Sex advice with Suzi Godson
Q: My wife of three years has started sleeping in the spare bedroom because she says that she sleeps so well there. I miss her, but I’m getting used to it. What I can’t get used to, however, is having sex and then tiptoeing back to my own room. We’re only 31 and it feels like a strange thing to be doing
A: The good news is that the two of you are still having sex.
The bad news is that sleeping separately after three years of marriage suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong.
Sleep is enormously important because it has such a profound effect on physical health and general alertness. One of the most common causes of sleep disturbance is snoring. Research by Jan Ulfberg at Avesta Hospital in Sweden found that women living with snorers were three times as likely to report symptoms of insomnia, but sleeping in separate bedrooms did not help. Wearing silicone earplugs will help the person who is trying to sleep, while losing weight, using a bolster to prevent back sleeping and reducing alcohol intake can reduce snoring.
An increasing body of research shows that the benefits of sleeping together far outweigh those of sleeping apart. The presence of a partner can be calming and can help the other to sleep.
Research by Wendy Troxel at the University of Pittsburgh has shown that, for women, the stable presence of a partner leads to better sleep quality and continuity. When couples are in tune, sleeping habits follow suit. At Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, Germany, Henning Drews recorded couples’ sleep patterns in a laboratory setting. The couples slept separately and together over four nights, while researchers measured their brain waves, the oxygen level in their blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as their eye and leg movements. The research revealed that they experienced a “zeitgeber effect”, a synchronisation of movement and sleep stages, under the co-sleeping condition. The study also found that co-sleeping was associated with better subjective sleep quality, increased sleep time, sleep efficiency, total slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.
It makes intuitive sense that couples sleep better together. The ritual of going to bed with someone you trust allows you to unwind, and being physically close helps to make you feel more relaxed and secure.
Skin-to-skin contact has numerous health benefits, so make sure that you don’t separate as soon as sex is over. Cuddling, snuggling and pillow talk are as important for sexual and relational satisfaction as sex.
Make your environment nice too. Light candles, make sure that the sheets are fresh and spritz some lavender sleep spray on the pillow. If she feels cared for and relaxed, she might change her mind.
However, this is only true for couples in happy relationships. Couples who are experiencing problems have more fractured sleep patterns. The relationship between depression and sleep disturbance is well known, and women are twice as likely to suffer from depression, so I wonder whether there might be more to your wife’s retreat.
You don’t explain why she no longer wants to sleep with you and you seem to have accepted her decision. I would urge you to sit down and try to talk about her real reasons for wanting to sleep alone.
When you are trying to protect a marriage it often feels easier to withdraw than to confront issues that might be a threat to the relationship. However, avoidance and denial resolve nothing.
Marriage is a long road and only those who are brave enough to bet everything on trust and sincerity make it to the end.
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