IT took Harry and Sally an entire film to finally get together, and then they ended up in what is called the ‘romantic position’ in bed. This position is popular in Hollywood movies: the woman lies with her head and arm on the man’s chest.
It’s intimate and often adopted by people in a new relationship or after love-making. But don’t depress yourselves if you can’t remember how long it’s been since you and your other half fell asleep in this position; according to a survey by the hotel chain Travelodge and relationship psychologist Corinne Sweet, only 4% of couples sleep in this position.
“We surveyed 2,000 couples and found that most slept in one of eight different positions,” Sweet says. “Sleeping in close positions, holding each other with bodies entwined, is common in the initial honeymoon period of the relationship. Most of us want face-to-face contact and body contact, because we bond during this time. We want to look into each other’s eyes and be in touch. But things change.”
Twenty seven percent of couples transition into the ‘liberty position’, sleeping back to back without touching; 28% lie in the ‘cherish position’, back to back and touching.
“Inevitably, once the first flush of lust wears off, it’s more likely that the need for a good night’s sleep predominates, so sleeping back to back becomes the favoured position in bed,” says Sweet. “It indicates the couple feels connected, but independent enough to sleep separately.”
Eighteen percent of couples sleep in a spooning position, front to back, with one placing a protective arm over the other. Eight percent lie in the lovers’ knot, face to face with legs intertwined for ten minutes, before separating to sleep. Only 2% stay in that position all night, never separating.
Three percent of couples lie in the pillow-talk position, face to face without touching, while another 3% adopt the superhero position, with one person taking up most of the bed while their partner is relegated to the edge. Finally, the remaining 12% choose miscellaneous positions to be as comfortable as they can.
“Every position says something,” says Sweet. “Whether it’s the pillow-talk position, showing a need for intimacy and close communication in bed; the superhero position, showing that one partner dominates, while the other plays a secondary role; or the miscellaneous position, being all about comfort coming first.”
Some may think this survey and Sweet are reading too much into our sleeping positions.
But Tony Moore, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland, would disagree. He says the positions we adopt in bed reveal much about our relationship.
“It’s literally about body language,” he says. “What [a couple] tells you about their sleeping habits reveals so much about their relationship. You’ll find that couples who are close sleep closer together. They unconsciously maintain contact during the night and throughout their sleep.”
The opposite is true for couples in crisis. “It’s common for couples who are having problems to sleep right on the edge of the bed, as far away from each other as possible,” says Moore. “How you sleep gives a great picture of what your relationship is like and how you feel about each other.”
Researchers at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, last year, asked 1,000 people to describe their favourite sleeping positions and to give details about the quality of their relationship.
Just 4% of couples spent the night facing each other, while 42% slept back to back and another 31% faced in the same direction. Twelve percent slept less than an inch apart and 2% slept more than 30 inches apart.
The further apart a couple slept, the worse their relationship seemed to be. Eighty six percent of those who slept less than an inch apart said they were happy in their relationship, compared to 66% of those who slept more than 30 inches apart.
Touching before and during sleep was a huge issue for couples. In responding to the Travelodge survey, one quarter of couples reported that they could not bear for their partner to touch them while sleeping. And eight out of ten didn’t even kiss each other before sleeping.
Moore says this lack of physical contact has a detrimental effect on couples.
Focussing on a couple’s sleeping routine can help to restore a relationship to health.
“There can be a sense of loss and grief over the fact that couples have moved away from each other in bed,” he says. “I often hear clients say that they used to fall asleep in each other’s arms and now they are sad to be so far away from each other. Sleeping positions are symptomatic of deeper relationship issues, but they can also create distress and heartache in themselves.
“By focusing on sleeping habits and routines, couples can take steps towards restoring their relationship to where it used to be.”
For this reverse-engineering programme, Moore suggests that couples to go to bed at the same time.
“A lot of couples find that one is a morning bird and the other a night owl and, at the beginning, they accommodate each other and go to bed at the same time,” he says.
“But then things change, and when this happens they can’t help but wonder if the person staying up is avoiding them, or doesn’t love them in the same way they used to. It’s vital for the relationship that couples go to bed at the same time as much as possible.”
He also recommends making the bedroom a warm and comfortable place to be. “It ought to be a safe haven where the two of you can be private, intimate and close,” he says.
Moore discourages the use of smartphones, and other technology, in bed, because they discourage conversation and create barriers.
And he urges couples to reconnect with each other before they sleep.
“Comfort each other with a kiss and a cuddle,” Moore says. “Ask gentle little questions about the day and reassure each other about any worries.
“Life is tough enough. We need to talk to each other and support each other through it. That’s what makes a strong couple.”
Getting a good night’s sleep is important and there is little more frustrating than being kept awake by the person with whom we share our bed. The Travelodge sleep survey found one in four couples argue in bed because they cannot sleep because of their partner’s sleeping habits.
“There are so many problems with sleeping and they relate to romantic partners just as much as to the sufferers themselves,” says Dr John Kiely, who runs a sleep clinic in Mallow General Hospital.
“Your partner making noise, moving or behaving oddly will affect your sleep,” he continues.
“They might grind their teeth, sleepwalk, or have restless leg syndrome or poor bladder control which means they go to the toilet a lot during the night. Thankfully, most of these problems are treatable.”
The main problem Dr Kiely encounters is snoring and he has written a research paper on how it affects bed partners. “Up to a third of adults snore,” he says.
“In most cases, it’s light snoring but it can be a pathological problem, the most severe of which is obstructive sleep apnoea. This is more common in overweight people and as the population gets heavier, we’re seeing it more often.”
Potential solutions are for the partner to wear ear plugs or for the snorer to lose weight and to wear a special mask while they sleep.
If your partner fidgets during the night, they may have restless leg syndrome or another related condition called periodic limb movement. Book an appointment with the GP to rule this out.
In the meantime, invest in a bigger bed. More space will mean that you are less likely to disturb the other’s sleep.
Some couples have different body temperatures and this inevitably means that they are always too hot or cold in bed. The simple solution to this problem is to use separate single duvets. Yours can be a high tog rate to keep you warm and cosy while theirs can be lower, keeping them cooler at night.
Then, there are early risers and night owls. Rather than going to bed at different times, it’s best to find a middle ground that suits you both. If you have to go to bed at different times, be considerate of the other. Get dressed and undressed in another room so that you don’t disturb them while they sleep. Consider investing in eye masks and ear plugs too.