Here’s Why You Might Be to Blame for Your Partner’s Insomnia

Want to know the quickest way to wreck your sleep and your partner's? Make some suggestions on how to sleep better, says science.

ShutterstockThe road to sleeplessness is paved with good intentions, apparently. While there are plenty of great tips on how to fall asleep, advice from a loving partner seems to make insomnia worse, according to new research.

The new research, reported recently by ScienceDaily, analyzed 31 couples in which one partner was seeking treatment for insomnia. The patients completed sleep questionnaires, and then kept a sleep diary for the week prior to beginning of treatment. Their partners were also asked to complete questionnaires probing mood and interactions with their partners.

The researchers found that 74 percent of the partners encouraged either an earlier bedtime or a later wake time. The hitch? This directly contradicts research-tested strategies for dealing with insomnia, which recommend staying in bed only for the amount of time you’re actually asleep—even if it’s just five hours. (Learn more about insomnia tricks that really work.) Worse, 42 percent of well-intentioned partners suggested no-nos like reading or watching TV in bed; 35 percent recommended naps, caffeine, or taking it easier during the day—all of which can make sleeplessness worse.

“It is possible that partners are unwittingly perpetuating insomnia symptoms in the patient with insomnia,” said lead author Alix Mellor, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow and coordinator of the Researching Effective Sleep Treatments project at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. She also found that the “helpful” partners fared poorly as well: Their sleep suffered and anxiety increased.

The best approach? Rather than offering advice to a sleepless significant other, encourage him or her to seek professional help, like cognitive behavioral therapy. You’ll both feel better.

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