On any given weeknight, my wife and I typically head up to our bedroom around eight-thirty. It’s a bit of a ritual: teeth brushed, faces washed, and the coffee set for the next morning. We climb into bed, snuggle up together, exchange stories about our day and plans for the next. We talk about the latest gossip on Facebook and some nights we might even watch a little television. The point is we make an effort to connect. However, when the clock strikes 9:00 pm she always says, “I’m kicking you out now.”
Of course, this is all done in playful banter. You see, my wife and I are on slightly different schedules, and while we start out in bed together we sleep at different times. She gets up early and leaves for her job at the crack of dawn and gets home in the late afternoon. But my work starts later in the day and gets me back in the evening. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl, so a 9:00 pm bedtime is just too early for me. That means for a couple of hours each night I’ll go back downstairs, catch up on my television shows or maybe work on a new blog post.
I often ask my counseling clients who are struggling in their relationships, “Do you go to bed at the same time as your significant other?” I’ve been surprised at how often the answer is no. It seems there is usually one person who likes to stay up late and the other who goes to bed early. These couples miss out on a critical opportunity to connect just before they fall asleep. Apparently, this is the norm. Research by Dave Gibson, a Sleep Advisor, indicates that 75% of couples in his study went to bed at a different time. He sites our busy lifestyles, heavy workloads, social lives and web surfing as the culprits. I tend to think it can also be general apathy when it comes to working on our relationships. After all, it’s just easier for one person to crawl into bed while the other binge watches Netflix, surfs Pinterest or answers emails. Many couples do not consciously work on their relationships until something is wrong, and by then it’s often too late.
Going to bed with my wife is a small but a significant investment in our relationship. I know from personal experience as well as working with hundreds of couples that relationships can be challenging. Without consistency in connecting with each other, partners can become disengaged, discouraged and feel alone. I find that this window of time before my wife goes to sleep and I go downstairs creates connection despite our busy lifestyle. Science backs this up; In my research, I found five relationship benefits of going to bed at the same time.
Five Benefits of Going to Bed Together
Benefit number one: it helps us feel safe.
One of our basic human needs is to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. When that emotional need is met, we feel at peace, and when we are at peace, we can let down our guard and relax. Being in bed together promotes touch and proximity which lead to triggering the “feel good” neurochemical oxytocin. Oxytocin signals our non-thinking mammal brain to put down the defenses, and we feel safe. Dr.Loretta Breuning, author of the Habits of a Happy Brain, puts it this way: “Oxytocin is the pleasure of letting down your guard near those you trust. It’s not the conscious decision to trust, but the physical feeling of safety you get from proximity to trusted others.”
Benefit number two: It helps us feel connected.
Another basic human need is to feel connected and to be a part of the group. Our survival as a species depends on being connected with others. Not only does oxytocin promote feeling safe, but it also promotes feeling connected. Going to bed at the same time creates an attachment to the other person both emotionally and physically. When our need for safety and connection have been achieved, we may experience benefit number three.
Benefit number three: We’ll experience more positive interactions.
Research in the Journal of Psychotic Medicine found that women who went to bed at the same time as their partners view interactions with their spouses more positively the next day. This is likely because when the need for safety and connection are being met, just before we fall into the unconscious state of sleep, the feelings extend to when you awaken. This leads us into benefit number four.
Benefit number four: We experience less conflict.
The same report, mentioned above, found that couples who went to bed at the same time were likely to have more shared activities and less conflict in general than couples who went to bed at different times. A connection is a key to a healthy relationship, and when we feel connected, not only do we feel safe but we also meet another basic human need: the need to be a priority. When these three needs are met, it naturally leads to benefit number five.
Benefit number five: More sex.
The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy went on to indicate that couples who went to bed together end up having more sex. Perhaps this is a no-brainer; after all, you can’t have sex when one person is in bed and the other is in another room watching Game of Thrones. It is during sex that our brains produce a cocktail of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, the “feeling good” chemicals. Once our brains experience “feeling good” it wants more so we also unconsciously attach to the person and place. The trigger of happy chemicals helps create a habit of going to bed together, leading us back full circle to benefit number one.
Clearly, there is more to a healthy relationship than just going to bed at the same time. But it’s like what the wise King Solomon said: “The little foxes ruin the vineyards,” meaning that it’s the little things that build up over time to create resentments. The opposite is also true; when we do small things to build into our relationship we strengthen our connections. Going to bed at the same time as my wife is a little thing that has paid big dividends. In fact, just last night my wife said as we were laying in bed, “This is my favorite part of the day.” Mine, too! Now, if I could just get her to quit stealing all the covers, that would be amazing!