my girlfriend can't sleep...
January 17, 2006 8:10 PM   Subscribe

My girlriend can't sleep...

My girlfriend and I moved into a condo in August '05, and she is having trouble sleeping. We are both undergrads in college, and have different schedules. I tend to stay up very late, as this is when I am most productive. She claims that she cannot fall asleep if we don't go to bed at the same time; she feels that she will be woken up when I do come to bed, and due to the anticipation, she cannot relax. There have been nights when she went to bed, I came in later, and she woke for a moment and then fell back asleep; now, instead of going to bed, she will lie on the couch and pass out and sleep fitfully until I am ready to go to bed. This results in her getting poor sleep, being annoyed about it, and me feeling guilty. I should add that I have lived in a variety of places and am comfortable just about wherever, and she is a few years younger and this is her first time away from home. So this is, in some way, about her general comfortability- not necessarily 'safety', as she seems fairly comfortable where we live. I don't want to have to tiptoe around while she's on the couch, and I hate feeling like I can't stay up and work.
Anyone else have this problem with a spouse or significant other? Solutions?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Is she a light sleeper? Can you lay with her until she falls asleep, then get up and do your work?
posted by MegoSteve at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2006

I had the same experience with my boyfriend. He always wanted to stay up late and do work, but I wanted to go to sleep much earlier. If he had the TV on, it drove me crazy--I couldn't fall asleep, or I'd wake up right away when loud commercials came on. Plus, when came to bed, he'd totally wake me up and rip me out of a sleep cycle. I hated it, and I'm sure my complaining made him hate it. It came to be a real issue.

Forgive me if my suggestion is overly simple, but it's extremely effective: earplugs. I highly recommend Hearos, which you can buy at most major pharmacies. They not only helped me to fall asleep despite the TV, but they also kept me from waking up when he came to bed. And on the occasions when him coming to bed wakes me up, it barely wakes me up for a moment, and then I fall back asleep because the only stimulus is brief movement on the bed--which is nowhere as disruptive as the noise. Hearos are really soft and totally conform to the shape of the ear canal. I can't without 'em (no, I'm not a Hearos sales rep).

If issues about being away from home are keeping her awake, the earplugs will only help so much. I defer to other posters to address that issue.
posted by lilybeane at 8:39 PM on January 17, 2006

You might want to address her excuse for wanting to go to bed at the same time. Here's why:

My husband works long hours and I stay at home alone all day. We live in a very small town in Korea, and I don't know many people here, so I get little socialization anyway, but the few hours each evening between when my husband gets off and when we go to bed are very important to me. I like for us both to go to bed at the same time because — even if we're sleeping — that's time that we get to spend together (not to mention the talking and cuddling we do while trying to fall asleep).

When he's gone on a business trip, I have no trouble falling asleep on my own, but the thought that you may be in one room doing your own thing while she's wasting her time sleeping instead of spending it with you may be what's actually keeping her up. Especially if you have drastically different schedules and don't get to see each other much otherwise.

I know this seems irrational but it's not unlikely, especially if she's younger. I'd talk to her about this, or find some way to do some of the things you need to do (read coursework or do homework) in bed while she's going to sleep.

So, my guess is that she hangs out on the couch simply because she wants to be in presence. Really.
posted by Brittanie at 8:46 PM on January 17, 2006

Earplugs with a white noise machine (aka radio set to static) can help even the lightest of sleepers. As for physically disturbing her when you lie down, you can get one of those pocket coil mattresses if you have money to spend.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:46 PM on January 17, 2006

My husband and I have the same problem, for different reasons: I'm an insomniac, and he can't sleep for worrying. In-bed pre-sleep time also happens to be an important connection opportunity for us. It's been a difficult issue. We generally meet halfway on things, but I capitulated for this one. We go to bed together at an agreed time. Sometimes I can read for a while without keeping him awake; it depends. One day a week, I get to stay up as late as I like.
posted by moira at 8:52 PM on January 17, 2006

My bf and I have the exact same thing going on. You could be describing me with your question.

Let me agree wholeheartedly with Brittanie on this one: I like to fall asleep on the couch when my bf is staying up, just because I want to be near him. I fully prefer us going to bed together, because we don't have a lot of time together during the days.

One thing that works for us (silly as it seems), is when he decides he's going to stay up, he tucks me into bed and kisses me goodnight. It may juvenile, but it's reassuring, and I usually fall asleep much faster and sleep better when it happens.
posted by ArsncHeart at 9:02 PM on January 17, 2006

I stay up later than the girlfriend as well. Our situation is pretty far away from yours, but I tuck her into bed as well. She says it helps her fall asleep.
posted by adamwolf at 9:23 PM on January 17, 2006

she will lie on the couch and pass out and sleep fitfully until I am ready to go to bed. This results in her getting poor sleep, being annoyed about it

How much of the annoyance and inability to sleep are actually 1 and the same thing in a chicken-and-egg kind of bind?

I am speaking from personal experience as well as experience dealing with other people with sleep problems when I say the following: it's not the brief interruption of sleep that ruins your night, it's the concomitant annoyance.

We actually wake up briefly and fall right back to sleep constantly, all night long. That's normal response to stimuli, and we didn't evolve in a perfect quiet room. We evolved to sleep with stuff going on around us, even potential predator attacks.

It's not the brief moment of waking that's stirring her to such a troubled state that her whole night is ruined. It's her annoyance. Being pissed that someone woke you up is miles worse than being woken up.

My advice will be kind of useless to you both. She needs to chill the fuck out and focus on rolling with it, just as you need to focus on coming to bed very quietly and carefully and sometimes earlier than you'd like.

She can improve her situation by being a grownup and not getting pissed off at you for harshing her mellow. No annoyance = less sleep interruption. This is a simple equation, but some of us are so self rigteous about getting our sleep that we forget our manners and our place.

Like I said: useless. Good luck convincing her that she, herself, has the power to solve her problem. Why should she, when she can blame you? :D
posted by scarabic at 11:23 PM on January 17, 2006

Beginning the evening with sex may resolve the problem.
posted by semmi at 12:49 AM on January 18, 2006

Scarabic has it right on.

I'm in the same situation. I get off work at Midnight or 1am, and she works mostly part time during the days. I personally cannot get to sleep until atleast 3am. I prefer to stay up until 4. I've tried to use a basic example to get my GF to understand: Normal people come home at 5pm, and go to bed at 9pm or 10pm. 4-6 hours after they get home. I go to bed 3-4 hours after I get home. She should be happy I'm not going to bed at 5am. What happens if you go to sleep as soon as you get home, is that you'll start getting tired towards the end of your work shift. Not good in most jobs, and certainly not good if you have to drive any distance. You might try explaining something like that to her.

Earplugs do indeed help. I suggest you head to the local pharmacy and purchase a few different brands. Try them out, and stick with what works. The GF wears them every night. Sometimes it works, others it doesn't.

The nights that it really bugs her, is simply because she's annoyed or resents the fact that I'm coming to bed so late. On those nights, she whines and gripes in a half-awake mode. I try to ignore her and tell her to go back to bed. Most of the time, she doesn't even remember in the morning. :)

It's obvious that the real problem is not the slight movement. The cats move around and she doesn't wake up, so it must be a resenment/annoyance thing. She needs to get over it.

And what's with all the answers that claim that sleeping together is spending time with each other? Sure, the cuddling and talking before bed is fine, but once you are asleep, that's it. That's not spending time together, that's sleeping in the same bed. The only way this works is if you both wake up at the same time, and THEN spend time together. Sorry, but quality time is not sleeping. Unless it's a short cat-nap together on a rainy day.
posted by Phynix at 1:24 AM on January 18, 2006

Sure, the cuddling and talking before bed is fine, but once you are asleep, that's it. That's not spending time together, that's sleeping in the same bed.

Yeah, but sorry, that's now how most of us women think.

As I said above: irrational, I know, but important to us nonetheless. I'd bet a case of beer that that's OP's girlfriend's real issue.
posted by Brittanie at 5:07 AM on January 18, 2006

MY GF and I have similar problems.. one thing I've done to get around it is.. on the nights that I stay up later than her, I always make a big think out of the cute (and not-so-cute) things that she does in her sleep as I get into the bed. Don't know why, but the conversation/giggles seem to make the fact that I didn't go to bed with her much less of a big deal.
posted by ascullion at 8:06 AM on January 18, 2006

scarabic is right. The problem exists entirely inside your gf's head. Of course that doesn't make it any less important. For some people going to bed and waking up together is an important daily-emotional-bonding-ritual-thing. For others it's a banal power-play; they just get kicks out of setting "bed time" for their SO. Is this the only area where your gf is trying to control your daily routine?

Anyways, you may just want to compromise. Three days a week you'll go to bed with her as soon as she's tired. The other four days in the week you'll continue to do your late-night-insomniac thing. If this doesn't work you could take it to the other extreme. Get separate beds or sleep on the couch.
posted by nixerman at 8:31 AM on January 18, 2006

I'm an extremely light sleeper/insomniac

Industrial earplugs (not the ones that are for sleepers, but the ones that people who are around loud things all day) and 50mg of seroquel do wonders, if going to a doctor about it is feasible.
posted by corpse at 9:20 AM on January 18, 2006

My girlfriend and I have exactly the same problem of staggered "ideal" sleep times - she likes to be asleep by 10.30pm, me an hour or so later. We have sort of solved that one by meeting in the middle: we both go to bed at a time that doesn't quite suit. You do get used to it. But as others have commented, the real issue seems to be your girlfriend's stress about being woken up when you come to bed late. There are things you can do to help this, such as tucking her in, or maybe being in the room doing work while she dozes off - maybe even you giving her some form of cute cuddly toy as a way of her feeling you are somehow "present". But ultimately it is up to her whether she continues to be stressed - her anxiety has come from her, by the sounds of it, not you, and as scarabic says the only power to fix it properly lies with her.
posted by greycap at 10:49 AM on January 18, 2006

We are both undergrads in college, and have different schedules. I tend to stay up very late, as this is when I am most productive.

You might be surprised. I always considered myself a night owl, and that 10 PM to 2 AM or so were my most productive times. In the last couple of years, because of factors too numerous to explain, I've changed my schedule and now am asleep every night by 11 PM. I find that now first thing in the morning is when I'm most productive. Changing your behavior might turn out to be easier than changing your girlfriend's.
posted by MarkAnd at 11:24 AM on January 18, 2006

Me and my bf go through this from time to time, sometimes I'm the late sleeper and sometimes he is. Often we'll wake at different times because of this. We tried the whole "go to bed at the same time" thing, especially when he was the one who wanted to stay up later, and it just resulted in him tossing and turning for hours, keeping us both up, obviously no solution.

What we do now is try to make it clear when we're each planning on going to bed, generally. When he has finals, he's up later. When I work nights, I'm up later, but making sure we're sort of on the same page on a week by week basis is a good start. That way there's no "but I thought you were coming to be WITH ME" agitation at the very end of the day. We do "getting ready for bed" things together most nights and then one of us goes to bed and the other person gets out of the bedroom and makes sure they've got all the stuff they need until bedtime. Same goes for the mornings, if one of us is getting up a lot earlier, they try to get their stuff together the night before so they're not stomping around the bedroom in the morning.

Realistically, being able to deal with this sensibly came about because we both realized that we have differing schedules, we really want to be around each other, and night time isn't always going to be the time to do it. If one of us is feeling exceptionally fussy or needy or whatever, the other one will try to bend their schedule to either go to bed later or earlier so that we can lie in bed and snuggle together, or else have sort of an extended bedtime of lying around talking before whoever is going to be up later gets up and does something else. In short, your girlfriend's anxiety about your differing bedtimes needs to be dealt with somehow. You two should both hammer out what you expect from bedtime, the other person, schedules in general [maybe compromise on making sure to go to bed together a few times a week, whether that means her staying up or you hitting the hay early] and then realizing that may mean that one of you will have to lump it the rest of the time.

For my b'friend and I a lot of hammering this out was wrapped up in his deepy ingrained idea that there was a right time to go to bed and get up, and having a hard time adjusting to me doing it differently, or for our bedtime routine to be different than his parents (where his insomniac dad stayed up all the time and his Mom went to bed alone every night, not what I wanted) or ones he'd had before.
posted by jessamyn at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2006

Further support for the tucking-in (just seeing her settled and saying goodnight). GF also likes it when I let her know around what time I'm coming to bed, so if she wakes up in the middle of the night she knows whether I should be there.
posted by fidelity at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2006

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