Snoring and cover-hogging aside, studies increasingly suggest that couples enjoy health benefits just from sharing a bed. According to a round-up of emerging research by Wall Street Journal reporter Andrea Petersen, sleeping with a partner may be part of the reason that people in happy, committed relationships tend to have better health and longer lives than singletons.
The new findings challenge previous studies showing that people move around more or don’t sleep as well when there’s someone else in their bed. Petersen cites a recent long-term study by Wendy M. Troxel, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, that found that women in stable relationships actually fell asleep faster and awoke less frequently during the night than single women or those whose relationship status changed over the study period. Another study in 2010 found that among 29 couples, women slept better at night when they had fewer negative interactions with their partners during the day; on days that women reported more harmony in their relationships, the men slept better too.
Essentially, the research suggests, the psychological benefits of bedding down with your loved may outweigh the costs of lost sleep or the hassles of sharing the sheets. Petersen reports:
While the science is in the early stages, one hypothesis suggests that by promoting feelings of safety and security, shared sleep in healthy relationships may lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Sharing a bed may also reduce cytokines, involved in inflammation, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone that is known to ease anxiety and is produced in the same part of the brain responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. So even though sharing a bed may make people move more, “the psychological benefits we get having closeness at night trump the objective costs of sleeping with a partner,” Dr. Troxel says.
But sometimes sharing sleep isn’t as easy as all that. What if your partner is a night owl and you’re a lark? Or what if your spouse flops around all night like a tuna on a trawler deck? There are ways to work around these problems, Petersen reports. Check out the full Journal story here.