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Dear Partner: Don't Ruin My Sleep!

There are many articles written about how a healthy sleeper can support their partner with insomnia. But what happens when the healthy sleeper suddenly stops sleeping so well? Is there any chance for peace in the household? 

I recently learned a lesson on how to balance selfishness and empathy in the pursuit of sleep and happiness.

There was one good sleeper in the house

I have struggled with insomnia for most of my life. I spent many years chasing sleep and learning how to cope with sleep deprivation. Fortunately, my sleep improved dramatically after I learned CBTI techniques about 10 years ago. Most nights, I fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling well rested. Still, I know that I remain sensitive to stress and to changes in my environment. So, I expect to have a bumpy night or 2 here and there. And I know how to cope with it.

My partner has no such problems. He falls asleep, stays asleep, and wakes up smiling every day. He used to be very concerned about my "bumpy nights," and did not understand why I would get out of bed and go watch TV in another room. But he came to understand and support my process, even if he couldn't relate. Until now.

Now there are none

Recently my partner started waking up too early, sometimes 2 hours before he needs to. Once he's awake, he cannot get back to sleep. We can't figure out why he is suddenly waking up so early, especially after being an extreme night owl for so long. He swears he's not stressed. 

Maybe his sleep needs have changed? Maybe his circadian rhythm is shifting? Maybe the garbage trucks are too loud outside our window? Is our bedroom too bright in the morning?

All I know is that while he's searching for some empathy and explanation, all I'm thinking is, "Please partner, don't ruin my sleep!"

Protecting my valuable sleep

I strive to be a supportive partner in so many ways, and I think I usually succeed. But I quickly learned that I can be outright selfish when it comes to sleep! Some thoughts that I managed to keep to myself:

  • Stop tossing in bed! Not because I am worried about his sleep hygiene, but because I don't want him to wake me up.
  • Go in the other room and be very quiet about it!
  • Only one of us can have insomnia!
  • Figure this out already!

Nope, this has not been my finest hour as a partner. It makes sense — it has taken me so long to sort out my sleep that I have become very protective of it. And I know many things can disrupt my sleep – from the sound of him walking out of the bedroom to my worrying about his sleep. 

I worry that any brief disruption to my sleep will trigger a whole new bout of insomnia. In an ideal world, neither of us would struggle with our sleep. In a manageable world, only one of us does.

Managing insomnia with my bed partner

After a couple of days, I gave up on the ideal situation and came back to reality. We went into problem solving mode. Since my partner is generally a good sleeper, basic sleep hygiene tricks helped him get back on track. 

We plugged in a noise machine to block the sound of the garbage trucks. We used blackout shades to keep the room dark in the early morning hours. And he started getting out of bed when it was clear he wasn't falling back asleep. After about a week of bumpiness, he's back to getting good sleep. And I'm back to my usual routine and empathic nature.

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