No matter how big your bed is, sharing that space with someone else can make it feel cramped.
Joy Osmanski lives in a one-room loft in downtown Los Angeles and shares a bed with her husband as well as their two toddlers. Depending on how everyone is sleeping, the California-king mattress can feel like it shapeshifts. “There are some nights when the bed feels enormous, where literally, I’m like, ‘Where are you?’” Ms. Osmanski said. “Other nights, I can’t even wedge myself in.”
Ms. Osmanski’s situation may be unique, but sharing a bed with at least one other person is common. A 2012 National Sleep Foundation poll conducted with 1,004 Americans aged 25 to 55 years old found that 63 percent of respondents slept with a partner. A 2014 FiveThirtyEight survey of 1,057 American adults with a partner reported that less than 20 percent of respondents slept separately a few times a week or more.
Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, noted that although studies show that people sleep better alone, those same participants say that they preferred to sleep with a partner. “What this suggests to me is that the psychological benefits that we get from feeling close and protected and connected to our partner, particularly at night, trumps even those objective consequences of sharing a bed,” Ms. Troxel said.
The comforts of being close to a partner during sleep don’t have to come at the expense of getting a solid night’s rest. Here are some solutions for common crowded-bed complaints, from duvet tug-of-war matches to early-rising kid invasions.
Get the right bedding
If you and your partner sleep comfortably at different temperatures, try separate twin comforters (Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times, recommends these ones), a practice found in Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe. Not only can this end blanket-stealing, but it can also allow each partner to choose a comforter with a different warmth level, weight and duvet-cover materials (perhaps flannel for the perpetually cold and airy percale for the sweatier partner).
Ms. Osmanski and her husband provide separate blankets for the kids. “Four different people, that’s four different sleeping temperatures,” she said. If you have a child who comes in and regularly steals the pillow, offer a small pillow that’s easier for small hands to move around.
If you and your partner don’t have the same preference for the mattress’s firmness level, you’ll need to find a solution that works for both of you. In Wirecutter’s mattress buying guide, Santhosh Thomas, the medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health, suggests finding the firmness that works best for the partner with any musculoskeletal issues. We have tips on finding that perfect firmness here. If that isn’t a concern, consider a firm mattress and adding a mattress topper, like these ones our testers liked, to soften one side of the bed.
And when you’re ready to buy a new mattress, choose a size that offers enough room for each person: A queen-size mattress gives each person 30 inches, while a king-size mattress provides a roomy 38 inches for two people. A foam or foam-hybrid mattress, like these models, can offer motion isolation, so you won’t ride the waves of your partner tossing and turning beside you. We found that foam mattresses limit motion transfer the best, but if you prefer spring mattresses, look for those with pocket coils, particularly between 12 and 15 gauge.
Ms. Troxel said the ritual of going to bed with a partner can trigger social “zeitgebers,” or cues that influence circadian rhythms. “Partners can be very helpful to help enforce consistent sleep and wake routines,” she said. “It becomes a reminder to go to bed instead of staying up late playing video games or binging on Netflix.” Talking before bedtime, even if one person is a night owl and the other is an early bird, can help a couple feel in sync in their relationship.
For parents who fend off children early in the morning, setting visual reminders to define an acceptable wake-up time can provide a similar circadian cue. A toddler alarm clock like the OK to Wake Alarm Clock & Night-Light helps to signify when it’s O.K. to get out of bed. For a more subtle but still effective solution, installing smart, color-changing light bulbs like our favorite, the Philips Hue, or a baby monitor like the Arlo Baby, which our reviewers liked for its night light feature, in a child’s bedroom can indicate to an eager child when it’s O.K. to get out of bed and venture into a parent’s room.
See a sleep specialist
If you or your partner snores or regularly has trouble falling asleep, don’t suffer through the problem. You can block out some snoring with occasional earplug use or a white noise machine, (and we have recommendations for both here) but if one of you keeps the other up with noise, it may be helpful to see a sleep specialist to check for sleep apnea, a common but underdiagnosed health issue, or other sleep disorders.
Interruptions during sleep, whether in the form of medical issues or children climbing into bed, can make one partner feel the need to move to the couch or another room temporarily. If you and your partner choose to sleep apart long term, you won’t be alone. Although a lack of sleep may increase conflict, consider how the separation can affect your relationship.
“Prioritize sleep as a couple. Think of it as an investment in your relationship, because you really are a better partner as well as more productive and healthier and happier when you sleep better,” Ms. Troxel said. “If you have challenges with sleeping together, talk about it in a healthy and calm and honest way instead of what I often see is out of desperation, one member of the couple abandons the bed leaving the other partner to feel literally abandoned.”
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.