How do I covercome my need for a large amount of personal space while sleeping?
December 5, 2010 4:43 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are moving in together! But I have trouble falling asleep when I'm sharing a bed and can barely do it four nights a week. How am I going to upgrade to seven nights a week? Please give me your suggestions!

I'm excited to have my boyfriend move into my apartment in the next couple of months. We're a terrific team, and although I'm nervous, I'm also extremely excited. I have one hurdle to jump before we can make this happen, though: I hate sharing a bed with anyone!

My boyfriend knows that I need a lot of space and don't like being touched when I'm asleep, and he's very respectful of both of those needs. It takes me an extra half-hour to an hour to fall asleep when he stays over, anyhow. He stays over about three to four nights a week at present, and I honestly dislike every minute of it despite the fact I love him and have no trouble being thisclose to him when we're awake. I have a queen size bed and can't afford to buy anything new and larger right now, so I need to become accustomed to sleeping next to someone else every single night of the week, especially because my boyfriend also loses valuable sleep when I toss and turn. Has anyone else here overcome a need for a large amount of personal space while sleeping? How did you do it? Any tricks (body pillows, separate covers, white noise generators) that you could suggest would be very welcome in this situation.
posted by pineappleheart to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I know a lot of couples who sleep in separate rooms/beds, or with separate covers. It's possible that you might find it works for you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:47 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sharing a bed was very difficult at first for me. What is it exactly about your boyfriend's close proximity that keeps you from sleeping? Is it the sound of his breathing? Earplugs might help that. For me, it just took time.
posted by mmmbacon at 4:49 PM on December 5, 2010

Response by poster: I should mention that I'm in New York City, so space in my apartment is limited: I've only room for one bedroom and one bed in it, I'm afraid! I'd love to hear if separate covers works. I'm sure I can afford a second duvet. Thanks!
posted by pineappleheart at 4:50 PM on December 5, 2010

Here's one vote very enthusiastically in favor of separate covers. It's the easiest thing, it makes a world of difference, and you can hog your own cover as much as you want without worry (this is coming from a terrible unintentional cover hog).
posted by SugarAndSass at 4:52 PM on December 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

I've seen people put two twin bed mattresses on a larger bed frame, and make them up with separate sets of sheets and quilts. If you can afford to do something like this (I know mattresses are expensive) maybe it would help?

Personally, Mr. Narrative and I recently splurged on a fancy-ish, pillowtop mattress. The kind that absorbs vibrations, so one person' movement doesn't shake the entire bed. This might also be worth the investment for you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Generally I sleep with a full body pillow in the center of the bed. It helps provide a buffer between myself and my husband, and it also gives the cats a place to sleep between us!
posted by strixus at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2010

Response by poster: And in answer to mmmbacon, sharing a bed just makes me feel claustrophobic.
posted by pineappleheart at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2010

We have separate blankets and a very large cat between us.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:58 PM on December 5, 2010

We have separate sheets and covers; it helps very much. I hear this from people who sleep 3 to a bed, too. Added bonus that if we get cold in the middle of the night we can combine so we're both under twice as many covers. Awwwww!

Other things that help:

We have more pillows than we need. I have my own pillow with distinctive cover that only I get to use (MINE! ALL MINE! MUAHAHA!)

We almost never try to fall asleep at the same time. I think we might actually avoid it. I don't like having someone lying awake next to me trying to sleep while I'M trying to sleep.

You'll also probably get more used to it once it happens every night. 3-4 nights a week means you keep having to readjust.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:04 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Putting a child railing on your side of the bed will make it feel a lot bigger -- it adds about 4 inches of usable space. if you don't mind climbing over him to get out, putting your side against a wall would another option.
posted by MeiraV at 5:05 PM on December 5, 2010

Separate blankets, a good mattress and good pillows so you don't keep getting disturbed.
posted by fshgrl at 5:09 PM on December 5, 2010

I know you said you can't afford a bigger bed right now, but I am like you (the claustrophobic thing), plus I am a VERY hot sleeper. I cannot tolerate anything but a king size bed. A king really makes a world of difference--they are substantially larger than a queen . Also, the non-springy kind mentioned by Narrative Priorities above makes a big difference too--Mr. Murrey could be jumping on his side of the bed and I don't feel it.

I know cost is an issue, but you and your boyfriend have a few months to save up. IMO, a good night's rest is worth every penny.
posted by murrey at 5:11 PM on December 5, 2010

Bunk beds?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:15 PM on December 5, 2010

seriously, separate those blankets (and sheets!). at first my husband and i were all "oooohhh, cuddly time! closeness!" and then before too long "holy crap, every time he rolls i wake up." and then, blessedly, different blankets. he likes lots and lots of blankets. i like just the blankets that will cover me. we have a king size bed (when you can afford it, i can't suggest this hard enough either), he has king sized blankets, and i have twin blankets. so when we want extra close cuddly time, i'll crawl under his side, we'll snog a little, and then we'll go back to our own covers so we can get some damn sleep.
posted by nadawi at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Separate beds? No way.

I can't fall asleep while being touched, as weird as that may sound, but there is no way that I would agree to separate beds.

If I were in another room, I would not witness my guy's snorting, tossing and, sometimes, if I'm lucky, talking in his sleep, all of which makes me happy.

More, were I in another bed, I wouldn't be able to pester him while he's sound asleep, pawing him and telling him that I love him, with him responding with a semi-conscious, "Hunh?" and a kiss on my cheek.

Which is just to say, give it time.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:26 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's awesome that your boyfriend respects your need for space while sleeping. Yay! I've always had a hard time sleeping next to someone. After a few years together, my husband and I bought a king-sized foam mattress to give us (ok, me) space - but we managed okay before that with a few tricks.

Separate covers, definitely, and aim for duvet covers (or blankets) that are so soft as to make no noise when they move or rub against other blankets/sheets. This is also really good for regulating temperatures - something I find difficult when I'm wrapped up with someone else!

A body pillow between bodies, yes, because it helps maintain a boundary. The only thing I'll caution against is that if your boyfriend moves around a lot, he may end up shoving the body pillow into you which is a bit startling, to say the least.

A white-noise generator, or a fan, to help block ot the sound of anyone breathing/snoring/talking while sleeping. This helps me a lot, as a light sleeper, and it's also good for maintaining temperature (two people in a small room can make it a lot warmer if you're not accustomed to it - which can ruin your usual jammas, blankets, sleeping positions, etc.) You might also want to try ear plugs.

I also like to fall asleep listening to TV - it distracts me from other sounds. I like old episodes of "The Office" (nothing scary or startling). You might try something similar, perhaps on a timer. Radio can be good if you enjoy talk-radio or can handle the musical shifts/commercials/whatever.

Focusing on relaxation before sleep is important, too. I tend to get tense/stressed when I think I won't be able to sleep - and the stress makes it harder to sleep. Repeat for 5 hours in which I lay in bed daydreaming about smothering the person next to me with a pillow.. not good. I've learned to focus on my breathing, use anti-anxiety meds if needed, and use as many relaxing techniques as I can.. it takes practice though, so you may want to start now (before your boyfriend moves in!).

Routine really helps. We have a whole goodnight ritual that makes me feel sleepy just thinking about it. Being legitimately tired also really helps.

One of the biggest things to help me was being able to talk about it with my husband and for him to recognize that it wasn't something personal - I love cuddling/snuggling with him when we're awake but I do not like it when I'm trying to sleep. Nothing personal. His support and his willingness to try all sorts of weird things really, really helped because I didn't have to struggle AND keep it a secret or pretend everything was fine (while being obviously sleep-deprived and grouchy at times!)

Good luck!!
posted by VioletU at 5:34 PM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Nthing separate blankets and the purchase of a king-sized bed when you're able. The blankets will work wonders for you now, and the king-sized bed (preferably with two twin mattresses instead of one king-sized one) will make you blissfully unaware that someone is sleeping next to you.
posted by cooker girl at 5:42 PM on December 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks! I'd never heard of anyone using separate covers, but am so glad you've all provided such wonderful anecdotal evidence that many couples have success with that. My friends thought I was crazy when I said I hated being touched in my sleep, and now I know I'm not alone at all. Best Answer Prize awarded to everyone!
posted by pineappleheart at 5:48 PM on December 5, 2010

Body pillow helps a lot. We traditionally shared covers but I kept a spare couple of blankts next to my side of the bed because SOMEONE was a blanket-hog. The suggestion I give to EVERYONE moving in together is BUY A DUVET/COMFORTER ONE SIZE LARGER THAN THE BED. You have a queen bed, so get a king-sized comforter. This makes an ENORMOUS difference.

I didn't sleep, I swear, for months after my husband and I moved in. Now it's hard to sleep when he's not there. Most people do adjust. :)

Oh, also? I totally trained my husband to respond to commands in his sleep. When I tell him to roll over towards the wall, he does so without waking up. This is helpful if he's crowding me out of the bed or if I'm just dying of the heat from having furnace man next to me. Just lots of repetition while gently pushing his top shoulder in the direction I want him to roll. Next thing I know he obeys sleep commands. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:53 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

For as long as I can remember, my parents have been sleeping on two beds that are pushed up against each other. Separate mattresses, separate sheets. They've been married 35+ years, probably in part due to that arrangement.
posted by ellenaim at 5:57 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you can afford it, go for a foam mattress rather than an innerspring mattress. They are much better at damping the motion of the other sleeper. Tempurpedic has their famous "wine glass test," but we get a similar effect with our $300 IKEA foam mattress.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:23 PM on December 5, 2010

My BF and I have this issue. I sleep like a rock, and he is the one who has much trouble falling asleep and cannot be touched at all. Thankfully, we have room for a king-size mattress. Recently, he also started putting separate sheets on the bed, so that everything I turn over during the night, it doesn't bother him. We will probably also get a second blanket for him, which also helps with our perceived temperatures.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:29 PM on December 5, 2010

I quadruple-nth the advice to buy a kind-sized comforter for a queen-sized bed. King sized flat sheets, too, if you need. It will almost completely eliminate blanket hogging and you can pile the excess between you like a body pillow. Unless he snores obtrusively (as my hubby does, which is why we have separate rooms), you'll get used to it. In the meantime, why not set up your sofa or inflatable mattress at night in the living room so it's ready to receive you if you need to find somewhere else to sleep? Just knowing it's there, ready to go, may help you relax, and if you need it, well, you can stumble half-asleep to it withough having to fully wake up and make up the bed in the middle of the night.

as a long-term project, save up for a king. I think that'll help a lot, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:38 PM on December 5, 2010

n-thing the suggestion that each person have his or her own covers. Neither of us are snugglers, and it seems that I have a habit of stealing covers, which annoyed The Boyfriend to no end. He used to give me grief about it in the morning, which would in turn annoy me. Finally, we just drew a line down the middle of the bed and each got his own blankets. One problem solved....
posted by MShades at 6:51 PM on December 5, 2010

Sleep is worth sacrificing whatever it takes to buy a california king sized bed.
posted by yarly at 6:53 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got an air mattress for this purpose.
posted by amethysts at 7:04 PM on December 5, 2010

you said it felt claustrophobic to sleep in the same bed as someone else, so can I assume you are used to having that space all to yourself?... well, get un-used to it. Don't lie in bed if he's not there. And you two should spend some awake time in bed, each doing your own thing (reading a magazine, knitting, whatever) and not necessarily interacting with each other so you can get used to him being there without the "uhg, why are you in personal space" feeling. It's yours-and-his space now. Try to condition your brain to that so it won't bother you as much.
posted by Neekee at 7:11 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like ellenaim's solution for this problem.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:12 PM on December 5, 2010

posted by Jacqueline at 7:22 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

For a long time I felt like I couldn't sleep well with another person but it was important to my future wife so I adapted. I like having my own blanket and it actually works best when I go to bed a bit later than my wife, so don't necessarily fight asymmetrical bedtime tendencies.

Now I'm basically the opposite of how I used to be, my wife took our child on a short trip recently and I didn't get one decent night's sleep, it just felt weird to be in bed alone and I kept waking up all night.
posted by nanojath at 7:24 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, if you just sleep facing away from each other (with seperate covers), you'd never know the other one was there.
posted by empath at 8:33 PM on December 5, 2010

My husband is a super-light sleeper. This is our setup:

- King-sized bed. Gives us enough space. But really, I think we could smaller, because we have a futon mattress and a platform bed. I can't stand springy mattresses, when the other person tosses and turns or gets up to pee, it's like being on a trampoline. With the futon mattress, we don't feel each other move around at all. It's wonderful.
- Separate blankets. Also helps because I need more blankets than he does.
- Occasional fan and/or earplugs.
posted by hishtafel at 9:02 PM on December 5, 2010

I had this exact same problem when I got married, but here's what worked for me: I lay down about 30 minutes before he is ready for bed. This lets me get comfortable and sleepy without my husband pulling at the covers, turning over, fluffing his pillow, etc. I may not fall asleep during that time but I am usually close enough to sleep that it doesn't bother me as much when he gets in bed.
posted by elerina at 11:28 PM on December 5, 2010

Put up with it and you'll get used to it.

I moved for grad school, and I live 20 feet from train tracks. In a trailer. The trains woke me up every damn time they went by all night for a few weeks. I seriously thought I was going to have to move. I was exhausted. And then, after a few weeks, only the really loud freight trains woke me, and then only the horn, and now I don't really notice any of it.
posted by zug at 12:41 AM on December 6, 2010

I'm a hard-core insomniac who suffers from hot flashes. So I feel your pain. I opt for separate beds if possible. But I'm sure you're not such an innately crappy sleeper as I am. The suggestion of separate covers, the biggest bed you can possibly afford and fit in your bedroom, and a mattress that doesn't transmit movement are all great.

Also, make sure your bedroom is cool enough to compensate for the added body heat of a shared bed. People generally sleep better in a cooler room. A body pillow barrier might also help, especially if your SO kicks or moves around a lot in his sleep.

Finally, you can ask for a prescription for a sleep drug like Ambien. I know, I know, Drugs Are Addictive and Big Pharma Is Evil, but for you it might be just a short-term thing to tide you over while you get used to sharing a bed.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:10 AM on December 6, 2010

The hubs and I are two largish people sharing a full-sized bed with few problems (and I am claustrophobic as hell.)

Our bed is open on both sides so no one gets squished against a wall. We don't have separate covers exactly, but I do keep an extra blanket close by because he has a tendency to roll himself up in the quilt like a big old selfish burrito, exposing my ass to the elements. Having to play tug-of-war in the middle of the night pisses me off enough to wake me up. I can just grab my blanket to cover my freezing butt without ever coming fully awake.

I do use a body pillow because it helps me position myself more comfortably so my arms don't fall asleep. It's possible you feel claustrophobic because you can't quite get comfortable without stretching out, and a body pillow might give you more options to get comfy in a limited amount of space.

We run a fan all night long not only for air flow, but also for the white noise. It kind of takes the edge off snores, snuffles and coughs that might otherwise be more disruptive. It's also nice to have a handy breeze to cool off in when the ridiculous amount of heat the hubs is generating radiates over to my side and makes me all hot and miserable.

I do tend to be a light sleeper and sometimes wake up in the wee hours unable to get back to sleep for whatever reason. Sometimes I wind up dragging myself to the couch and going back to sleep there for a couple of hours.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:06 AM on December 6, 2010

I wouldn't say I have trouble sleeping in the same bed as my boyfriend, but when we were on holiday recently, sleeping in twin beds pushed together with separate covers, I definitely felt that I slept more deeply and felt more rested when I woke up. Although this may have been because I was on holiday of course! I would definitely give the separate duvets thing a go though. I'm sure you will get used to it :-)
posted by lizabeth at 3:10 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband likes to sleep diagonally in our queen-sized bed. Since I don't like to sleep diagonally (aaaah feet hanging off the edge of the bed is weird!) and I fidget a lot as I go to sleep, I just give him a head start many nights. Then, when I come to bed, he sleepily obeys simple commands, so I straighten him out and sleep normally.

If I get the head start, he similarly gets me to rearrange myself in my sleep.

This comes from someone who used to sleep spread-eagled on a queen - a limb for every corner of the bed and a corner of the bed for every limb!
posted by bookdragoness at 6:30 AM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to have a similar problem when i was younger but it went away after a while. but yeah you coudl try seperate covers / sheets.

two single covers on a double bed seemed the default standard in Northern Europe when i was there recently. (Netherlands / Iceland /Sweden)
posted by mary8nne at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2010

I used to be like this whenever I shared a bed but pretty quickly after I moved in with someone, would get quite used to them. I'd say it took a week at the most.
posted by stranger danger at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2010

My boyfriend and I are still trying to deal with our issues preventing us from sleeping well together. When we first started dating/ sleeping together regularly, we began attempting to solve this issue, which we may have, a year later, finally found a solution for. I think that as long as this is an issue you want to resolve, you'll be able to test out some options and while some crappy nights may be in the stars, you'll eventually figure one out that works for you and your mate.

We first added a second cover set (top sheet and blanket) to the mix. This helped deal with our (my) cover stealing issues, but didn't deal with our personal space issues. At 6'5'', my boyfriend needs to "spread eagle" to sleep well; he was used to doing this on the queen sized mattress he'd been sleeping on for years that we were then trying to share. We were fortunate enough to test out sleeping on a king mattress when we went away together a few times and, at the time, the extra space offered seemed perfect. A couple of months later, my boyfriend upgraded to a king sized mattress that we picked out together.

Fast forward six months and we now need to re-visit our sleeping arrangements. Due to my boyfriend's size, personal sleeping habits, and sleeping in the king bed by himself on the nights I don't sleep over, the king is no longer ideal for the two of us to get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, we're now looking at re-arranging some furniture and adding a Twin XL bed of the same brand as the king right next to it. We *think/hope* this will be the sweet spot for both of us. It enables us to each have our own space while my boyfriend can spread eagle and freely toss and turn on those bad nights and not feel like he's disturbing my rest and I will have the space to spread out myself on the nights I need to spread out. It also enables us to wake up next to each other and go to sleep next to each other, something that is important to both of us. We tossed around the idea of a convertible couch or futon in the living room, as a second bed for either of us for the really bad nights, but sleeping together was just something that's important to us as a couple, so we decided against it.

While I realize you have space and monetary restrictions, the point of my very long story is to give you hope, with the reality that this issue may not be solved with one "fix." I also think that as long as you are open to some creative solutions, you'll find an arrangement that works. I absolutely agree with the others above that a good night's sleep is invaluable and a different mattress, whether it's a king, two twins, a full and a twin, is absolutely worth the investment. I also think being completely honest with your partner, and asking for his suggestions, is a great way to grow as a couple and tackle this together. Best of luck!
posted by chaiwawa at 1:16 PM on December 6, 2010

Separate duvets. I've slept so much better since I got my own and refused to share. Sorry, honey.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:44 PM on December 6, 2010

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