and retreat to separate beds.

If this sounds familiar, here are some ways to help ease some of the dispruptions:

•             Try to get on the same sleep schedule.  If one person is a night owl and the other goes to bed early, try to find a way to compromise.   Meet each other halfway by staying up a little later, or going to bed earlier.  Maybe the night owl can take some reading to bed, which is not as dispruptive to the bed partner.  Although initially difficult, eventually the adjustment will provide the benefits of increased intimacy, along with health.

•             Talk to a doctor about snoring.  If snoring is the main issue behind sleeping separately, it could indicate a health problem.  There could be any number of factors behind snoring (including sleep apnea, a health risk in and of itself), so be sure to talk to a doctor and ask for sleeping solutions — regardless if it’s one or both sleeping parnters who snores.

•             Address differences in temperature preferences.  Besides the thermostat, there are other ways to compromise.  One partner can sleep under the comforter while the other sleeps on top of it with a light blanket, or similarly, one can sleep with warmer pajamas, while the other stays in the buff.

However, it’s clear the benefits of sharing a bed only appear to be there if the relationship is happy — and each partner can tolerate the other enough to share the bed.  As one might anticipate, Dr. Troxel also reports, through her studies, that happily married women have fewer sleep problems than their unhappily married counterparts.

Couples who are mismatched in terms of poorer relationship functioning (i.e. more conflict, less intimacy, less support) will not reap so many benefits.

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