We all want a good night’s sleep, but getting one can be hard, especially if your sleep pattern collides with your family’s.
Here’s how to make sure you get your shut-eye…
It’s 9pm and you’re exhausted.
All you want to do is climb under the duvet and drift off to the land of Nod. But there’s a snag.
Your other half is a night owl who wants you to watch TV with him until midnight.
Then there’s your teen who wants to play video games until 1am and sleep in until 10am the following day.
Add your baby into the mix, who wakes several times a night, and you’ve got the recipe for a sleepless night.
If that sounds like your bedtime battle, what can you do to grab your essential sleep?
Leading sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley says we need to re-think what ‘normal’ sleep is.
He says: ‘When we talk about the ideal sleep being eight hours, that’s actually a myth. We’re all different and our sleep patterns are genetically determined.
‘On average, around 25 per cent of people are morning people, 25 per cent are evening people and the remainder fall somewhere in between. What matters is getting the amount of sleep you need, and that can vary between four and 11 hours a night.’
Dr Stanley says that if you’re sleep-deprived because your family want to sleep and wake at different times, it can be damaging.
‘We know that poor sleep is bad for us and leads to poor performance, memory problems and mood swings in the short-term,’ he says. ‘In the long-term, sleep problems can lead to diabetes, heart disease and increased risk of stroke.’
And lack of decent sleep can be harmful in other ways too.
Dr Stanley says: ‘For couples, studies show that if one partner has a poor night’s sleep, they then lack empathy the following day, are more likely to argue and less likely to make up. So lack of sleep is both damaging health-wise and for your relationship.’
And he has some eye-opening opinions on sleeping together. Not only is it bad for us, but it’s a relatively modern phenomenon.
He says: ‘Our ancestors didn’t have a marital bed. Everyone — kids, animals, parents — slept in one room. Then, as people built houses with first floors, came the idea of the bedroom.
‘But only poor people actually slept in one marital bed. Kings, queens and aristocrats always slept in separate beds. Visit any stately home and you will see the his and hers bedrooms.’
So are separate rooms the key to marital harmony — and a good night’s sleep? Dr Stanley thinks so.
He says: ‘The answer is, if possible, sleep in separate rooms. People say this is damaging for a relationship, but sleep deprivation is more damaging as people with poor sleep have a higher rate of divorce.’
But for most families, it’s not possible for everyone to have their own room.
How can you manage differing sleep patterns if your kids are up late? Should you, as a parent, stay up until you see your teenager’s light go out?
Dr Stanley says: ‘Lots of parents row over teenagers’ sleep. Many parents believe they can’t allow their teen to stay up later than them, even if they are ready to go to sleep themselves.
You need to trust your teen and leave them to it. Prioritise your sleep within the context of the family.’
Babies and toddlers are another matter entirely as most babies wake in the night when they are young.
Dr Stanley says: ‘You need to have a plan about what your sleep expectations are when you have a baby. If you hear your baby cry, and shove your partner out of bed because it’s his turn to see to the baby, but you’re left awake, then you’re both awake.
‘What makes more sense is to have a plan of action and share the responsibility so one of you gets a decent sleep.’
The key to it all is to negotiate.
‘We really don’t talk enough about sleep and our expectations of sleep,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘You need to discuss it with your partner and prioritise your own sleep needs.’
Edited by Julie Cook