Do bed-sharing couples sleep better, worse, or just different? A recent study in Frontiers in Psychiatry sheds light on the effects of sharing a bed with a partner by measuring subjective and objective sleep parameters.
Sleep research is a rapidly growing field of study. In many countries, for example, sharing a bed with a partner is common practice. But research investigating the relationship between bed sharing and sleep quality is both scarce and contradictory.
Most studies have compared co-sleep to individual sleep in couples by only measuring body movements. But the current study overcame these limitations by also assessing “sleep architecture.”
Bed-sharing in the sleep lab
Researchers conducted the study among 12 young, healthy, heterosexual couples who spent four nights in the sleep laboratory. They measured sleep parameters both in the presence and absence of the partner using dual simultaneous polysomnography. This is a “very exact, detailed and comprehensive method to capture sleep on many levels — from brain waves to movements, respiration, muscle tension, movements, heart activity” says lead author Dr. Henning Johannes Drews Drews.
Additionally, the participants completed questionnaires designed to measure relationship characteristics (e.g., relationship duration, degree of passionate love, relationship depth, etc.)
More REM sleep, more synchronized sleep
The results showed that rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep increased in couples sleeping together compared to when they slept individually.
This finding is particularly relevant because research has linked REM sleep to emotion regulation, memory consolidation, social interactions and creative problem-solving.
The team also found that couples synchronize their sleep patterns when sleeping together. This synchronization is positively associated with relationship depth.
In order words, the higher participants rated the significance of their relationship to their life, the stronger their sleep synchronization.
A positive feedback loop
The researchers propose a positive feedback loop in which sleeping together enhances and stabilizes REM sleep, which in turns improves our social interactions and reduces emotional stress. Although researchers did not specifically measure these possible effects, Dr. Drews says that “since these are well known effects of REM sleep, it is very likely that they would be observed if testing for them.”
Interestingly, researchers found an increased limb movement in couples who share the bed. However, these movements do not disrupt sleep architecture, which remains unaltered. Dr. Drews states that “one could say that while your body is a bit unrulier when sleeping with somebody, your brain is not.”
Can bed-sharing even improve cognitive skills?
Although results are promising, many questions remain to be answered. “The first thing that is important to be assessed in the future is whether the partner-effects we found (promoted REM sleep during co-sleep) are also present in a more diverse sample (e.g., elderly, or if one partner suffers from a disease)” says Dr. Drews.
Despite the small sample size and the explorative nature of some of the analyses, this research furthers our understanding of sleep in couples and its potential implication for mental health. Dr. Drews adds that “sleeping with a partner might actually give you an extra boost regarding your mental health, your memory, and creative problem-solving skills.”
Study: “Bed-Sharing in Couples is Associated with Increased and Stabilized REM sleep and Sleep-stage Synchronization”
Authors: Henning Johannes Drews et al.
Published in: Frontiers in Psychiatry
Publication date: June 25, 2020
Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels