A sleep dictator is the person in a household who says, “I want this pre-sleep routine, I want to go to bed at this exact time, get up at this exact time, sleep on this mattress, under this duvet and I do not care whether you are asleep or not, because this is what suits me.”
A sleep dictator can be the partner of a poor sleeper and their poor sleep is not helped by the repressive sleep regime they live under, but it can also be the poor sleeper, desperately trying to create a systematic routine and a settled environment because their mindset is “if I control everything I will sleep better.” This, by the way, is definitely not true and if anything this need to control is just making the sleep issues worse.
The reason why compassion in a sleep relationship is so important is that to fall asleep and stay asleep we need to feel emotionally and physically secure; this helps our heart rate to drop and leaves us relaxed and ready to get good quality sleep. However, one of the ironies of life is that we are often attracted to someone who is our total opposite when it comes to sleep. One partner likes to be up and about early while the other one likes to go to bed later and get up later. One likes it cool and one likes it hot, one wants a firm mattress and one wants something soft, one wants to fall asleep with the TV on whereas one needs total silence.
Kip Advisor's top tips:
Not addressing sleep incompatibility can have a serious impact on our health and relationships. If, for example, one half of a couple suffered from sleepwalking episodes because they were a late sleeper and their partner was encouraging them to go to sleep before 10pm - that would be something that might need a bit of work!
Often this lack of compatibility when it comes to sleep is just a symptom of a relationship that is doomed never to work, but sometimes it is two people who clearly love each other but just don’t know what to do so both people get the sleep they need.
So what can we do?
1. Understand each other's sleep type and create a targeted sleep time that works for both people. We all sit at a different place on the sleep type continuum. At one end of the line are larks, early to bed, early to rise types, while at the other are owls, late to bed, late to rise types and in the middle are those who are more neutral or typical. Generally, as adults, we are more likely to be somewhere in the middle with a slight preference to one type or the other. What this sleep type indicates is when we are most likely to be in the right physical state to fall asleep. It is an hour and a half window, and for most couples, their individual windows overlap at some point. If one person is an early in their sleep time, so they go to sleep somewhere between 9.30 and 11pm, while the other is more likely to feel sleepy between 10.30pm-12am, they might try to aim to go to sleep between 10.30-11pm, which could work better for both parties.
2. If one person wants to watch the telly in bed to fall asleep and one doesn’t then we need to address the TV watching. TV is great for relaxing, but it creates an environment that isn’t the best for sleep. It would be better to watch telly in another room and then go to bed when we feel sleepy. If we are sleeping poorly the bedroom should be kept for two things; sleep and the other one that begins with S. And no, it isn’t snoring.
3. Buy a bigger bed. We sleep in incredibly small beds in the UK. 65% sleep in a double bed, which is 137 cm wide. Each person, therefore, gets 68.5 cm. A baby in a cot bed at 6 months old gets 70 cm! This means that we are too close, making noises and disturbing each other, touching each other, waking each other up with our death-breath. Next time a bed is bought, get one as big as possible, so you're not like sardines in a tin.
4. If one of you is a hot sleeper and the other gets cold, try separate duvets. This advice is particularly relevant for women, as during the menstrual cycle, for two weeks of the cycle, fluctuations in core temperature make it harder to sleep (and that’s not even including the hormonal changes and the impact they have on sleep). When the menopause hits those temperature fluctuations can get far more frequent.
5. If sleeping in separate rooms is a worry and that it's a sign of a failing relationship, then don’t. Separate rooms don't mean visits can’t be arranged. Maybe more importantly the door can be locked! However, issues can arise when one person wants to go to bed and one doesn’t and one of the people is a needy sleeper.
Final note: Don't be a sleep dictator! Have open, compassionate conversations with the people in your household to make sure you come to a comfortable agreement that helps everyone get the best sleep possible.