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Think you need a sleep divorce?

From snoring to duvet hogging, there are millions of boudoir battles raging daily. Don’t ask for a slumber separation yet: Danielle Hine uncovers some clever solutions


cross a crowded room, your eyes lock with David Beckham’s. He swoops towards you, takes you in his muscular arms and you’re about to share a passionate kiss… when an ungodly snort on your right causes you to jump apart in terror. Could this be, gasp, Armageddon? You wake up with a start and realise it’s your other half impersonating the biggest hog on a pig farm. Again.


If this scenario sounds familiar to you, it will come as little surprise that being disturbed by your partner is one of the biggest causes of interrupted slumber, affecting a quarter of Brits. What’s more, The Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report found that this is more likely to have an impact on women than on men – 31% compared with 19% – which suggests that snoring could be a big culprit. (Almost half of men will snore by middle age – sorry.)


But that snorting and snuffling is far from the only night-time no-no that’s causing grief. The survey’s respondents also complained about ‘duvet hogging’ and ‘fidgeting’, with some people even admitting they reckon they’d sleep more soundly if their partner slumbered in a separate room. But before you request a ‘sleep divorce’, we’ve got some expert tips that could help sort your nocturnal nuisances for good. Get ready for your best night ever…*
*Becks not included.

That snoring could wake the dead, let alone you

A likely reason for that cacophony of sound? They’re sleeping on their back. ‘This makes people snore more heavily, because their airway is facing directly downwards,’ explains Jason Ellis, Professor of sleep science at Northumbria University and author of The One Week Insomnia Cure (Vermillion). ‘And when we’re asleep, our tongue and soft palate [the back of the roof of the mouth] relax and partially block the airway.’


Here’s a sneaky trick to get him off his back: try putting a golf ball in the front pocket of his pyjama shirt and get him to wear it backwards, so that the discomfort will force him to turn over (trust us – he’ll prefer this to you prodding him during the night). ‘It’s what we call “positional therapy”,’ says Professor Ellis. ‘This is training to stop them sleeping on their back.’


But there must be other reasons for snoring, right? Being overweight is another culprit – anyone with a collar size of 16½ inches or more is at risk, because they may not have the muscle tone to keep their airway sufficiently open at night.


‘Drinking alcohol before bed, and certain medications that cause drowsiness, can also increase the chances of snoring,’ says Professor Ellis. Allergies are a trigger, too – blame that congested nose. ‘Wash your pillows and duvet regularly to remove allergens such as dust – and pets should not be allowed in the bedroom or bed,’ he adds. ‘I also advise replacing your pillows at least every three years.’


Of course, there will still be occasions when you’ll be dealing with a snorer. So, other than earplugs, what can you do to help you sleep through the racket? ‘Try listening to white noise,’ advises Professor Ellis. ‘You can buy a fan, or there are plenty of apps. Your brain will then become attuned to that, rather than other sounds.’


Is their spooning driving you crazy? Psychotherapist Jess Henley advises tactfully suggesting you put a long pillow down the middle of the bed. Then he can wrap his legs around that – and not you – in his sleep.

He’s stopped breathing! Oh, wait – he hasn’t

A common complaint from sleep-deprived partners is that they’re kept awake by thunderous snoring, then it suddenly seems as if the snorer stops breathing. ‘You might notice a period of silence and then a big snort/cough/choking sound, as if they’re gasping for breath,’ says Professor Ellis. ‘And, yes, they’ve actually stopped breathing. This is called an “apnoea event”. We all have them – one or two a night is considered normal. Alcohol or some meds can make them more likely.’


‘Another indicator of apnoea is daytime sleepiness,’ continues Professor Ellis. ‘If they have no problem nodding off or staying asleep but they feel really tired during the day, it’s a sign that something is wrong with their slumber.’ And the treatment? ‘If you’re worried, suggest they make an appointment with their GP. If they have very few apnoea events per hour of sleep, they may be advised to get a mandibular advancement device [which can hold the lower jaw and tongue forward, making more space to breathe]. If the condition is more severe [they stop breathing for over 10 seconds at a time, more than five times an hour], their GP will probably recommend they see a specialist.’


You’re a lark and they’re an owl – or vice versa

To a degree, our body clocks are genetically determined. So if your partner’s an ‘owl’ – late to bed and to rise – while you’re a ‘lark’, who prefers early nights and mornings, this can lead to a serious lack of pillow talk (among other things!). But psychotherapist and mind coach Jess Henley* suggests you try to adapt your disparate sleeping patterns a little. ‘The lark could try staying up an hour later, while the owl could come to bed an hour earlier,’ she says. ‘Then at least you’re two hours closer than you were before.’


If that’s not an option, then you’ll need to deal with the potential awkwardness of trying not to disturb each other when getting ready for bed or work. ‘It’s all about planning what you might need, so you don’t have to go into the bedroom if your other half is asleep,’ says Professor Ellis. ‘If you’re usually the first to rise, put your things for the morning in another room the night before.’ We also recommend investing in a vibrating alarm clock, which you can place under your pillow – that way, it will only wake up the right person.


If you’re operating on opposing bedtime schedules, it’s also a good idea to address the loss of intimacy. Professor Ellis and Jess agree that it’s all about cuddle time. ‘Create other chances to be intimate with each other,’ says Jess. ‘It could be that you snuggle on the sofa while you watch TV before bed, for instance.’ Professor Ellis adds: ‘You might go to bed earlier in the evening and cuddle or have sex. Then whoever is the owl can get up and watch Netflix once their lark partner has drifted off to sleep.’


Jess also recommends trying some ‘mindful hugging’. ‘Stand up, put your arms around each other and focus on yourself,’ she explains. ‘Concentrate on the sensation of hugging them, the way their smell makes you feel, and how their embrace soothes you. It’s a lovely way to bring intimacy back into a relationship.’


If you have temperature troubles in bed, Professor Ellis suggests trying separate duvets: a high tog for the cold person and a lower tog rating for the hot-blooded.

His habits drive you crazy (in a bad way)

Fidgeting, spooning, sleeping in a star shape – bedtime bugbears make millions of us hotter (with rage) than a high-tog duvet in summer. Think about it: if he’s, say, a bed hog, you blame him, get annoyed, wake him up aggressively and trigger his anger. ‘But the crucial thing to understand is that it’s not about you,’ says Jess. ‘Their actions are subconscious. Remembering this will take the heat out of the situation.’


So how to fix the issue? You need to see that there are three elements in the relationship: you, your partner, and the snoring/bed hogging/teeth-grinding (add/delete as appropriate),’ Jess continues. ‘Think of that annoyance as a third character. It takes the personalisation out of it. The two of you need to discuss a solution calmly and in a balanced way, with no blame attached. If, for example, you hate snuggling, don’t say, “You make me feel uncomfortable when you spoon me in bed.” Instead, say, “I feel uncomfortable spooning.”’


If, however, you’ve tried everything and your sleep habits still make you as incompatible as curly hair and wet weather, then it might be time for that bedtime divorce. ‘Getting enough sleep is as essential to us as food and water,’ says Professor Ellis. ‘If lack of shut-eye is affecting your mental and physical health, then sleeping apart is a solution. Although if one of you has serious sleep issues, you do need to look into getting help.’


‘Whatever the issue is with your slumber incompatibility, talk about it when it’s small,’ adds Jess. ‘If you leave it, things can blow up to be huge. Be honest, consistently.’ Now let’s hope we all get the sweet dreams we crave. David Beckham is waiting…


Readers share their co-sleeping gripes (names have been changed to protect relationships!)


Emma: ‘My boyfriend is like Jacob (a werewolf) from Twilight. He’s so hot-blooded – he gets sweaty in bed, which raises the temperature for both of us. Then he opens the window, so I get cold and wake up.’


Denise: ‘My hubby snores every night. I start by shushing him, which progresses to a gentle foot prod. Then I just shout. This wakes him up, so we have a mini row, then he goes back to sleep. I have two minutes of peace and it starts again.’


Stuart: ‘My main bedtime gripe is the “duvet straitjacket” that my wife likes to wear – she pulls the covers so tightly around her (and, therefore, me) that it feels as though my ribs are being crushed.


Karen: ‘I often wake up squashed because my husband has rolled on top of me. And this habit has passed to our kids – sometimes whole bodies end up resting on Mummy, while Daddy sleeps soundly…’

Photography Getty Images *


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