Take this all-too-common scenario: As soon as your partner lies down, the snoring begins. You have trouble falling asleep anyway, but with that noise level, it seems impossible.
It may also be the jealousy of watching your partner cross over effortlessly into the world of restful sleep that you so ardently desire, which keeps you agitated and awake.
In this situation, the decision to spend the night in another room seems the best solution as you no longer need to worry about being disturbed by those thoughts or your partner’s snoring or movements. And in fact, most sleep experts will advise you to do so.
But what if you still want to share the bed with your partner despite the snoring and your sleep issues because you value the intimacy of having another person lying next to you? Do you really have to give up bed-sharing because you have insomnia?
I think no. If sharing a bed gives you a feeling of love, comfort, and safety, then it’s not necessary to give this up. There are ways you can learn how to be comfortable sharing a bed, even with an increased level of sleep disturbance.
In this article, I want to give you two crucial steps on how you can learn to share a bed again.
Your mind is very skillful in creating terrible scenarios
If you have trouble sleeping, then your mind is scanning for everything that might potentially be the cause of that. The thought of having your partner lying next to you snoring falls into the same category, meaning it’s perceived as a threat.
Your mind starts creating scenarios of how terrible the night will be with your partner’s snoring and moving or seeing him or her soundly sleeping. Thoughts like ‘He is going to start snoring soon’ or ‘I can’t believe she is already asleep’ are racing in your head, kicking off emotional responses, such as the waves of anxiety and adrenaline circulating through your body.
This is definitely not a good state to be in when seeking restful sleep. And it uses up a lot of your energy too. The habituation effect amplifies the problem. After a while, only thinking of sharing a bed with all these undesired worries and thoughts make you feel stressed, sometimes already long before you go to bed.
You think the only way out is escaping the shared bed
At night when there are fewer external distractions, you think the only way out is to get rid of your internal experiences by escaping the bed. However, what really happens when you’re trying to get rid of your thoughts and emotions is that you become more alert. Negative thoughts are not a problem in their own right. Only if you give them your full attention, they become problematic.
So the issue is not that you’re having these thoughts but how you respond to them. While you can’t prevent such experiences from occurring, you can learn to respond to them more helpfully than simply taking refuge in the spare room. In other words, whether or not you’re able to stay in bed with your partner depends on your willingness to let these thoughts and feelings come and go skilfully. Here’s how to proceed:
Step 1: Gradually increase the time spending in bed with your partner
If the thought of spending an entire night together in bed is too daunting, you may want to start with 30 minutes or an hour each night. Then, over a month, gradually increase the amount of time you spend in bed together.
Keep in mind that the first few nights will probably be so awful that you can’t wait to get out of bed and return to the safety of the guest room. After a few weeks, however, you will probably find that the disturbing thoughts and feelings become less and less powerful and almost insignificant compared to how important it is to share a bed with your partner. You can then use this as motivation to keep going, and after a few weeks, you will be able to wake up next to your partner in the morning.
Step 2: Using mindfulness techniques while being in bed
With the help of simple mindfulness techniques, you can gently increase your willingness to experience all of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that show up and begin to realize that despite being unpleasant, they cannot harm you.
One simple exercise to better deal with the thoughts is naming them (“Name it to tame it”, as the mindfulness expert Dan Siegel says). Naming your thoughts is like saying, “‘Okay. I see you’re here, and I accept that.”
So in the case of the “If I don’t sleep soon, tomorrow will be terrible” thought, give it a name such as the ‘terrible thought’. Or when you think, “I need to get out of here,” you could say to yourself, “Aha, here it is the ‘escape’ story”, and then let it be. Simply by facing the challenging and scary things and giving them a name, you create that little extra space between you and your experience and take away their power.
Another helpful technique is to thank your mind for its creativity. When your mind is busy creating all sorts of thoughts, why not thanking it instead of trying to suppress the thoughts? Say to yourself, “Thank you, mind” or things like “Thank you for sharing this information”.
Please don’t say it with sarcasm, but openly and neutrally with an appreciation for the creativity your mind is capable of. This compassionate approach to your mind assures it that you’re safe and that it doesn’t need to put up useless defense patterns.
You can even give your mind a name to distance yourself from it. Pick a name you like or simply call it Mr or Mrs. Mind – “Thank you, Mr. Mind, I got this covered.” Say it in your head or even out loud when you are alone.
Improve your sleep and train bed-sharing at the same time
Many people who have difficulty sleeping alone tend to improve their sleep first before tackling the problem of sharing a bed. At first glance, this seems like the most effective approach, as it reduces what you have to deal with at once.
However, it can also lead to learning to sleep well on your own, but then never taking the final step of sharing the bed because you are afraid of sleeping poorly again.
That’s why it makes sense to tackle the two issues simultaneously, that is, to work on improving your sleep while taking the first steps toward sleeping in the same bed. You can do this using the same techniques as above so that you can get both problems under control in the long run.
Also, you may think that now is not the right time because you are very busy at work or have other personal commitments. Of course, there are better and worse times to tackle a problem like insomnia and bed-sharing, but there is never a perfect time, and waiting for one can only delay the inevitable. Decide on a start date and go for it, and be flexible enough to adapt to any life events that may occur along the way.
Bed-sharing might not work for every couple
I don’t want to stigmatize sleeping apart. This is not about morals, it’s about what you value and what works!
If sleeping in separate rooms seems to be the right choice for you as a couple, then that’s perfectly fine. One of my best friends told me that sleeping apart saved her relationship because of her partner’s loud snoring and their different sleep habits (she being a morning lark and he a night owl). After trying sleeping alone, they found that they were both more rested and happier.
However, if it’s mainly snoring or other noises that keep you from sleeping together, you may want to try using noise-canceling earplugs. I love the ones from QuietOn; they’re of excellent quality and very comfortable to wear. I use them at night when I’m sleeping in a noisy environment, or even during the day when walking downtown.
I want to mention that I am an affiliate of QuietOn as I find them very helpful. If you purchase QuietOn by using the coupon code sleepanywhere10, you will receive a 10% discount, and I will earn a small commission.