When it comes to sleep, my partner Steve and I are as different as they come.

On Sundays, I like to get up early and have all my errands completed so I can relax in the evening before the new week starts. Steve, on the other hand, likes to sleep until at least midday. Neither of us are religious, but he will start quoting the Bible at me when I try to wake him up. Sundays are for sleeping. “Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death!”

While he can get up in the morning, he’s just more productive in the evening.

My propensity for mornings stems as far back as I can remember. I mean, sure, when I don’t have anywhere to be the next day and I’m engrossed in what I’m doing I can stay up later than 10:30pm. At university, I’d regularly stay up past 3am with friends. If I had an assignment due, though, it was a whole different story. I was most productive if I got up at 7am and studied all day. By 5:30pm I’d postpone any remaining study for the next day.

When Steve was at university, he would start studying at 6pm and stay at the library all night if he had to. While he can get up in the morning, he’s just more productive in the evening.

While environment and lifestyle habits certainly play a role, scientists have identified a particular gene variant which controls sleeping patterns. “[They] found that variations to particular gene dubbed PER1, which is a part of the group that affects circadian rhythms, are also affecting circadian timing” (Sleep Junkie).

With that information in mind it’s no wonder we occasionally have issues.

We’re not that unusual, though. There are plenty of couples just like us who are struggling to find that ideal compromise. One solution a US couple came to was to have separate bedrooms. “Jess can be tired all day, and then around 10pm she’ll be like, ‘I’m getting my second wind!’,” says Matt. “It’s not something I ever thought about or imagined before dating Jess, but now it seems like the only lifestyle there ever was” (Today).

I crave the intimacy of sleeping with my partner too much to ever consider giving it up.

I don’t think this would work for Steve and I. For one, have I mentioned we currently live in a tiny flat with only one bedroom? Secondly, if I’m being truthful, I crave the intimacy of sleeping with my partner too much to ever consider giving it up permanently.

And I’m not the only one who does. Seth Simons writes, “While certain sleep studies suggest people sleep better when they got at it alone, patients self-report better sleep quality after dyadic sleep – even when objective measurements contradict them. Apparently, we crave co-sleeping enough to overlook its ill effects.”

It can feel like an insurmountable difference at times. We argued over it a few weeks ago. We both had somewhere to be on Sunday at 10am. Steve came with me, but he was grumpy the entire time. This annoyed me just as much as if he hadn’t come at all. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to spend the day with someone who was wishing he wasn’t there.

It took me a while to realise that he hated it just as much when I would stay up with him only to be complaining the entire time about being awake past my bedtime.

So we came to a compromise:

  • We go to bed together on a week night. We both have to get up for work the next day, so responsible sleeping patterns win here.
  • We stay up later on the weekend. Neither of us have to get up for work the next day so why not?
  • If we both have somewhere to be, we both agree prior to the day what time we’re leaving the house. We don’t have to wake up at the same time, we only have to be ready to leave at the same time.

I already know I’ll find the last one the hardest to adjust to. I have a tendency to overestimate how long things will take (e.g.: driving somewhere or getting ready in the morning, etc.) so watching him “drag his feet” without saying anything will be a struggle for me. Realistically, though, if we weren’t living together I wouldn’t know how long it took him to get ready – we’d just be meeting each other – so I know I have to trust him with this.

So can an early bird and a night owl maintain a relationship?

With communication, patience and understanding, all signs point to yes. Does it mean sacrifice? I don’t think so. Compromise, certainly, but not sacrifice. And realistically, aren’t all healthy relationships about compromise?


This post was originally written for my Cert. IV in Professional Writing and Editing as an example of a feature article to be pitched to an online magazine.

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