Have you seen that hilarious episode of Friends where Chandler and Monica bicker about how they sleep together, and whether they spoon or not? Recently, I’ve also read a few articles about the different ways people sleep together, and how the positions they adopt while they sleep are reflective of the relationship dynamics.
Well, I agree with these articles to a point. I would also say that if you are going to share your cave — sorry, bed — there are some practical considerations to take. You need to get the biggest bed you can fit in your bedroom, ideally designed so your partner’s movements don’t disturb you. You need to 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.
However, I’ve been prompted to write this piece because I’ve seen (and experienced first hand) a different kind of challenge caused by sharing your bed. 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 from Martini sleepers. Sensitive sleepers can be defined as individuals whose sleep is easily affected by sights, sounds,smells and stress. These individuals need their own side of the bed, and must travel with their own pillow and/or blanket. Martini sleepers are individuals who can sleep anytime, anyplace and anywhere, even when stressed. These are the people who question why I have a job!
Lately, I’ve come to realize that sensitive sleepers are also sensitive people: they tend to be highly empathetic to the point of too readily taking on other people’s problems and are often attracted to caring or healing professions. Therefore, they need to be very mindful of emotional boundaries — even in bed.
I recently worked with a human resources manager who had all of these sensitive characteristics. She came to see me because of her sleep problems, which were more pronounced when she was in a relationship. She’d lie there, listening to her significant other breathe, and feel a sort of hyper-alertness in her body and mind. Her relationship with her boyfriend (a Martini sleeper) was close and supportive, but her inability to sleep with him was causing them both heartache and putting a strain on their relationship.
When we sleep at night, we’re supposed to relax, uncoil and let go. We’re supposed to release the stress of the day — so we can wake up feeling healed and rejuvenated. But some of us are extremely sensitive human beings. We feel the pain and suffering of those around us. Some sensitives act as a vessel for a partner’s nocturnal releasing. Because we need to feel safe in order to sleep, we worry instead — hence my client’s hyper-alertness as she (unconsciously) absorbed her sleeping boyfriend’s stress.
We discussed the below practical strategies:
- Conscious communication: we talked about her communicating with her boyfriend and explaining the difference in their ‘sleep personalities’ (ie., that she was a Sensitive sleeper and he a Martini). The emphasis in their communication was on building trust and being able to share problems openly, without blame
- Practicing sleeping together: we talked about them practicing napping together. These naps could be done over the weekend, for no longer than 20 to 30 minutes at a time, at some point between 2 and 4pm. During this time, they were to do nothing else but rest.
- Trying 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 at work the next day.
We also talked about how she could encourage him to talk about it if he’d had a particularly stressful or frustrating day at work — but to talk about it in the earlier part of the evening so that he could dump his baggage before they got into bed together.
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 big deal.
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.
( H/T: Healthy Living – The Huffington Post )