undefined undefinedHeather threw off the covers in frustration and propelled herself out of bed. For the last forty-five minutes she had repeatedly shoved her husband, Rick, to roll him over and stop his snoring. Her efforts had met with temporary success, but as soon as she would fall asleep again, his snoring would wake her. In defeat, she grabbed her pillow, yanked the blanket off of Rick with a smug smile, and trudged bleary-eyed downstairs to begin another night on the couch.

To Sleep Again

You want the intimacy of sharing a bed, but you just can’t seem to sleep together? Here are some strategies to help save your intimacy — and preserve your sanity in the process.

Sleep Child-Free.

Parents often allow babies to sleep in bed with them for comfort and convenience. Yet studies show that men, unlike women, often have difficulty sleeping with infants for fear they may roll on them. A compromise may be placing a bassinet next to the bed, so the baby is still near but not disturbing Dad.

A far more intractable problem occurs when toddlers, most of whom will do anything to snuggle in between Mom and Dad, are permitted to sleep there regularly. The conflict comes when one parent wants to evict the child from the bed, and the other wants the child to stay. Not only is reaching a solution between yourselves difficult, you also have a toddler who will fight tooth and nail to stay put.

Nick and Julie had such a problem. After Julie finished nursing Alison, she wanted to put Alison back into her own bed. Nick didn’t want to deal with Alison’s protests and thought Alison should stay. But Julie, the lighter sleeper, felt Alison interfered with their love life and with her sleep. When Chase was born, and they had four people in one bed, Julie couldn’t stand it anymore. Nick eventually agreed to move the children, and Julie felt like she got her life back.

Not all experts agree with Julie’s solution. Dr. William Sears, author of The Family Bed, says that co-sleeping (in which the family sleeps in one bed) is the most natural form of sleeping, one that has been the norm for thousands of years. But while this arrangement may have worked well when families had only one bed and needed each other for warmth, it doesn’t work as well now. Some families certainly enjoy sleeping together. But most of us will be unable to sleep with small thrashers, because we’re not used to sleeping with others kicking and crawling on top of us.

Dr. Richard Ferber, in his book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, presents a strategy for teaching children to sleep in their own room, in which you put them to bed at set times and allow them to cry, checking on them at intervals to let them know you still love them. It may take some time before children adjust, but they will emerge with an ability to comfort themselves and they will respect order and schedules. In the process, your marriage, and especially your sex life, are bound to improve.

Buy the right bed.

If your bed squeaks every time somebody rolls over or is so narrow that your spouse knocks you every time he moves, a simple solution may be to buy a new bed. Lisa and Derek recently purchased a king-size, and Lisa says it’s changed her life. She had struggled getting to sleep with Derek, who often comes and goes at odd hours because of his job. Now he doesn’t disturb her at all. “If our house were on fire,” she says, “you’d see me pushing the bed out the door.”

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Reduce noise.

For many couples, the main sleep problem they face is noise, whether because of snoring or such periodic interruptions as phone calls. You can take steps to reduce snoring (see sidebar), but if you’re plagued by noise of other sorts, consider wearing earplugs. When I was at college, I could not sleep with all the background noise in the house. Earplugs took a few nights to grow accustomed to, but they helped drown out the constant chatter. Using them can reduce the chance that phone calls, pagers, or snoring will wake you up. And for spouses who have trouble falling back asleep after being disturbed, this can be a great relief.

Sleep apart.

If none of these solutions works, you may have to consider sleeping apart. Many of us balk at this idea because we’re scared of sacrificing the intimacy of sharing a bed. It’s often while lying together that we have our most important conversations and hash out our differences. It’s where we plan our vacations, our families, and our retirement, and where we share our most intimate moments.

But if you put your mind to it, you can preserve these moments and still protect your sleep. Try retiring together, in bed, a little earlier than you usually go to sleep. Use that time to do something together, such as watching the news or sharing a Psalm. Then take some time to talk about your day and to share what’s on your mind. After you’ve spent some time together, separate before actually going to sleep.

Some couples find that having the light sleeper go to sleep half an hour before the other helps. The light sleeper has time to reach a deep sleep before his or her spouse comes to bed. But if the trouble continues throughout the night, prepare a second bed. Put a comfortable one in the guestroom, or tuck a pillow and blankets into a basket by the couch, so that no one has to struggle in the middle of the night to put a bed together.

If sleep is only an intermittent problem, keep this bed simply as a back up. My husband and I have such an arrangement, and it usually only gets used once a week when he is on call and is paged frequently. But if sleep is a problem every night, go to sleep separately. This removes nightly tension, since each night is no longer a test to see if he or she will keep you awake. To avoid any lingering resentment, take turns being the one to leave the bed, so that both spouses get to enjoy the bedroom. And be sure to tell your children and others who need to know about the sleeping arrangements, so they won’t assume your marriage is on the rocks.

Finally, ensure that the process is devoid of blame. Remember, the problem takes two: She thrashes, but he can’t sleep with that disturbance. It’s not time to lay blame; it’s just time to get some sleep!

Sleep is one of the most important functions we have. God gave us rest after creating us, before we even had time to get tired. It was his gift to us, not as a reward for working, but as an integral part of living. Let’s make sure we honor our God-given need for sleep, without neglecting the intimacy we need in marriage.

Copyright © 2004 Sheila Wray Gregoire, used with permission of author.