Sleep Is Social: An Interview With Dr.

  • Look at sleep in the bigger picture of your relationships and social connections.
  • You may want to sleep next to your partner, but that can actually lead to worse sleep.
  • Good sleep can help “build” and improve your relationship.
  • The quality of your sleep is tied to your overall social and relational contexts.

The main points are:

  • Consider how your sleep relates to your relationships and social life.
  • Sleeping with a partner may disrupt sleep.
  • But good sleep can also benefit your relationships.
  • Your broader connections impact your sleep quality.


Sleep issues are usually treated as individual problems, without looking at how our sleep affects our relationships. But Dr. Wendy Troxel, a scientist at Rand Corporation, says sleep is fundamentally social. Our sleep patterns and quality directly impact our partners and closest relationships.

Dr. Troxel’s new book, Sharing the Covers, came out this month. She recently spoke with the Sleep Foundation about her research showing that sleeping together may not always be best for couples. She also discussed how quality sleep can improve arguments and communication in relationships. Her view is that we need to look at sleep in the bigger context of social and cultural factors. Below is an excerpt from her book.

The interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sleep Is Social
Sleep Is Social


  • Dr. Troxel has studied couples and sleep for over 15 years. Her new book looks at the myths around couples sleeping together and brings research on this topic to the public.
  • She takes a unique approach blending both sleep science and relationship advice. Most sleep research treats sleep as an individual behavior, but Dr. Troxel views it as fundamentally social.
  • Sleep problems are often interrelated between partners. So it’s important to consider their shared sleep environment and how each partner’s habits impact the other.
  • In the real world, sleep is noisy, interrupted, and shared with a partner. This is very different from sleep studies done in isolated lab conditions.
  • Resentment can build when one partner struggles with insomnia while the other sleeps fine. People envy partners who get better sleep.
  • People often sleep worse together than apart. But they still prefer sleeping with their partner for psychological and social reasons. We’re wired to feel comfort being close at night.
  • Overall, Dr. Troxel aims to help couples improve their sleep and relationships by bringing research on this important but overlooked topic to light.

Couples should find a sleeping situation that works best for them, even if it means sleeping apart. Dr. Troxel says many feel pressure to share a bed, even when it disrupts their sleep. But she explains we naturally want social connections when feeling vulnerable during sleep. In the end, couples should do what helps them sleep soundly, whether together or apart. The priority is finding an arrangement that optimizes each partner’s rest.

Love and sleep both connect to our deep vulnerabilities. We need healthy sleep, though many things can disrupt it. We also crave human connection at night. Couples should find what works best for them – to optimize both sleep and their relationship.

Dr. Troxel explains that sleep gives us resilience for relationships. It’s a critical but overlooked part of a couple’s life together. Most couples spend a third of life sleeping next to their partner. So we can’t separate healthy sleep from healthy relationships – they go hand in hand. Good sleep acts like a well we draw from to better fight, love, and connect with our partner.

Couples frequently don’t realize how much sleep affects their relationship quality. Good sleep helps control our emotions and moods. It also makes us more resilient when facing relationship conflicts. To summarize, Dr. Troxel highlights that sleep is deeply tied to our social contexts. It has a major impact on how we interact with others, especially our romantic partners.

  • Healthy couples argue sometimes – conflict itself isn’t the issue. It’s how couples manage conflict that matters. Good sleep provides a foundation to access relationship skills and have healthier conflicts.
  • Sleep “softens” our emotions, enabling positive relationship behaviors. Research shows well-rested couples display more gratitude and less selfishness.
  • Our culture often trivializes sleep, portraying it as a luxury. But inequities in society contribute to poor sleep for many groups.
  • Dr. Troxel aims to consider sleep within broader social contexts. This includes individual relationships but also systemic factors like racism that shape sleep patterns.
  • Overall, she highlights that quality sleep gives couples skills to better handle conflict and nurture their relationship. And we must view sleep as embedded in social forces, not just a personal responsibility.

The amount and quality of sleep we get is impacted by more than just our personal habits – it’s actually tied closely to the rules and social structures around us.

As one expert points out, how well we sleep is shaped by things like government policies, cultural norms, discrimination, and even systemic racism.

In other words, sleep isn’t just an individual issue – it’s deeply connected to the societies we live in. Improving sleep requires looking beyond our own bedrooms at the broader forces that influence how we rest.

Making positive societal changes could create conditions that make healthy sleep patterns more accessible to all. Our ability to get enough high-quality rest depends on the social environment we’re part of.

Whether couples sleep together or apart is shaped by social factors like money and culture. Historically, having separate bedrooms was a luxury only the wealthy could afford. So the option to sleep separately depends a lot on what people can afford.

The links between sleep and relationships also change over time for couples. Key life events – like having a baby, illness, or becoming a caregiver – often bring both sleep issues and relationship struggles.

My goal is for the book to be useful for couples in all stages – newlyweds, long-term partners, etc. The sleep-relationship dynamic manifests differently but matters at every stage.

There are many ways sleep can become problematic when two people share a bed, from snoring to different schedules. It’s unrealistic to expect that combining two people’s sleep habits will magically always work seamlessly.

It’s important for couples to communicate openly about what is and isn’t working for their sleep, then find compromises that meet both people’s needs. We need to let go of notions that there’s one “right” way for couples to sleep. The priority should be getting enough good sleep to be a healthy, happy partner.

An Excerpt From Sharing the Covers

When it comes to how couples sleep, there’s no one “right” arrangement. Different things work for different partners. The wrong approach is making assumptions or decisions based on expectations rather than open conversation.

This book is meant to help couples start an honest dialogue about an important part of life we rarely discuss – our sleep habits together. Choices are often made implicitly based on beliefs about what we “should” do rather than what works best for each relationship.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ground rules for having a constructive talk about sleep with your partner:

  1. Let each person express what they want and need for good sleep.
  2. Keep wants and change requests simple and direct. Stay focused on the sleep issue.
  3. Listen carefully to your partner’s perspective.
  4. Have the talk when you’re both well-rested and ready to problem solve.

The goal is to find real solutions tailored to your needs as a couple – not follow one standard sleep formula.

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  • Milly

    Milly is a mechanical engineer residing in Canada who loves to disassemble and rebuild the latest tech in her spare time. Her passion for understanding how electronics work combined with her engineering expertise allows Milly to provide in-depth,nuts-and-bolts reviews on everything from smartphones to high-end TVs.

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