With Valentine's Day approaching, many may be pondering traditional gift-giving strategies. Maybe it's flowers, chocolates, or jewelry? But consider this: As we continue to endure the challenges of pandemic living, perhaps the greatest gift you could give to your partner (and yourself) is a good night of sleep.
As I describe in my book, “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide To Better Sleep,” prioritizing healthy sleep is not only good for your own emotional and physical health, but it's also good for your relationship. Research clearly shows that when you are well slept, you are happier, more attractive, a better communicator, and more empathic. What could be sexier or more romantic than that?
There are many small steps couples can take to improve their sleep and their relationship quality. For starters, here are some tips for optimizing the sleep environment for you and your Valentine.
Invest in a Good Mattress
Remember that we spend roughly one-third of our lives asleep, so it is worth putting a premium on the comfort of your sleeping arrangement. Spend what you can afford within your budget, but don't skimp out on this luxury, as you are going to be spending a lot of time in it. The key is that it is about comfort for you and your partner, so to the extent possible, it is best to get to try out your mattress first. Many mattress companies extend generous return policies so that you have the opportunity to test it out, and don't have to feel stuck if you change your mind. Mattresses have a shelf-life and need to be replaced every 7–10 years.
Prioritizing healthy sleep is not only good for your own emotional and physical health, but it's also good for your relationship.Share on Twitter
Make Yourself a Tidy and Inviting Nest
I am a scientist, not an interior designer, so while I am no expert in the trendiest or most stylish room decor, I can tell you that there are some science-backed basic dos and don'ts when it comes to turning your bedroom into a haven for sleep. In terms of colors, neutrals, silvers, and grays have been shown to be relaxing and can even lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Splashes of color, particularly if they make you happy or feel warm and inviting are also acceptable, but just don't make it too bright as that can be alerting. Beyond the color palette, what's even more important is what you keep in your room and what you keep out. You want your haven to be free from clutter and the distractions of the day—that includes dirty laundry scattered on the floor or your phone by your bedside. All that detritus sends the wrong signal to the brain and can increase anxiety. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex—keep it simple and inviting. And when you wake up in the morning, set yourself up for sleep that subsequent night by making your bed first thing. Each night that you return to bed should be like an invitation to your warm, inviting, and tidy haven.
Keep Your Relationship Hot, but the Bedroom Cool
As we sleep, our body temperatures naturally decline. In fact, a dip in core body temperature is a key signal to our brains that it's time to fall asleep. Generally speaking, the recommendation is to keep your bedroom between about 60 to 67 degrees, which to be perfectly frank, is much colder than many of us would naturally feel comfortable in during the daytime. The goal is not to have you shivering all night. Make sure you have enough blankets that can come on or off as needed to regulate your temperature throughout the night. By gently nudging your body temperature a bit lower by setting your thermostat lower, this can facilitate sleep onset and deeper, more-restful sleep. There is even some truth to the old adage about a warm bath being good for sleep for this very reason. While in the bath your temperature rises, but precipitously falls when you get out. Try a bath about 90 minutes before bedtime. Better yet, do it with your spouse and make it a part of your shared bedtime ritual! It's a great way to relax and unwind with each other, and reduce your body temperature (provided that things don't get too steamy in the bath).
It's Better in the Dark
While some may argue whether sex is better in the light of day or in total darkness, there is no question that sleep is better when the lights are down. Sometimes this is more than simply turning off the light switch. Make sure if light creeps in through the window, you use blinds or drapes or even hang up a dark sheet over the window if necessary. If some light cannot be avoided or perhaps if you and your partner are on different schedules with one coming to bed later, consider wearing an eye mask. And it goes without saying but must be repeated, if the light is coming from a phone or other electronic device in the hands of your partner or yourself, get that sleep-stealer out of the bedroom. Light in general, but particularly, the blue light that comes from electronic devices, directly suppresses the hormone melatonin that signals the brain that it is time for sleep. And before you go excusing your device because you have a blue-light filter, let me just say that it is the stimulating content that we consume from our devices, not just the light that can keep us up at night. Set the mood (for sleep and maybe even a little romance) by turning the lights down in the evening a couple of hours before bedtime. Dim lights can also stimulate the release of melatonin and set you up for sleep success that night.
Punctuate the Start and End of the Day with Small but Sweet Gestures
Bringing your partner coffee in the morning or giving your partner a back rub as they wake up or go to sleep, even when you are tired and cranky and irritable, can go a long way towards building goodwill and compassion in your relationship. It's like putting money in your relationship bank account. You may not be a great conversationalist and you may be snappy, but these small gestures of kindness can smooth out those edges a bit. You may be surprised how these small acts can make you and your partner feel better and can start (or end) the day a little brighter.
Wendy Troxel is a senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation and author of “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep.”
This commentary originally appeared on Sleep Education on February 11, 2022. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.