Dr. Wendy Troxel, Ph.D. is internationally recognized as the leading authority on couples and sleep and author of “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep”. She is a Senior Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation and holds Adjunct Faculty positions at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Utah. Dr. Troxel is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, with more than fifteen years of clinical and research experience in sleep medicine. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, private foundations, and corporations, and has been published in top-tier medical journals. She serves as a scientific advisor for several corporations and is a member of the National Institutes of Health Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board.
In addition to her academic credentials, Dr. Troxel is a highly sought after public speaker and her work has been featured by numerous media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, and the BBC. She is also a regular contributor to HuffPost, Thrive Global, and Psychology Today. Dr. Troxel’s TEDx talk has received over 2.2 million views, and is at the forefront of national conversations concerning the impact of early school start times on adolescent sleep. Arianna Huffington called her one of the 5 most influential people in sleep, saying “Wendy Troxel is on the front lines of the sleep revolution. Again and again, her research shows just how fundamentally sleep affects every aspect of our lives…”
In this episode, we discuss:
🧘Do people sleep better together or apart?
🧘The history of sleep and how cultural norms change the way we sleep throughout time.
🧘The role of safety and security in sleep.
🧘The psychological benefit of sharing a bed with your significant other.
🧘Solutions for improving shared sleep.
🧘Signs of sleep disorders and when to seek medical treatment.
🧘How to communicate with your partner about ways to improve sleep.
🧘Benefits of being well-slept.
🧘How protecting and preserving sleep can be a powerful strategy for protecting and preserving our closest relationships.
🧘How to create a bedtime ritual with your partner to promote relationship quality and sleep.
The information contained on this podcast, our website, newsletter, and the resources available for download are not intended as, and shall not be understood or construed as, medical or health advice. The information contained on these platforms is not a substitute for medical or health advice from a professional who is aware of the facts and circumstances of your individual situation.
And welcome to the sleep is a skill podcast, really excited for my guest today. Oh, Wendy, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. Really appreciate you. I know we're introed by our mutual friend, Dr. Michael Bruce, anyone who's listening, uh, is likely familiar with him or his work. And I'm really excited to get the, to take the time today.
For us to dive in deeper to learn about your work, because we really haven't discussed the topic that we're aiming to dive into, um, at all on this podcast in depth, you know, we've alluded to it, but we haven't devoted an entire episode to couples and sleep relationships in sleep. Uh, you know, getting into this topic of sleep divorce that, you know, very charged, uh, lingo and language.
So. Without further ado. I would love to just want to introduce you and to just thank you for taking the time. So if you can just share a little bit about how you got into this space and how this relates to our goal of really making sleep.
Sure. Well, thanks so much for having me. It's really a pleasure to be here.
And so happy that Dr. Bruce introduction introduced us. So how did I get into this space? Um, well, I'm actually, I'm a clinical psychologist by training and actually a clinical and health psychologist. So I study how psychological and social. Factors in our lives influence, not just our mental health, but also our physical health and our risk for disease.
And throughout my career, I've always really been interested in why our relationships matter for our health. So we know that married or partnered people live longer. Happier and healthier lives then their unmarried or unpartnered con counterparts, but we don't really know how that happens. And so early on in my career, I was doing research in this space and, you know, demonstrating that, you know, women who are in high quality relationships have less risk for heart disease, but I wanted to understand sort of the pathway underlying that.
And that's really how I arrived at sleep because at the time, and this was, you know, 20 or so years ago. There was more and more research coming out on the vital importance of sleep. As we all know now for all aspects of our health, including our risk for heart disease. But I got to thinking, well, wait a second sleep is this vital health behavior reliably linked with all these really important health outcomes.
And it happens to be the one health behavior that couples routinely share together. And yet no one in the sleep space really was systematically trying to understand. What it means to share a bed, what it means to sleep with a partner and how are our relationships affected by our sleep and how is our sleep effected by our relationships.
So I kind of stumbled upon this area and realized, wow, it's this wide open gap in the field. And yet it matters so much to real human beings. And it's also really important scientifically to understand, you know, why is it that most people share a bed and you know, what are the potential benefits and what are the potential consequences?
That's really where I think.
Ah, that's fantastic. And I'm sure you've seen a lot of 'em. I know, even on your Ted talk, you get this question all the time of, it sounds like maybe one of the most popular questions that you're getting routinely is, is it bad if I am, you know, not sleeping in the same room with my significant other.
Or if I'm considering, um, you know, kind of having this quote-unquote sleep divorce. Uh, so I know there's a lot in that question and wondering if that might be a great place for us potentially start is kind of breaking down what comes up and what are the things we need to know from that domain of relationships and sleep.
Why is it important to really, um, kind of parse this out in particular?
Yeah, well, honestly, that's, again, one of the reasons why I thought it was so important to systematically study from a scientific perspective, this critically important question that matters in real people's lives. And we have so many beliefs and stigma.
Attached to the meaning of the marital bed. And yet with no science to guide us, it really sort of fluctuates based on the whims of society and by the way, our beliefs or the stigma attached to sleeping together or. Have very dramatically across the ages. Right? So like back in the day, uh, if anybody watches the crown, for instance, you know, back in the day it was do or gore for the wealthy couples to sleep apart.
So you wouldn't sleep apart if you could afford to do so. And again, this has shifted throughout history. It really was around the time of the 1960s, the sexual revolution. That we showed this other dramatic theft, where we started to ascribe this significant meeting to the marital bed, where if you didn't sleep together, that was necessarily the sign that your relationship was falling apart.
Still hold that belief in many circles today, even though many couples, more and more are choosing that sleeping apart may be the right arrangement for them, but there's still like so much judgment around this. And that's why, you know, I speak about this a lot. It's why I wrote my book in part to cover this and other topics that, you know, the, the words we use, sleep divorce.
That's late in with judgment, right? How can you have the word divorce? Associated with anything to do with your religion? That doesn't have a negative connotation. And so I wanted to sort of bring the science and bring the awareness to the fact that guess what, there's actually very little evidence that there's one size fits all sleeping strategy.
That's going to work for all couples and what the science does clearly show us. And what I think people are less aware of is that what we do know is that sleeping well is not only vital for your own. Health and physical and mental health, but it's also vital for your relationship health. So let's move away from this idea that we all should be following.
Socially prescribed norm that may or may not work for you if it does. That's great. But if it doesn't, you know, you don't have to feel judged about it instead, let's move the conversation to how can we sleep better together or apart and in doing so, how can we actually do something that's vitally important for improving our relationships?
So that's really sort of a. Uh, major message that, that I get asked about all the time. Sure. There's so much, there's so much
misconceptions around it. Well, I'd appreciate you kind of going back into a bit more of the history of this and breaking this down because I think that's so important. One of the things we do a lot at sleep as a skill is looking kind of from an ancestral perspective around our sleep and how we've gotten away from some of, um, you know, that kind of natural hardwired.
Biological, it needs structures, whether that's certain, um, timing, cues and different things that we're looking to have a blueprint for, um, in, uh, in the midst of a society that might be running outside of that, uh, kind of original, uh, you know, language or way of being. So it's for you to bring that in, on this topic of couples and relationships and what this means, you know, the heavy meaning that we can make up.
Is really, really helpful because we can start to then deconstruct what we might have originally, um, thought is what needs to be or what is a demonstration of a great relationship. Uh, so I really appreciate you saying that. So I'm wondering if you can share more too on that topic. And maybe some around the area of some of the things that you're seeing that come in again and again.
Cause I mean, certainly I'm hearing tons of it with people. Some people want, um, you know, a cold, some people want it hot. Some people are there's snoring involved. There's. The schedules there's different sleep, um, rhythm preferences or different lighting preferences. I mean, there's just a huge area. So if you can help us kind of, how should we think of this and like a framework?
Yeah. I, I love that, you know, the stem of this question, because it's really one of the things that I find most fascinating about the intersection of couples and sleep, because in many ways I feel like sleep. Um, Is a window as our relationships into sort of the most vulnerable aspects of our, of our sort of existence.
So if you think about it, um, you know, sleep is from an evolutionary standpoint or really vulnerable state to be in, or semi-conscious lying down, you know, in our evolutionary past, really that's a state that's quite vulnerable to threats from the environment. And yet we absolutely for our survival need to.
To survive. Yeah. So how did we evolve to, you know, preserve sleep as this fundamentally important aspect of our, you know, biology, um, but you know, how do we feel safe in an, in an unsafe sort of state? And that's where relationships plays such a critical role. And there there's this beautiful intersection.
We as human beings are hard-wired as social beings. So we derive a sense of safety and security. Um, particularly during times of threat, which the nighttime historically has always been. Um, we derive that safety from our connections with others. So when we think about how our beliefs and patterns of sleep in a social aspect have changed over time, the truth is in.
You know, way back in the day, like medieval times, um, sleep was not just, it wasn't a marital bed, it was a communal bed. You know, first of all, bed bedding was typically the most expensive piece of furniture that anyone had would have in a household. So they didn't. You know, they couldn't afford multiple beds besides the back that for both warmth and security, you know, you set, slept in social groups.
And that, again, that changed over time. You know, we see in the Victorian era, um, separate beds for those who could afford it. And then the shift again, around sexual revolution where, you know, it became the thing for couples to sleep together. But again, this idea that the intersection between our social lives.
And sleep has always been there, but it's sort of overlaid by cultural norms of the time. So that set the fact that, you know, again, we can see sort of this evolutionary connection between the importance of social connection to make us feel safe and secure, particularly by the way in high-quality relationships, not all relationships make you feel safe and secure.
That's really important to realize too, but that connection with. Needing to be able to fall into deep, good quality sleep. You know, it, ideally we have social environments that support feelings of safety and security. So, you know, w we see that connection sort of throughout history, and it's probably hard to.
As human beings. What's also really interesting about sort of these historical trends. And when you think about sort of the role of safety and security in sleep and in relationships, it also speaks to some of the contradictory findings that the research shows concerning concerning that the very question is, well, why do people sleep better when sleeping together or.
So the findings are really interesting when we measure sleep objectively like wearing wrist-worn devices called actographs or similar devices, and these really measure motion at night and a good indicator of sleep fragmentation when we measure sleep objectively. And that way we actually sleep see that people, when they share a bed with their partner, they objective.
A bit worse then on nights when they're sleeping alone. But interestingly, that same research will show that if you ask those same people, well, do you prefer to sleep with your partner or do you prefer to sleep alone? Those same people will say that they prefer to sleep with their partner and that they sleep better when sharing.
So I think what this absolutely speaks to is, again, that psychological benefit. That's probably hardwired that many of us experience when sharing a bed, because we, we feel that safety and security, even if at times objectively, it comes at a cost to our sleep. So, so that's sort of what the research says.
And then the other point about this, to your question about sort of like, well, there's lots of things that two individuals in a bed can differ on, right? Yeah. So, you know, that said, so I think it's important for people to realize, okay. The fact that it might not be an easy solution because there's this sort of psychological benefit at the same time.
You know, from a physics standpoint, when you share a bed, you got two people to deal with potential for double the problems. Right? So it doesn't mean that, you know, it's going to work for everyone. And just because you love another human being, um, does not mean that, you know, you're going to be perfectly sleep compatible with them.
Right. So other, there are plenty of issues that come up. Do face and there are solutions for them. Um, you know, you may have differences in temperature preferences. She likes it hot. He likes a cold. You may have differences in mattress preferences. One likes it from the other like soft. You may be different in terms of your circadian rhythms.
One of you is a morning. Lark. One of you is an evening out. Or maybe there's a presence of a sleep disorder. One of you has insomnia and it's just a really restless or light sleeper. So any movement from your partner is going to wake you up and then you feel resentful about it. So there's all these things that even in happy couples, I mean, it doesn't mean you don't love the human being, but when you put two in a bed in a shared space, There is, you know, automatically the opportunity for issues and also an opportunity for negotiation and compromise and problem solving.
Yeah, absolutely. I'm excited. I loved how you said yes, there are so many things that might come up and there are solutions available, which I'm so happy that you're saying this because, um, sometimes there are likely people listening have, might be listening at different stages of the game of.
Relationship or emerging relationship. And for some it's just been years and years, and it's just sort of been a resignation, well, this is how it is or surviving it or suffering through it. Um, or, you know, having that building resentment, lots of different maladaptive ways of handling this. So, uh, like a bright light you're coming in.
And what are some of these solutions? What have you seen? Um, and, and if there's ever a point to. Um, want to share too, about your thoughts on that sleep divorce title. Um, so, you know, take it in the direction you want to go. I know there's a lot of questions,
but so the first thing, and again, one of the reasons I write about this, that I have this book is that we just don't have a dialogue around this.
I mean, think about it. As you said, from the initiation of a relationship through long-term relationships, sleep issues can play a big role. But culturally, we're not sort of primed to know how to talk about this. Like, think about any dating app. Do they talk about, you know, differences in, you know, sleep, wake schedules, one of use an extreme morning, Lark, the others in evening owl.
I don't think that there are many dating apps that include that in your profile. Do we include in, you know, um, you know, pre-marital coaching anything about, well, how compatible. Are you at night because by the way, one third of our lives are spent asleep. So proportionally, that becomes a huge part of your coupled existence, and yet we're not talking about it.
So the first thing is starting to create a dialogue wherever you are in your relationship about your sleep patterns and preferences. If we can start that dialogue early on, you know, with a partner and really normalize that. The default solution for everyone. Isn't, you know, always going to bed with your partner at the same time and waking up at the same time in the same bed, because that's what society says you should do instead having a dialogue and maybe discovering, oh, well, my partner is like likes to go to bed far earlier.
I feel comfortable or that my circadian rhythm will allow me to go to bed. And if I'm going to get in bed at 10:00 PM, but I don't actually fall asleep till midnight, that could create problems for me because I'll get frustrated. So first, just starting that dialogue about sleep as a critical and proportionally, in terms of time, a major part of your relationship.
That's one tip that I would give people just starting to ask about it. And I have some quizzes and strategies in my book to support. The second thing, because for many people, um, who, you know, were sleep issues, that relationship issues really, um, hit a sort of crisis point. It's often due to a sleep disorder in one or both partners.
So, absolutely if you know, snoring is a big culprit, by the way, snoring is not just a nuisance. Um, it could be a sign of a significant sleep disorder. So if you know, you're thinking about. Stomping out of the room and going to the other room that you can't stand your partner's snoring anymore. I get it.
But also use that as a cue to maybe gently and support it in a supportive way. Encourage a partner. To go seek medical treatment to find out if it's a sleep disorder, short of that, some other solutions that deal with the kind of common issues that come up in the bed, um, with different sleep preferences.
Um, now more than ever, there's lots of products available that even in a shared sleep space, it, it allows for individualized preferences. So whether we're talking about individualized, Um, heating and cooling preferences, um, individualized firmness preferences of the mattress. Um, there's a technique called the Scandinavian method, which is essentially two twin beds put together equals a king.
And so for those who still feel that there's stigma attached to having. Separate beds, but that's, what's really gonna work for you because you know, maybe your partner tosses and turns or steals the sheets or likes it really hot. And you like it cold. This will allow for the appearance of, you know, a king-size bed or you can have separate bedding and in fact, separate mattresses.
So that's a strategy as well. And there's also, you know, sort of other practical strategies, depending on, you know, what the problem is. If it's noise, you might try a noise coming from your partner like snoring. Yes. You can try. There's a variety of different earplugs. And I really do recommend, you just need to experiment with what, what works for you, because comfort is an individualized preference and you know, there's lots of types of earplugs out there, you know?
Recommend that people experiment using eye masks. If one of you wakes up earlier than the other and goes to bed earlier than the other. Um, and again, you know, the key here is open and honest communication. You know, having these conversations about what's working and what's not working and trying to come up with compromise is not a sign that there's something wrong with your relations.
That's actually a sign of a healthy relationship because healthy couples can and do negotiate problems that occur both day and night. And then of course, one more thing regarding sleep divorce. That is yes. Another solution. I would prefer to call it something other than sleep divorce, because you know, that kind of tension is, uh, really, uh, you know, not helpful.
Um, in the context of. So, you know, solo sleeping, um, or, you know, temporary sleeps separations. Um, I think that couples need to find what works best for them. This strategy is particularly helpful. You know, if, you know, for instance, if snoring is a big issue and it can't sort of, it's not being, um, you know, and provided that the sleep disorder is addressed, um, for some people, you know, separate beds in the same room room, won't be enough.
So separate rooms are an option. And if that's the case, By the way I've talked to many couples who swear by this technique and say that it's in fact far from being the death knell of the relationship, it's actually been the thing that keeps them together, that they wake up in the morning, happy to see their partner.
Because they're well slept and they have this like mini reunion in the morning. Some couples may choose to sleep separately on a temporary basis. Um, you know, during the weekday, when they're both really stressed and might have different work schedules, but then they have these nice reunions, which can actually it Hans intimacy on the weekends.
So lots of strategies. And if couples would just be willing to commit to and engage in. Conversation about this third of our, not of our lives, which is sleep and consider it in the context of your relationship. I think there's lots of ways to problem solve, um, and lots of solutions out there that can help in this.
Absolutely. Wow. Well let's thank you for tackling all of those kinds of layers. Cause I know there's a lot there. Um, and I appreciate beginning with the dialogue and the communication because you know, even before we started recording kind of speaking too loosely, um, drawing parallels between exercise and nutrition and this realm of wellness and w there's often dialogues or at least conversation around, I'm a vegan, I'm a carnivore I'm testing out keto I'm, whatever it might be.
Uh, and in the same token with exercise, you know, uh, I like hit, I like yoga, I, you know, cycle or whatever. There's lots of things and will in demonstrations of these elements. And we might, um, people might get trainers in, might get nutritionists. They might really just stay in this conversation, how to make this all, uh, relevant.
And you're bringing to the forefront, this thing that we are doing a third of our lives, that this is a place to begin having this conversation. Uh, very much so. And, um, I'm not sure if it was in maybe an article that I had read of yours or what have you, because you've got great Ted talks, anyone listening should definitely check out your Ted talks, your book, your articles, like tons of content.
So, and we'll, we'll share in the show notes. And what have you, um, links to those of course, but, um, one of them, I believe you had gone in deeper about, um, even just from a, uh, more in that mindset perspective. That this is an opportunity for us to really take seriously our relationship and set ourselves up for success.
Um, and then to your point around the following morning, when we're w w really well rested, and then we're able to bring the most to our relationships versus just sort of a giving up on an area of relationship. This is, uh, you know, intention to. Underscore it and make it even stronger. Uh, we'd need some new marketing to your point, maybe solo, sleeping with sleep dates or I don't know something, but we need, I, one of the things you said on your Ted talk thing was, um, unconscious uncoupling, uh, was another phrase that, you know, some people have spoken to.
So, so many things, big, big topics. Um, and yet what I've seen for so many people is, you know, to kind of just this giving up-ness of it as well. You know, the wife like. The drapes, the way they are, or the, my hubby is, you know, he's always been a snorer is a snore and you might speak to, oh, we got to really get this checked out about the snoring factor or light is important.
Or, um, and sometimes it's that underscoring. It seems to be just sort of, uh, uh, it, that's how it is. So how do we. Really get in there and create this, uh, sense of urgency, or even just begin the importance for people to really make some positive changes in alignment with some of these problems that you spoke with.
Yes. Well, I mean, I think culturally, we're still in a space that there's a tendency to undermine the importance of sleep in general. And obviously we've moved a long way from the early stages of sleep when we had to convince people that sleep matters. Um, but still there is a tendency to, you know, sleep is the last thing we do when everything else gets done, you know?
And there's many people who still think that. You know, sleep is for the week or, you know, it's taking away from, you know, all the things we want to get to do. So I think bringing the relational piece into it also adds another motivator because you know what I said, actually, my Ted talk is by the way, if you're not gonna, you know, prioritize, sleep for yourself, do it for, you know, those around you, including your closest.
He ships because the research clearly shows that when you're well slept, you're a happier person. You're healthier. You're a better communicator. You're less prone to conflict. Um, you're less prone to the development of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. And that plays a big role in the health of your relationship.
There's even studies that show that when, you know, in laboratory studies, if you sleep deprive somebody for a short amount of time, They show a reduction in what's called empathic accuracy, which is essentially your ability to read your partner's emotions. You also show an increase in your likelihood of engaging in conflict.
And so when you think about this from a relational perspective, you know, everybody knows like if you have, you know, a bad night of sleep or, you know, lots of bad nights of sleep, you know, you get irritable, you're, you're more likely to snap, but think about it this way. Who are you most likely to take out those bad moods in your ability?
Your partner, you're the person that you lean on the most. So again, if you're not going to sleep for yourself, let's elevate the conversation and think about how critical this is. To preserve and maintain and support the quality of our closest relationships. And here's where we get back to my original research.
Relationships are central to our health. So sleep is not only foundational for supporting our own mental and physical health, but it's also central to maintaining our relationship health, which in turn also. Predicts our longevity and our health over time. So, I mean, I, I think it's partly, you know, changing the conversation and thinking not only about the importance of sleep or our own lives, but how it fits in our social lives as well and how protecting and preserving sleep can also be a really powerful strategy for protecting and preserving our closest relationship.
Hm, really, really good points there. Yeah. We had a, um, a anthropologists on the podcast long, you know, what a while back. Um, but I still often think of his, uh, he kind of would call things social capital. So you would have your sleep capital, uh, and you would invest in that routinely, but there might be times that he was speaking to this in the terms of.
Sometimes deviating from your sleep schedule for sake of your social capital, because it's so important from a kind of tribal perspective, um, and ancestral perspective that we want to feel connected with others. And it, that in turn bi-directionally will affect our sleep. Um, so, you know, big conversation.
But really, really, really cool. Um, might have to connect you guys. I feel like I love each other. Yes. Fantastic. Um, and I love what you're saying is it's a hundred and this is, uh, you know, now we're getting it to, well, I'm getting waxing into this, um, other topic of just, it's such an important choice of who you fall asleep.
Each night and who you wake up with, uh, each morning and that partner, uh, it's just absolutely can color your experience of your life and your sleep. So say we're in this crossroads of where choosing. Um, we've, we're having the dialogue. We've weighed the situation and there's two choices. So we might either one decide, okay, let's explore separate bedrooms, separate possibilities.
Um, as far as, you know, really having our own separate spaces. And then there's the other path of. Um, okay. We're going to make this work. How can we make this work with, uh, really a sense of intentionality and really be aware of what we're creating? Um, what are some of those two paths that we might want to, uh, be mindful?
Are there frameworks to think within that? Yeah, go ahead.
So yeah, I mean, so. It's going to come down and the solution really comes down to what's the source of the problem. And depending on the source, is it that, you know, one partner is, you know, it's noise disruption because of snoring or something else, or have one partner is just a light sleeper and has very sort of specific sleep patterns.
Or is it, you know, a child coming into the room, there's lots of things or you're different. You have different sleep patterns. So the solution really depends on the problem. But to give one example, let's say, um, that the issue is with different sleep, wake schedules, maybe this is because one of you, you know, works, you know, shift work hours, um, or maybe it's because you have different intrinsic.
So Katie and preferences with one being more of a morning person and one being an evening person. I liked this example and I see a lot in my clinical work. Um, and also to discuss it, my book, this is a real challenge for many people, and I think it's a good example because it gets back to, and I think it relates to your broader point of sometimes the social need can conflict with the need for sleep.
How do we sort of balance that and prioritize both? And so what I usually say in this situation, when you have like, uh, early morning Lark, somebody who wakes up bright eyed and bushy tail at the crack of Dawn, and then you have an evening hour who, you know, really doesn't hit their stride till. 10:00 AM, but feels great.
Um, you know, in the, you know, late evening hours, what happens often is, you know, one partner and it's typically the evening person has to just go along for the ride, the morning person. And they often feel really judged and, you know, maligned because we happen to live in a culture that really tends to view morning, this as a virtue.
You know, biologic, biologically predisposed to be Knight people. They somehow are maligned as being lazy or, you know, not getting their lives together. So what often happens in couples? And I see this all the time is that the, the night owl will sort of be forced to just follow along with the morning person.
Well, and starts trying to go to bed hours before their biological clock tells them they're ready. So what do they do? They get in bed because they feel they should and they want to be with their partner and that's important for closeness. Um, so they get in bed with their partner at the partner's bedtime, which is 10:00 PM that the morning Lark easily falls asleep at 10:00 PM.
The evening allies there. Uh, awake and frustrated and might even start having insomnia symptoms because they're spending hours in bed trying to sleep and failing at it because their biology isn't ready for sleep. So what I say to these couples is to be honest with you, well, first of all, you can't change your intrinsic circadian rhythms.
That's largely hardwired and the evening owl as just as much as a right, and a sort of genetic predisposition to their. You know, circadian preference as the morning person, but for many couples, what's most important. And what's most important for that connection that we've derived from sleeping together is actually the time before falling asleep.
So if you're on different schedules or for whatever reason, sleeping together throughout the night, doesn't work for you, then maybe try to practice the habit. Preserving and protecting that critical time before falling asleep as a time to cuddle and be intimate and be together. Um, but that can mean that at the time that the, you know, morning person goes to bed at an earlier time, once their time for bed, the evening person gets out of bed, goes about enjoys their evening and quietly returns to the bed or another.
At the time that's more consistent with their circadian rhythm. So what you're getting out of that, and this can apply to lots of couples is really creating ritual. Uh, before bedtime, or maybe it could be in the morning, but really for couples, I think what we're losing is that time together in bed that proceeds or follows sleep.
And instead what we're doing is, you know, couples, even those who share a bed are on their individual devices or phones, um, you know, connecting, you know, remotely with somebody instead of using the opportunity to connect with that live human being that you care about. Who you know is right next to you in bed.
And again, from that safety and security perspective and setting up a strategy to promote healthy sleep, there's nothing better than, you know, holding a hand, being intimate, cuddling, talking, even just digesting the stresses of your day. In real time with your partner before you fall asleep. And that doesn't mean that you have to spend the rest of the night together, but sometimes it's that, that connection and that ritual that can be shared and should be shared with a partner before bedtime that can really promote both relationship, quality and sleep.
Wow. Really great points there. Um, and just real quick touching on that rituals piece. I think that was so well said because, um, really reminding each other, you know, the listener that there's this, we can design this to look how we want it to look and really to work within our. Um, are there any rituals that have come to mind that you've seen that to be particularly noteworthy, that people might be able to test out?
For instance, I have top of mind. Uh, I've seen people do cool kind of gratitude rituals before bed, where they share, you know, things they're grateful for. Are there certain things that you've seen just might be, um, to get people's ideas and wheels spinning? If there, maybe it hasn't been as, um, empowering of a ritual that they have right now, anything cool that you've seen?
Yeah, sure. So one of the exercises I described in my book, I mean, again, it builds on, we have a lot of research onto individual level exercises and strategies, like practicing gratitude as part of a bedtime ritual. Um, and so what I do is I bring sort of the realization. Uh, research and field, um, into this to sort of merge now, what can you do?
That's both, you know, a healthy sleep promoting ritual, um, but also one that can promote healthy relationships. So one of the techniques I described in my book is called a high, low compliment, and it's very similar to a gratitude practice, but it's, you know, it happens in the context of a couple. So you take turns, um, you know, and with each person.
First describing a high point of their day, something good. That happened. Something that you feel proud about that you know, was funny or just made you feel happy. Uh, low point maybe something that didn't go so well that you feel frustrated about or still kind of pondering and then a compliment you share gratitude towards your partner.
Thanks for making me coffee in the morning. It can be little by the way, these little. Sort of small acts of kindness to your partner. And there's a great deal of relationship research that shows, and this actually gets back to what you said earlier about social capital, um, and, uh, that, you know, actually healthy relationships in heart are built, not on these massive, large gestures.
Um, you know, you know, Buying it, your partner, a diamond ring, but, um, or take them on some wonderful trip, all which is good, but actually the foundation of relationships is really these small, but consistent kind kind gestures towards your partner. So, yeah. Disclosing something good that happens. Something not so good that happened.
And then sharing a compliment with your partner before bedtime. That's not only, you know, kind of setting you up in an emotional state that is good for sleep, but it's kind of paying back some of this and feeding that social capital, your relationship. So you have this reserve of Goodwill within your relationship and what we know from the relationship side of things as.
Every couple goes through conflict. Every couple has issues come up. That is not, you know, you know, the does not mean that it's, it's a unhealthy relationship, healthy relationship chicks have conflict. It's how couples get through conflict that matters. And having this reserve of Goodwill in your relationship also feeds back to.
It allows you to weather the difficult points because you have this reserve of, you know, connection and Goodwill. So you can kind of forgive your partner when they screw up a bit. Yes, no. Has both relational and sleep
benefits. Oh, that's so well said. I love how you're, you know, um, interweaving or marrying no pun intended, uh, the topics of sleep and relationship and being able to create a, this structure.
Um, that you're doing each evening and potentially in the morning and these rituals, um, to strengthen both areas, which is so fantastic. And it makes me think of what you said, um, kind of touching on that social capital concept. Um, makes me think of, uh, John Gottman, if anyone's, if you're familiar with his work.
Um, and does it matter if, um, you know, people are fans of him or not. I like, uh, the ratio analogy of a five to one ratio and having, you know, for every, maybe one sort of, uh, maybe less than stellar interaction that you have. Then if we have balance it out with kind of the five positives, then that ratio can kind of be one.
And obviously we don't have to be. T, you know, ticking up Itali or anything, but it's just well framework for us to think about how we can, um, have certain goalposts where we're creating opportunities to have those, um, really empowering conversations by having structures or techniques like that. That's just creates an ensures that really occurs.
So that's fantastic. Um, and I'm clear that we're only. Scratching the surface of your knowledge. So, uh, we might even have to have a part two or something at this point, but maybe, yeah. Awesome. And maybe what we can do is glean some further information by understanding a bit of how you're really conducting.
You know, your relationship and your sleep, um, you know, kind of rhythms and routines. So there's three questions that we ask every person that comes on the podcast. And so the first one is what might we see with your nightly sleep routine? I'm sure it's dynamic. I know you're gearing up for lots of travel and cool things.
And so I'm sure that will adjust. And what have you, but what might we see that could be.
Well, I'm a pretty sort of basic, you know, my nightly sleep routine is, is pretty basic. Um, I never have trouble falling asleep. Um, so, you know, and for me, reading is, uh, very sleep inducing. So, you know, I read a real life book, um, you know, an actual book that I can hold.
And to be honest with you, I'm asleep within. Two minutes. I always have to say my real reading for other times of the day. Cause it's like a soporific for me. I always, I do actually. Yeah. I do share a bed with my husband. Everybody wants to know that despite how much I, you know, uh, you know, talk about the couples can engage in lots of sleeping arrangements that work with them.
This is what works for us. Um, but actually the game changer for me, I want to mention is my nightly sleep. Regina has always remained pretty consistent. But like many people COVID really profoundly disrupted, you know, my routine, my family's routine. And, you know, I knew that notice that I had to do something different.
So what I've changed and what's been the biggest change game changer for me, it's not my bedtime routine, but actually my morning routine, um, because I was finding, um, which I think many people were, which that once sort of the regular rhythms and constraints of life were removed. Like I wasn't having to, you know, wake up, get dressed and ready for meetings or get my kids, you know, out the door for, you know, in-person early school.
Um, You know, I, I still had things to do, but like the morning just became really, really fluid. And through that, where I would start sort of like lounging around in bed, I noticed that sleep inertia, which is that, you know, state where you, it's just hard to, um, you know, get the cobwebs out of your brain in the morning that was persisting in the morning.
And so I was, even though I'm, I'm sort of a morning person by nature. I was finding that it was really starting to slog through my mornings and I was kind of delaying kind of getting going. So I started, uh, you know, I sort of recognize what was going on. I needed to have a change. So I, um, drew from actually a close friend and colleague, um, Dr.
Alison Harvey. Berkeley. I'm a brilliant sleep scientist. Um, I drew from a technique that she's developed to deal with sleep inertia, and I kind of borrowed some of the tips and techniques that work best for me, her techniques in case people are interested, please share. It's called rise up R I S E U P.
And I basically do the rise part of it. Um, what that stands for, if I could get a rep, they'll describe what I actually do. Um, first of all, you know, the R is for refrained from hitting the snooze button. And for me, that really means make Mo my morning, like wake up rapid, like, cause I was sort of, you know, setting an alarm and hitting the alarm.
Um, and then sort of getting up a few minutes later, but yeah. For me. And I know this to be true for my clients as well. You know, you want wake up to be wake up to be like ripping off a band-aid. They can happen as rapid as possible. Um, the eye is for an increased physical activity. So I started the habit and this has been definitely a game changer for me of doing some form of very brief physical activity.
First thing in the morning. That might be, you know, doing, you know, 20 to 50 squats or maybe holding a plank for 10 seconds or 30 seconds. I find that just sort of increasing my heart rate. First thing in the morning is really important. The S is for shower or splash your face with cold water. What's most resistant to, but has been the most effective, um, thing of all, and that I think has affected has improved not only my mornings, but all sorts of things about my day, I've actually, you know, started doing to do the cold shower routine.
Amazing. We have quite a big kind of, um, biohacker quote unquote, um, kind of influence here. So love that. Okay. Yeah. Share more.
I get off. And again, people need to consult with their doctor support, et cetera, but in terms of wiping away, sleep inertia, there's nothing better than, than that. Secondly, I find, and this was so important during COVID, um, that, um, Like we lived in this like glue a daily gloom, and it felt like Groundhog day.
And I find that the cold shower, if I just do that first thing in the morning, um, that automatically I can just focus on. I've just gotten done in three minutes. The hardest thing that I'll probably do the rest of the day looks so like I can handle this. So it really, I think was sort of a great strategy for mental fitness and resilience.
And, and then the fourth thing that I now practice religion re religiously. Definitely supported by circadian science is getting some morning light exposure. Dogs love it because I'm outside with them religiously every morning, even when you know, I live in Utah, so it's cold here, but it's sunny in the morning.
Um, and so those four things are rapid awakening. Um, a little bit of physical activity, a cold shower, and, um, morning sun. Really helped to set my day and not only help improve, you know, how I feel during the day, but also set me up for sleep success that night. Oh
my goodness. So this is very kismet because I love that you shared about your morning routine because actually that's one of the things.
We're uh, bringing in, going forward into later into the year is going to start adjusting these final questions and adding on the morning routine, because it's much more in alignment with kind of, um, the ethos that we're leaning into of that there's so much that you can do to support your sleep during the day from the moment you wake up.
And how you manage your day and it doesn't, and it can be, um, arguably freeing so that we're not just focused on now at the time after we did all of these other things that might've been maladaptive to support sleep. And instead of just focusing on right when we're getting into bed and now, oh, well, I hope it happens.
Uh, instead of we can get into the driver's seat of our sleep and really learn all these techniques. So I'm so glad you mentioned that because we're actually. Planning to add in that question and to make four questions. So thank you for really just preemptively addressing that. So it's like you knew. Um, and I love that you're still on really, even though it's, you know, dates back to, um, you know, practices of, um, being more in alignment with the rhythms of nature and having to be exposed to some of these extreme.
You're bringing in something that is new to some of the common conversation, which is that cold therapy and how that can be so impactful. We have a lot of people wearing continuous HRV trackers, and they've also noticed for themselves often changes in their HRV patterns by exposure to cold therapy. Um, there's great apps out there if you want to kind of game-ify this.
And of course I, you know, I appreciate your call out, uh, to be mindful of health and wellbeing and bio-individual. But, um, you know, if you are engaging in this mindfully, then, um, there's great apps that you can even kind of log your experience. Love the temperatures. Um, you know, if you're doing cold baths showers, uh, out in nature in your space, uh, your experience there of if you're wearing wearables, it can track your heart rate throughout really just, um, cool, you know, um, ways to bring in these practices and to track the experience.
So thank you for sharing. Um, and now you might've already touched on it, but the second question is what might we see on your nightstand or even proverbial nightstand if you're traveling or apps or supplements, ambience, anything that might be.
Uh, yeah, actually I did mention this as part of my sleep ritual and it is something that I, I do love.
Um, it's what I give my friends, but two, I do have a pillow spray. Um, for me, you know, there's nothing like, um, you know, just sending my pillow before going to bed and sort of just, it's also just another ritual of like, okay, queuing my brain. You know, this is the thing I do before I go to. I'll always have a book.
I have a lamp and I also do have, um, an iron mask because sometimes my husband will wake up, um, uh, earlier than I will or he'll go to bed later than I will. So I'll, I'll use the IMS, but it's, it's clean, it's tidy than other sort of recommendation I talk about, um, in my book about, you know, creating.
Asleep Haven, you know what you know, not just for yourself, but for your relationship. Um, and there's some strategies that are really simple that, that anyone can do. And again, it starts with a clean and tidy room. Get the laundry out of the room. Particularly those of us would have who have children. The bedroom can be this place of just complete chaos.
And we really want to start by sort of removing the chaos. And the reminders of our waking lives, including our family demands, um, from the bedroom. And so mine is a pretty simple space. Um, I try to keep it, you know, just tidy and relaxing and comforting. Um, those are the sort of three sort of characteristics that I am for in my bedroom.
Ah, amazing. Really good. Call-outs there. Um, and then the last question would be, and again, you might've already spoken to this, but if anything else to add, um, if there is anything else to add, which is what has made the biggest change to your sleep game or been one of the biggest aha moments in managing your sleep?
Well, I think that that morning routine changed recently throughout my life. You know, I, you know, my routines have shifted to some extent based on sort of family needs, whatever and work obligations, but really focusing on the morning, uh, has been so critical to me again because I'm somebody who was always sleeping at night.
And so I fall asleep quickly. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of. Um, but you know, setting the day, right. Um, and really sort of having a consistent morning rhythm is so important to me. So practicing, um, those sort of creating a morning ritual, which for me involves, you know, a cold shower, light exposure, and a brief bout of physical activity has been absolutely critical for supporting how I feel during the day, boosting my energy level, getting rid of that sleep inertia and.
I'm sleeping really well. And generally I tend to sleep well to begin with, but that consistent. Which was really going a ride during COVID, um, during the early months, um, that was really what I needed to sort of get myself in check and really set the tone for the rest of the day. And I think it's been absolutely critical for, um, you know, A lot of things, not sort of go completely off the tracks.
Absolutely. No, that's so helpful. And I appreciate your vulnerability and kind of sharing the humanity that we all are. Even if we're in this conversation 24 7, and you've been in this, um, conversation for years and years, and yet there's still from just virtue of being a human being. There's gonna be times when sleep is, it's kind of working and not working and ebb and flow, but really having that, um, That potential to experiment with new things and life is dynamic and things are changing and, um, you know, what maybe works for, uh, individual years back, maybe there's time for tuneups and changes and adjustments.
So really appreciate that. Um, and I am clear that as we said, we only just scratched the surface on this topic. Um, and I think it's so important. I've already shared your site and book with different clients and, um, people that might continue to, unfortunately just still sort of, um, survive this area or just turn, uh, the other cheek to, well, you know, that's how it is.
Um, and instead I really, really want people to. Absolutely know that there are so many resources that they can dive into if this is an area for them. And even if they might not be thinking of and are maybe reexamined, are there certain things that you might not be aware of that maybe there's micro awakenings throughout the course of your night, that you haven't really fully registered?
Kind of doing a check-in. Your relationship and your sleep and do it a little bit of that relationship and sleep audit, and then really dive into some of the techniques and tools that you've displayed. So what are the best ways for people to stay connected to you? And of course, we'll, um, add this in the show notes too.
great. Well, I mean, I'm, um, I have a website when he talks about com. Um, I'm on Instagram, it's sharing the covers, the title of my book. Um, it's my, um, uh, handle there and I'm also on Twitter, Wendy Troxel. Um, and yeah, I would be delighted to carry on the conversation with you and you know, I, again, I, I want people to recognize that I think it's so easy for us to understand the vicious cycle that can ensue with.
You know, not sleeping well. And then you take it out on your partner and conflict. And then when you're in conflict with your partner, you then can't sleep well because you're thinking about it all night, but where there Vic vicious cycles, there's also opportunities for virtuous cycles. You can start thinking about this intersection between sleep and our relations.
We can think about promoting such a virtuous cycle with, you know, techniques to enhance our relationships, which can then facilitate and promote healthy sleep and healthy sleep can in turn feed back into healthy relationships. So it doesn't have to be doom and gloom. This is really about, you know, putting both sleep and relationships on a pedestal and, uh, practicing techniques that will actually positively be back to improving.
amazing. Well, such important work. Thank you for what you're doing out there in the world. Um, and excited to be connected, so grateful to have this conversation and looking forward to more. So anyone listening and make sure to check out these resources. And if you know of people, if you're, you know, having conversations with people in your hearing, that they're struggling with their sleep as a result or in relationship to their.
Relationship then make sure to recommend, uh, either listening to this podcast and then certainly checking out, getting the book, uh, checking out Wendy's website. And again, we'll have all of that in the show notes. So just thank you so much for taking the time and, uh, want to stay connected to all the work that you're doing and getting out in the world.
Such a pleasure. Thank you. Thank