Don't Let Your Partner Tell You How To Sleep

November 11, 2017

Don't Let Your Partner Tell You How To Sleep

Three-quarters of Australians whose spouses suffer from insomnia are giving advice that may exacerbate the symptoms, experts say.

A new study has found 73 per cent have encouraged their tired spouse to go to bed early or wake up late, which is contrary to what sleep specialists recommend.

Sleeping with the enemy?

Three quarters of Australians whose spouse suffers from insomnia are giving misguided advice that may actually make the sleeplessness worse, experts say.

"When it comes to treating insomnia, the focus is on the individual, but we're learning that bed partners can play a big role," said lead researcher Alix Mellor, from Monash University's Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences.

"Most people think if you increase your sleep opportunity – that is, the time that you spend in bed – that's a good thing, but the research shows you should only be in bed when you're just going to sleep, so people are giving the wrong advice."

Dr Mellor is leading an international team who are investigating the behaviour of people whose partner has insomnia and whether it exacerbates the symptoms – an emerging area of research. She said 60 per cent of Australians shared a bed and about one-third had a sleeping problem.

So far, 44 couples are in the trial, but the research team want more. The trial involves behaviour modification, and no medicine.

The researchers found 45 per cent had encouraged their partners to do other things in bed, such as watching TV or reading a book, which is also against specialist advice. They also found 32 per cent had told their partners to have naps, drink coffee and reduce activities during the day, and 16 per cent had advised them to sip an alcoholic drink.

"These aren't helpful because we really want to be building sleep drive across the day, and having a nap decreases that," Dr Mellor said.

"Some people might say, 'have a glass of wine before bed, I noticed it makes me a bit tired'. But again, really bad advice, it may help them to get to sleep, but it does not help them stay asleep."

The researchers also observed how people changed their behaviour to accommodate their partners, and discovered 100 per cent had avoided going out and socialising at least once in the past three months, with their partner's wellbeing in mind.

"Using the bed only for sleep and sex is important. So don't watch TV, don't look at your phone," Dr Mellor said.

The study is one of the first to reveal what partners of individuals with insomnia do, with results suggesting more can be done to educate partners around helpful insomnia strategies.

"It's too early to definitively say treatment should involve the partners, but we think treatment can be improved, and there are benefits by addressing the partners' behaviour," she said.

The early results were presented at Sleep DownUnder 2017, the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association, in New Zealand. The study is being supervised by Professor Sean Drummond, a sleep expert at Monash University.

Dr Maree Barnes, the association's president, said poor sleep was a "huge" problem that caused billions of dollars worth of damage – car accidents, low productivity and increased healthcare costs.

"It's a huge problem and one that is really under-recognised and under-appreciated in our society," she said.

"I've seen it myself, people who want to help but suggest things like drinking whisky before bed, which might help you go off to sleep, but as it wears off, becomes a stimulant and wakes you."

Esther Han

Updated November 11th 2107

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