How Couples’ Sleeping Habits Could Affect Their Relationship

My husband and I go to bed late. We’re oriented toward nightness, as sleep experts call it. Like most couples, we have had to make myriad life adjustments–getting to know the in-laws, juggling career demands and living through home renos–yet our our insomnolence has remained a constant issue. “I’ve heard about you two,” an acquaintance told me once at a party. “You’re the ones who go for coffee at midnight.”

It’s hard to say whether my nightness has rubbed off on my husband, or vice versa. It’s probably a bilateral situation. In bed we toss and turn, waking each other up with our work-related dreams. “I forgot to calculate forces in the z-axis!” my software-engineer husband yelled out in his sleep last week.

We’re very tired–and very wired.

According to a 2005 study by the American National Sleep Foundation, we fit the profile of a Dragging Duo. Dragging Duos perform work activities within an hour of going to bed. Most of us are insomniacs. We’re less likely to have a good night’s rest, making up for lost zzzs by sleeping late on weekends. I’m reluctant to think of myself as a data point on a statistical survey, but it’s 1:30 a.m. and my husband is sitting across the desk from me, slurping the grainy dregs of a latte and responding to work emails on his Blackberry.

Dragging Duos have rocky social lives. I can attest to this because I don’t recall a Saturday brunch date that we haven’t missed. Sure, we have friends, but we only see them during certain times of the day. Take Randi and Jean, for example. They’re a couple that, according to the Sleep Foundation, wins the prize moniker of Healthy, Lively Larks. They hit the sack early, wake up as the sun rises and prepare a hearty breakfast. On weekends they do things like go for long hikes in the wilderness and drive to a farmers’ market to stock up on victuals for supper–all by 8 a.m. If they weren’t so accommodating about meeting us late in the afternoon, they’d be strangers, an exotic species belonging to a foreign, diurnal world into which we refuse to venture.

Where does it come from, this distorted circadian rhythm we share with vampires, cockroaches and wombats? Is it the stress of modern times and the global economic crisis? Or is it faulty wiring in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis of our respective endocrine systems, a hormonal destiny condemning us to a state of mutual sleeplessness? Perhaps in another life we were nightclub managers, E.R. nurses forever assigned to the midnight shift, or worm pickers–the ones wearing mining lights, huddled over muddy, dark fields along the highway. In our present lives we are none of these things: just an average couple with nine-to-five jobs who never hit the hay before 1 a.m.

There’s some good news: we may not be in bed enough to boost the slumping birth rate or support the pajama industry, but at least we’re in sync. In Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing, sociologist Paul C. Rosenblatt argues that harmony and acceptance of sleeping routines matter. Writing in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Jeffrey H. Larson’s researchers found that couples with aligned circadian rhythms, whether oriented toward night or morning, are happier together. Heaven help the mismatched early bird and night owl who spend their best waking hours apart.

As for us, a friend once suggested that we break our nocturnal predilections with a morning yoga class.

“I’d rather sleep in,” my husband and I blurted out, perfectly in sync.

As featured in 2life magazine!

Image(s): iStock

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