Usually when you see news headlines about bed sharing, it is about whether or not parents should be sharing their beds with their children. But new research shows that when it comes to sharing beds, the real question might be should parents share their bed with each other.
In recent years, there have been many stories in the press about happily married couples who sleep in separate rooms. Many married couples have adopted this practice in an effort to solve the problem of spouses who disrupt each other’s sleep with snoring, restless leg syndrome, use of a CPAP machine, or other behavior. By looking at the results of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America polls, we can see that this is a trend on the rise. In 2001, 12% of couples reported sleeping separately. By 2005, that number had almost doubled to 23%. Many sleep experts have been quoted expounding the benefits of sleeping separately, including a reduction in sleep disturbance and overall sleep deprivation. All this would seem to support the idea that sleeping separately is the way to go.
However, there is new research that seems to say exactly the opposite. Some sleep researchers believe that sleeping together may actually be better for our health and may even be the reason that people in close, long-term relationships are generally in better health and living longer lives than their single peers. One of the studies, which was conducted by Dr. Wendy Troxel of the University of Pittsburgh, found that women in stable relationships fell asleep faster and had less difficulty staying asleep all night than women who were single or no longer in a long term relationship. As sleep is critical to health and longevity, this finding supports the idea that sleeping with a partner provides real health benefits.
This new theory is really only in its infancy from a research perspective but experts believe there is a sound hypothesis behind the belief that sleeping with a partner improves your health. When you sleep in the same vicinity as another person, it provides a sense of safety and security that cannot be found when sleeping alone. This is the reason so many parents end up sharing their beds with their children on occasion. This sense of safety may help to reduce how much cortisol, a stress hormone, is coursing through our bodies. Additionally, experts think that when we feel safe while sleeping the amount of inflammation causing cytokines are reduced and the amount of anxiety-reducing oxytocin is increased.
The results of another study indicate that these benefits may override any negative consequences of sleeping in the same bed. This study was published in the Sleep and Biological Rhythms journal and showed that although women woke up more during the night when they slept with a partner, they gained a benefit psychologically which more than made up for the minutes of lost sleep.
More research is needed to get a real understanding of the link between sleeping together and improvements in health and longevity. For now, the best bet may be to get your own blanket and maybe some ear plugs and make sure your partner is sleeping in your bed.
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