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Time spent in bed together is a crucial part of bonding between couples. But if we have trouble getting some shut-eye, this can have a negative impact on our relationships too.
In a blog post on Psychology Today, marriage consultant Melissa Orlov said many couples slip into patterns that put significant pressure on the health of their relationship.
However, many of these problems can be sorted out easily and quickly as long as you don’t ignore them.
It’s not just the actual sleeping, either. What you do before bed can also have an effect. Here are some of the bedtime habits couples fall into – many of which could have more of a negative impact than you think.
1. Not getting enough sleep
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According to research by the National Sleep Foundation, the optimum sleep for adults is eight hours a night. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who has different genetics, less than eight hours equals poorer performance. This means it will take you longer to do things, and you won’t do them as well.
If you get less sleep, you’re also more likely to be irritable with your partner, which can have a negative impact on connections you make with each other in your relationship.
Orlov says to help with this you could start experimenting with things like heavy curtains, drape clips, eye covers, and ear plugs to block out light and sound. LED alarm clocks can also help improve your night’s sleep.
2. Then of course there are night owls and morning larks
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Couples can sometimes be on different schedules. Some people are night owls who stay up later and others are larks who rise earlier in the morning. This can lead to you heading to bed at different times, and waking each other up in the process.
It might also happen if you’re parents, as households may not quieten down until the kids are in bed. In his research, psychologist Dr Jeffrey Larson found that couples whose sleep patterns were mismatched reported significantly less marital adjustment, more conflict, less time spent talking about serious things, less time spent doing activities together, and less sex than matched couples.
Orlov says what you do before bedtime can be key to connecting, as you can chat about your day, and catch up with each other. It’s also important to be considerate of each other if you return to the bedroom and your partner is already snoozing. Use a torch instead of turning on the main light and try to be quiet.
3. Avoiding or putting off intimacy
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Sex is one of the best ways couples connect with each other, but it can often get forgotten about.
“Many couples I work with are either too caught up with their phones or books, don’t feel motivated enough to have sex, or may be ‘holding out’ on their partner because of unresolved conflict,” couples therapist and relationship specialist Melody Li told the Huffington Post. “Sex itself can be healing to the relationship and can remind partners that they are working together as a team.”
Of course, you don’t have to get freaky every night to bond. Cuddling has also been shown to help people feel relaxed and happy.
4. Too much bedtime social media
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We all love our phones, and social media is – arguably – connecting us to each other better than ever before. However, when it’s not such a good bonding tool is when you’re in bed with your partner.
Research has shown that people can feel neglected when their partner is spending too much time on their phone. Many of us can probably relate to the feeling – known as partner phubbing – where your partner is too distracted by what’s going on on their phone screen to listen to the story you’re telling.
One study asked 143 married or co-habiting women if phones, computers, and other technology devices were disruptive in their relationships, and the majority said yes. In particular, more smartphone use was associated with more arguments and lower relationship satisfaction. Another recent study found that participants reported lower levels of relationship satisfaction if they felt their partners were too dependent on their smartphones.
Instead of risking conflict, why not agree to put your phones away an hour before bed, leaving time to focus on talking to each other.
5. Going to bed upset or angry
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The saying goes: “Don’t go to bed angry.” Some research supports this theory, such as a recent study which found men were less able to suppress a negative memory after they slept than they were before they slept. This means they weren’t likely to wake up in the morning feeling better – instead, they actually remembered the disagreements and negative memories better.
However, the theory might not always be as clear cut as it seems. While it obviously is better to sort things out sooner rather than later, if you’re tired you could just end up making things worse.
Councillor Robert Taibbi says in a blog post on Psychology Today that it might all depend on how late it is. He says when we get angry, the reasonable parts of our brain shuts down and instead we get the fight or flight response. In other words, we want to make our point and make the other person hear it no mater what. This means things can get ugly quickly.
At this point it’s the emotions flying around the room which are the problem, rather than whatever it is you’re discussing. In all likelihood, you probably won’t solve the problem until the fire dies down.
Taibbi also says physiologically it can take men three times longer to cool down than women, so you’re better off going to bed in the early hours than trying to out-argue each other. This also means you’ll avoid saying or doing something you regret.