How can I sleep with my partner without the aching?
October 10, 2011 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Why do I experience joint pain and insomnia when I share a bed with my girlfriend and sleep perfectly when I have the bed to myself? How can we sleep peacefully together again?

When sleeping in the same bed with my girlfriend, I am often awakened by pain in my toes, ankles, knees and fingers. My initial solution is to stretch out and pop my aching joints, both of which really bug my girlfriend. I've been with her for about 8 months and when we first started sleeping over with each other I did not experience this. However, with my previous long-term relationships I've also experienced waking up with joint pain in the middle of the night when sharing a bed with said partners. As soon as one of us moves to another room to sleep, I almost immediately fall to sleep and am no longer bothered by the previous pain.

My girlfriend and I wish to return to sleeping together peacefully. She tells me it's some psychological or phantom pain and that I just need to ignore it and go back to sleep. The trouble is that I can't ignore it because the pain is so irritating. Stretching and popping my joints only works for a few minutes, then I'm back to tossing & turning or trying to fall asleep in strange positions. I agree that it's probably psychological, since it only happens when I sleep with someone in my bed, but I can't find anything about this, aside from people saying to just sleep in different beds. Any ideas?
posted by goalie_dave to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps when you're alone, you let yourself spread out and fling your limbs comfortably across the bed, but when you're sharing the space with a partner you have to keep yourself in a more cramped position. Maybe go together to a hotel with a king size bed for a night and see if that solves the problem -- if so, you might decide it's worth the $ to buy one.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 8:56 AM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I used to have this problem when my now-husband and I first started dating. I could sleep alone in his bed (when he was out of town) and be comfortable, but not when we slept in it together. It was an old mattress, and his weight and presence changed how the bed felt for me, and I was pretty aware that I slept differently when I was by myself (sprawled across the bed, basically).

The solution for us was a new mattress.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2011

My parents slept on two twin beds pushed together because they had very different mattress preferences. Of course, that was a plan built for a lifetime of sleep so it might be a bit extreme in your situation.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2011

A new, California King size mattress is the answer. It's a Relationship Saver.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:20 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you have anxiety about keeping her awake/not being able to fall asleep and that anxiety is manifested in a physical form that actually DOES keep her awake/keep you from falling asleep. It's a vicious cycle. I agree about going to a hotel and trying different beds, but I also think that anti-anxiety methods may work for you, whether it's breathing techniques or medication.
posted by desjardins at 9:24 AM on October 10, 2011

I do virtually everything differently if I care about bothering someone else when I do it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Our solution was to buy a king-sized mattress and use separate blankets.
posted by cooker girl at 10:13 AM on October 10, 2011

California King or simply a new mattress and separate blankets is the only thing that works for my husband and me. He is a big guy and the bed sinks in toward him and so I ended up sleeping and weird angles with my back twisted and waking up with back and joint pain from holding myself in weird positions. The new larger mattress was the best thing we ever bought.
posted by wwax at 10:19 AM on October 10, 2011

It seems likely that you're tensing up and/or sleeping awkwardly when she's there - the cause may be psychological, but the discomfort is 100% real.

I agree that a king-size bed helps a lot, as do separate or overlapping covers. Because we both use body pillows and our big dogs tend to curl up in the middle and pin down the sheets leaving no slack (leaving our butts or knees uncovered), we make the bed with two king-size sheets overlapping in the middle and hanging well past the mattress off the sides. Also, his sheet is not tucked in at the bottom because he can't stand that, and mine is tucked because I can't stand it loose. We do the same with blankets so he has his giant down comforter and I have my little microplush blanket. (Does this make an attractively-made bed? Nope. I don't live in a magazine, and I sleep well.)

If you already have a king bed, try putting pillows (or bolsters, or a body pillow, or a rolled-up blanket) down the middle and see if it keeps you from being so tense or restricting your sleep movements so much.

You may also need some white noise. You may be too aware of someone else there, which happens to me sometimes.

But once you've got yourself as comfortable as possible, you may still have to deal with the tension until it goes away or you figure out how to stop it. I can take a B-complex vitamin before bed and sleep more deeply and relaxed, but you may have to see a doctor for some bigger guns just to break the cycle.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:44 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if you are indeed a goalie, I'd say the pain you are having is due to the normal nightly tissue repair process made more extensive and painful, perhaps, by the rigors of your sport.

Graphs of circadian endorphin levels show their deepest troughs in the middle of the night, and that trough allows you to experience pain when you awaken then which would be masked by endorphins during waking hours. (Note that ACTH and cortisol levels are synced with endorphins during the nightly trough. Low cortisol levels facilitate tissue repair because cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory, and healing has an irreducible element of inflammation. Also, a major source of endorphin is a snippet from the end of the precursor [POMC] of the ACTH molecule.)

I'd guess you didn't experience this pain at the beginning of the relationship because of the high endorphin levels of falling in love.

Now, the relatively lighter sleep of sleeping with a mate is causing you to experience the pain deeper sleep was sparing you, I suspect.

I seem recall a study from a couple of years ago that found that men report sleeping better with their mates, but that monitoring shows they actually sleep worse, though I can't find the link.
posted by jamjam at 11:14 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

We used to have a springer-type mattress. When my lady and I shared the bed, we made the bed go V in the middle-ish way more together than separately. I found myself hugging the edge to try to keep from murderating my back.

Then we bought a generic tempurpedic-style mattress and haven't had any issues after the first couple nights' getting used to it.
posted by TomMelee at 12:08 PM on October 10, 2011

i'm with TomMelee...a tempurpedic mattress might help, it has no coils which can make the bed a different shape when you share it with her. you will both be still and able to move throughout the night without the other feeling the shift in movement through mattress coils or being tilted toward the center of the bed.

i have a smaller tempurpedic -- just a double/full size mattress -- and it helps a lot when my partner sleeps over here. we both get better rest.
posted by zdravo at 6:49 PM on November 27, 2011

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