”MWi members recently asked: how do I support a loved one that is suffering from a sleep disorder?
Reading Time: 13 Minutes
- Get new ideas on supporting a loved one through sleep disorders
- Learn what the sleep deprivation signs are so that you can start the conversation
Watching your partner toss and turn the whole night through is painful. It may or may not disrupt your own sleep, but either way, the effects of sleep deprivation will wear on the person you love — and your relationship.
A chronic lack of sleep comes with a whole host of problems that affect our well-being — decreased cognitive function and memory, a greater propensity for depression, anxiety, and stress, and increased risk for a slew of medical afflictions, including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. But poor sleep can also chip away at relationship satisfaction. In fact, a 2017 study found that a lack of sleep exacerbates marital discord and arguments. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to help get your loved one’s sleep — and your bond — back on track.
Before you approach your partner with potential solutions, ask them what new lifestyle or behavioral changes they think might help them, Noah Clyman, L.C.S.W., a therapist and the founder of NYC Cognitive Therapy who specializes in sleep disorders, tells Thrive. “It is always best to see if your partner has ideas for how to solve the problem, or how they think you can help.”
If your loved one’s sleep disturbances correlate with high stress levels, it’s important not to trivialize the cause of their anxiety, Meir Kryger, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and an internationally recognized sleep scholar, tells Thrive. “Avoid saying things like, ‘It’s not the end of the world,’” he says, or anything that undermines their feelings. Instead, validate what their experiencing and help them assess what’s keeping them awake.
To help you do that, Clyman and Kryger offer up their best tips on how to identify and assuage common underlying reasons for sleep issues.
Solve the snores
If your perpetually sleepy partner is a big snorer, it’s critical they visit a doctor to rule out sleep apnea (breathing that repeatedly stops and starts) because it can increase his or her risk for high blood pressure and heart problems and impair restful, restorative sleep, Michael Grandner, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona and the director of the college’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic, tells Thrive. Once you’ve ruled out apnea, Grandner suggests shifting your sleep position to your right or left side (so you’re less likely to snore) by wearing a special strap (it looks like a mini backpack) that prevents you from sleeping on your back — or a less expensive solution like sewing a tennis ball into the back of their nightshirt. If you’re the one who snores, Grandner suggests earplugs and/or a noise machine for your partner, which “can create a blanket of sound over you that can mask the snoring,” he says.
If your child wakes you up, take turns dealing
Toddlers often go through phases where they struggle to soothe themselves to sleep and end up at their parents’ door in the middle of the night. Even if your sleep-deprived partner is the one your child seeks out for comfort, make sure you’re sharing the load, Beth Goss, a certified educator and training specialist for the Bringing Baby Home Program at the Gottman Institute, tells Thrive. While the child might be upset that the favored parent is not the one coaxing them back to sleep, it’s critical to stay the course so the child gets accustomed to finding solace in both parents. “Validate the child’s feelings and help them solve the problem,” she says. No matter how resistant they are, she emphasizes, don’t enlist your co-parent for help. “It will take longer for the child to accept both parents,” she says.
Plan sleep-friendly dinners
“A common cause of trouble sleeping is heartburn related to something someone has eaten,” Kryger says. He advises bed partners to encourage their sleepy spouses to avoid consuming foods that might make them prone to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as spicy, fried, or greasy meals, garlic, onions, citrus fruits and juices, and carbonated beverages. Too much caffeine and too much alcohol right before bed is a sure path to poor sleep, too, several studies have demonstrated. You might suggest that you both try steering clear of caffeine six hours before bedtime, a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine advises, and confine your drinking to no more than two glasses three hours before bedtime, Kryger suggests.
What you sleep on matters
You spend one third of your life in bed, so don’t overlook one of the most common and addressable solutions for sleeping better: your mattress.
A great mattress and bedding can make a significant difference in the way you and your partner sleep together. Nights will inevitably be more restful and restorative if you are both comfortable and well supported throughout the night. Thanks to smart new tech in the mattress and bedding world, you no longer have to compromise when it comes to comfort preferences, temperature differences, or sleep disruptors (like snoring). Sleep Number’s 360® smart beds let you choose your firmness, comfort, and support on each side of the bed so you and your partner can be completely different yet comfy in the same mattress. Every morning, the bed shows you how well you’re sleeping — your SleepIQ® score — with personalized insights for your best sleep. It can even pre-warm each side of the bed, and is smart enough to gently raise your partner’s head to help relieve mild snoring.*
Schedule dual worry time
If your partner struggles to sleep because of a racing mind, you might designate a 20-minute slot in the early evening as time for you and your partner to put your worries and concerns on paper, Clyman suggests. Divide the page into two columns, “Worries/Concerns” and “Next Steps/Solutions.” It’s a good way to put the challenges in your life into perspective and in their proper place (i.e. outside of your bed!).
Help them stick to a bedtime schedule
Select a standard time that the two of you go to bed and wake each day. “Do it every day whether you have good or poor sleep on any particular night,” Clyman says. Studies show that ritualizing your routine is conducive to quality sleep.
Create a “buffer zone” together
An hour before bed, Clyman urges couples to prioritize activities that facilitate winding down, which includes saying “good night” to all your devices, he emphasizes. (That blue light, studies show, is a terrible sleep disrupter.) Sleep-inducing routines might include reading a book, listening to music, taking a warm bath or shower, playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, stargazing, or meditating, Clyman suggests. Building a routine as a couple can deepen your connection, while also getting you ready for a more restful night’s sleep. Whatever you do, don’t watch the news right before bed, Kryger cautions. “Watching the news can make people anxious, sometimes depressed, sometimes just angry,” he says, noting that those kinds of emotions make your body secrete hormones and chemicals that are rousing.
Urge them to get out of bed if they can’t sleep
One of the biggest myths about sleep is that it’s better to stay in bed and fight your sleep issues, but sleep requires surrendering, not battling. If your partner can’t fall asleep, urge them to leave the bed. “Encourage them to get up and go to another room until they feel sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly before returning to bed. If sleep does not come, they should get up again,” Clyman stresses. Otherwise, they’ll subconsciously start to associate your bed with an inability to sleep, which will exacerbate their sleep issues.
*May temporarily relieve common mild snoring in otherwise healthy adults. PartnerSnore™ technology is available with Split King and FlexTop® King mattresses on FlexFit™ smart adjustable bases.
For a step-by-step blueprint on how you and your partner can improve your daytime routines to ensure quality sleep, check out the free, 30-day Sleep30® Challenge by Sleep Number.
MWi would like to thank Arianna Huffington, for their expert insights shared on her platform Thrive Global.
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Arianna Huffington founder of Thrive Global is a behavior change media and technology company helping individuals, companies and communities improve their well-being and performance. Thrive Global is headquartered in New York and launched in the fall of 2016. For more information, visit www.thriveglobal.com.