I love my girlfriend and the sex is great, but I fucking hate sleeping next to her. She snores like a wild beast and tosses and turns all night long like she's possessed. It keeps me up for hours. When I get up to sleep on the couch, she gets offended — she feels like I'm abandoning her and she tells me she wants to wake up in each other's arms. That would be great … if I could even get to sleep in the first place. It's really starting to cause a rift between us. Anything you can suggest we try?
Congratulations, you have unlocked a new level of incompatibility called … drum roll please … sleep incompatibility!
Ah, yes. Sleep incompatibility: when the sex is great, but the sleeping is terrible and makes you slowly hate each other over the course of many months until, engulfed by silent resentment, you both break down into insipid proto-human blobs too tired to break up.
But also … common.
According to sleep specialist Dr. Michael Brues, many couples are in situations like yours (including yours truly — I practically invented insomnia). He estimates about 35-40 percent of couples he's treated aren't sleep compatible, something he says can have disastrous effects on a relationship.
One of those effects, which it sounds like you're experiencing, is resentment — when one partner feels disadvantaged and frustrated by the other keeping them awake, or not understanding their particular sleep needs, it's easy for friction and passive aggression to build. After all, it's hard to be pissed for someone for sleeping how they sleep … but you still kind of fucking hate them for it. That's hard to verbalize.
Another havoc that sleep incomparability wrecks on relationships is that a lack of sleep can significantly lower sex drive. Several studies have confirmed that a lack of sleep lowers testosterone levels in both men and women, which results in a much weaker libido. That in itself can spawn its own set of problems — lowered sex drive can cause insecurity, frustration and, oh great, more resentment.
Aggravation and over-sensitivity are yet more side effects of sleeplessness, meaning the half of a couple who can't sleep can be more apt to be snappy and fight-y.
A lot of these problems, says Brues, are due to a mismatching of individual's genetic sleep patterns, something he calls "chronotypes." Breus explains that there are four distinct chronotypes, which he's conveniently re-branded as animal personalities to help people visualize their own.
Wolves are night people who like staying up late. Lions are morning people — you know, the crazy psychos who make breakfast plans at 8:30 a.m. Bears have body clocks that more or less follows the sun, and dolphins are light sleepers who are often diagnosed with insomnia.
A person can be a little bit of each, but usually, one chronotype dominates. Which one that is all comes down to genetics — in fact, there's an actual sleep gene called hPer2, which has been found to dictate an individual's sleep patterns. How it's expressed determines how great or sucky at sleeping you are.
The problem with this is that because sleep is so largely genetic (although environment and lifestyle do play a role), there's not a lot of room for improvement. That means that if you're fundamentally sleep-incompatible with your girlfriend, there's no menu of easy solutions to tackle the issue with — for example, she can't just "try harder" not to toss and turn at night and you can't just "learn to sleep through snoring."
However, what you can do is address the environmental concerns of your sleep habitat.
First, I'd suggest you figure out what each of your chronotypes are. Use this quiz here.
Then, read Dr. Brues' book The Power of When — it'll help you tailor your lifestyle and environment to best suit your sleep needs. If you and your partner can each share what you learn about your own needs and what the best ways for you each to sleep are, she's likely to be more understanding and accommodating of your situation … especially if you go through this process together.
Next, figure out what's contributing both to her shitty sleeping and your inability to sleep next to her. What exactly needs to change? No shit, I know it's that she needs to stop snoring and convulsing but … do you need a different mattress or pillows? Would white noise or music help? Can you create a pillow barrier between you so she doesn't karate chop your carotid in the night? Ever heard of earplugs? Are there any substances one of you can try like melatonin or weed or GABA or the occasional Ambien?
More importantly, what does she want you to do when she snores so hard it registers as a small geological disturbance on the local Richter scale? Can you wake her up? Can she be okay with you moving to a different room? Can she get a fuckin' snore strip or laryngeal surgery? I mean damn …
On your part, there are also things you can do to ensure that you're the most tired you can possibly be by the time you get to bed so that you have a greater chance of falling asleep.
Brues suggests light therapy, melatonin, cutting out caffeine and exercising early on in the day. Consistency with these things is key.
When that doesn't work, Brues advises couples try more extreme solutions like utilizing the guest bedroom if your millionaire step-father pays for your four-bedroom carriage home … but the couch should do just fine if he does not. Sometimes, it's even as simple as putting a futon or an air mattress on the floor for reprieve. You're already doing that it looks like, but it's clutch that you communicate to her that if you end up needing to escape to a different part of the house, it's solely because you need a place to be undisturbed … not because you don't love her or because something is wrong.
Long story short, sleep incompatibility doesn't mean your relationship is doomed, but it does take some working at. After all, what fucks up a relationship isn't incomparability itself, but an unwillingness to accept it and work through it … which is on both of you.
You need to figure out how to tweak your lifestyle in order to get the most out of the way your body naturally sleeps, and she needs to chill out on the "waking up in each other's arms" thing and realize that waking up in each other's house is about as close as it's gonna get … until she gets her soft palate removed by the area's leading snore specialist.