Sleep Disorders

12 June 2017

Bed partner's advice may make insomnia worse

Well-intentioned tips from the person you share your bed with to encourage better sleep often backfire instead of helping.

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Getting a good night's sleep is not negotiable, especially if you have to get up early for work. But that is often a struggle if your bed partner is tossing and turning all night.

You probably have some well-meaning advice to remedy this situation, but it may be best to keep it to yourself.

Australian sleep specialists found that when a loved one had insomnia, the partner's suggested solutions – including watching TV or going to bed earlier – often backfired.

You may not be helping

"It is possible that partners are unwittingly perpetuating insomnia symptoms in the patient with insomnia," said study author Alix Mellor.

Mellor, a postdoctoral research fellow, is coordinator of the Researching Effective Sleep Treatments (REST) project at Monash University in Victoria.

Causes of insomnia

People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue and irritability.

According to a Health24 article, insomnia can be caused by the following:

  • Emotional distress, such as internalised anger or anxiety
  • Overusing substances, such as caffeine or alcohol
  • Disturbances like your body clock or circadian rhythm
  • Environmental factors, such as noise or bright light
  • Medical conditions, such as depression, chronic pain, asthma or other medical conditions
  • Eating large meals close to bedtime
  • Vigorous exercise close to bedtime

The South African Pharmaceutical Journal (SAPJ) reported that more than 75% of adults report symptoms of insomnia, but usually the insomnia is quickly resolved once the stimulus or situation is improved.

Patients seeking treatment

Mellor's team's surveyed 31 partners of insomnia patients who were seeking treatment for their sleep problem.

Roughly three-quarters said they suggested that their sleep-deprived partner go to bed early and/or wake up late. But neither behaviour is considered helpful for insomnia, the researchers said.

More than 40% also said they promoted bedtime activities other than sleep, such as reading or TV-viewing. And more than one-third said they suggested that their sleep-deficient partner take naps, consume caffeine or cut back on daytime activities.

None of those ideas are embraced as good ideas by sleep experts either.

Increased levels of anxiety

Bed partners also made accommodations that affected their own sleep or daytime alertness, the researchers found.

"Our preliminary results suggest that while some of these behaviours make the patient feel supported, their partner may be experiencing more anxiety," Mellor said in a news release from the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Read more:

What are sleep disorders?

Symptoms of sleep disorders

Diagnosing sleep disorders

 

Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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