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Do you sleep better with your partner?

Gentle slumber side by side? Many people would like to sleep in the same bed with their partner - but how does that affect the quality of sleep? Apparently it can benefit, according to a study: According to this, REM sleep, which is important for emotional stability, is longer and more stable when sleeping together than when couples spend the night separately. The scientists say that this effect may have an impact on our psychological wellbeing.

In a romantic relationship, people usually want to spend as much time as possible together - this need also extends to the night: It is common for partners to share the bed with each other, even if separate sleeping options are available. Despite the importance of this human behavior, the connection between sharing the bed and sleep quality has only been little studied and the results have been contradicting in some cases. Most studies have compared co-sleeping with sleeping alone in couples by using researchers to record body movements. In some cases it was attested that partners sleep “more restlessly” together than when they are alone.

But as the researchers around Henning Drews from the Center for Integrative Psychiatry at the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel explain, movements do not provide sufficient information about sleep quality. What happens at the neurological level when you sleep is reflected in the development of certain phases of sleep. For this reason, they have now devoted a more detailed analysis of the sleep behavior of couples when they sleep together and sleep separately.

Double and single bed in the sleep laboratory

Twelve young, healthy couples took part in the study. Each participant spent four nights in the sleep laboratory under two different circumstances: alone in a single bed or in a double bed of the same design at the side of the respective partner. The scientists recorded the sleep parameters using what is known as polysomnography. "This is a very precise and comprehensive method of recording sleep on various levels - from brain waves to breathing, muscle tension, movements and heart activity," says Drews. In addition, the participants filled out questionnaires with which the characteristics of the relationship should be recorded - for example the duration of the relationship as well as the personally perceived degree of emotional connection and depth of relationship with the partner.

As the researchers report, it was again shown that sleep in the presence of the partner is characterized by a little more movement. But apparently this was not associated with a lower quality of sleep, on the contrary: When the couples slept together, the REM sleep associated with rapid eye movements was ten percent longer on average than when the test subjects spent the night individually. Apart from this aspect of sleep, no other stages were significantly changed, the scientists report. The slightly increased movement activity does not disturb the sleep architecture. “You could say that the body is a bit more restless when you sleep together, but the brain is not,” says Drews.

Synchronously optimized REM sleep

REM sleep was not only longer when co-sleeping, it also benefited qualitatively, according to the analyzes: There were comparatively few interruptions in the cycles. As the researchers explain, this is a very interesting finding because REM sleep is of great importance. It is associated not only with vivid dreams, but also with the regulation of emotions, memory consolidation, social interactions, and creative problem-solving skills. In other words, it is important for our mental health, performance and emotional wellbeing.

The analysis results also showed that the sleep patterns of partners in a shared bed are synchronized. This alignment of the sleep phases is not based on the mutual disturbance by the activity of the other, it is clear from the results. Interestingly, the comparison with the results of the questionnaires on the characteristics of the relationship showed that the higher the participants rated the importance of their relationship for their lives, the stronger the synchronization with their partner during sleep.

The scientists admit, however, that further investigations are now necessary in order to confirm the results with more test subjects and to further explore the significance of the findings. Among other things, the question arises as to whether the identified partner effects are also present, for example, in older people or in partnerships with certain characteristics or sleep behaviors. This could clarify more precisely "to what extent sleeping together with a partner can actually give people a boost in terms of their mental health, their memory and their creative abilities," says Drews.

Source: Frontiers, specialist article: Frontiers in Psychiatry, doi: 10.3389 / fpsyt.2020.00583

June 25, 2020

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