How To Thrive In Your Relationship Despite Conflicting Sleep Schedules

In a perfect world, we climb into bed with our partners at the same time every night and rise together in the mornings. This sleep connection, called dyadic sleep, is often cited as truly beneficial for relationships. It gives the couple a chance to connect together at the end of the day and exercise some physical touch before falling asleep. There's the possibility for deeper conversation, the chance to unwind, and it's fair to wager this type of sleep concordance and physical tenderness can lead to a more consistent sex life. Even the experience of reading side by side in bed can be deeply intimate in a way that busy daytime schedules can't offer.  

While we love the poetic nature of this ideal, not every relationship can realistically live out a dyadic sleep schedule. The issue could be conflicting work schedules that mean you and your partner simply can't sync up in the evenings. There could also be a disparity in preference; One might love staying up late, while the other loves to get to bed early. Whatever the reason, conflicting sleep schedules don't have to be a source of tension and stress in your relationship. Here's what's worth trying. 

Prioritize time together in other ways

Just because a couple has conflicting sleep schedules doesn't mean that they have to miss out on intimacy and connection. Psychologist Heather Gunn, who works as a couples sleep researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, told The New York Times that this difference doesn't have to impact a relationship. In fact, it could lead to strengthened bonds. "There's even some evidence that well-adjusted couples who have mismatched sleep schedules are actually much better at problem-solving," Gunn said. The trick is to make sure that you carve out intimate time together at other points in the day. 

Gunn noted that if one partner is having a hard time with conflicting sleep schedules, that's usually an indication that the pair would benefit from more intentional intimacy. "As a psychologist, I would ask why is it important that you go to bed at the same time?" Gunn said. "My hunch is that the person feels a need for more closeness or security. We don't innately need to go to bed at the same time; the desire usually comes from someplace else."

If sharing a bed isn't how you get to bond with your partner, make sure to focus on it elsewhere. "Make time for one another when you have shared days off," couples counselor Jennifer Kowalski, LPC, told Well+Good. "Eat a meal together, plan date nights, and make sure to make each other a priority outside of work and sleep."

It's all about conversation and compromise

Just because you and your partner have different sleep schedules doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. Far from it. Chronobiology professor Till Roenneberg told The New York Times that this is incredibly common, and we shouldn't try to force our partners to change their preferred rhythms. "It will be very hard to demand of your partner to override their internal clocks in order to spend more time together," Roenneberg said. "It's possible, but not very beneficial, I think." Roenneberg pointed out that there were actually advantages to differing sleep schedules, particularly when it comes to child care. 

Communication is everything in this case. Dr. Holly Milling noted (via Well+Good) that honest conversations prevent exhausted, sleep-deprived partners who might get resentful. "Give each other permission to be honest about how easy you are each finding it to get a healthy, restorative night's sleep," Dr. Milling explained. "The goal is to find what works best for you and your partner in your current situation." 

In some cases, sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms might work best. This is commonly called sleep divorce, and while it sounds intense, it can be beneficial for the relationship so long as both parties remain open about their needs. Note what you're looking for by sleeping together at the same time — sex, physical closeness, intimate conversations, or body doubling — and find ways to check those off during other parts of the day. Lean into conversations, accept compromise, and get creative.