The Better Sleep Council reports that 79 percent of women would rather get a good night's sleep than have sex. Why is this? One reason may be that it's not so much that women are looking to avoid intimacy, they're just not seeing it as valuable as sleep.
Many women would rather have a good night's sleep than almost anything else including a good meal, time for shopping, a great workout etc. Another reason may be that a good many of us are so sleep deprived that a good night's sleep sounds better than almost anything we could be doing. A 2007 study, by this same group, found that 72 percent of the women they questioned reported trouble sleeping at least a couple of nights each week.
But why are we so desperate for sleep and how does it affect couple's time for romance?
Clearly the lack of free time is an issue in and of itself. Most people have endless to-do lists. Work is more demanding than ever before, with emails and texts extending the work day into the evening hours and weekends. Just a generation ago people could stop work at five and be unreachable to bosses or clients on weekends. In many ways this new form of availability makes for better communication and for life to go more smoothly, but for some couples the demands take away their time for togetherness.
If the quality of our sleep were better would it help?
Experts caution against using the bedroom for things other than sleep and sex. Working in bed can lead to sleep problems (as well as general intimacy issues). Having too much light and lights from electronics affects sleep as does keeping the room too hot.
So how much sleep do we need?
Researchers Shawn Youngstedt and Daniel Kripke reviewed two surveys by the American Cancer Society which included over a million participants. They noted that people who slept seven hours had less mortality after six years than those sleeping both for longer or shorter periods of time. The group of people who slept shorter amounts, and those who slept longer than eight hours, had an average mortality risk that was greater, but the risk was higher for longer sleepers.
Youngstedt and Kripke argue that for those who would normally sleep longer than eight hours, restricting their sleep may actually be a good idea. It varies, but generally you want to aim for seven hours of sleep on average, not less and not a lot more.
Most women don't have the problem of too much sleep, it's too little and the quality is poor. Having small children is a guarantee for sleep interruption. When there are babies in the house it's understood that a couple's sleep will be interrupted. However, getting older toddlers and school age children to sleep needs to be a priority for couple time. Too many couples simply accept that the kids will sleep in the bed with them indefinitely since they refuse to go to sleep otherwise and will likely wake them repeatedly for any reason.
It's important to establish the bedroom as the parent's zone and not allow the kids to make your bedroom an extension of their own rooms. Furthermore, couples who don't have children will often allow interruptions from work, the phone, or pets to get in the way of uninterrupted sleep and time for intimacy.
So first, keep your bedroom for you and your couplehood only. Secondly, for deeper sleep, some experts advise limiting before bed entertainment to upbeat and joyful things and avoiding dramas that may spark a worry pattern (women frequently cited worrying about kids, finance and family issues as a trigger for middle of the night waking). According to researchers Michael H. Bonnet and Donna L. Arand, "There is strong evidence that sufficient shortening or disturbance of the sleep process compromises mood, performance and alertness and can result in injury or death. In this light, the most common-sense 'do no injury' medical advice would be to avoid sleep deprivation."
So when there is bad sleep everyone suffers. But women may be on to something when they value good sleep even over sex. They may intuitively know they are at risk if they don't bank sleep. Recent research shows that women who report frequent sleepless nights have a greater risk for health problems than men. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, led by Edward Suarez, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, found that women who reported unhealthy sleep are at an elevated risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
So how can we actually get better sleep?
Besides keeping the room dark and cool, experts advise us to try and stick to a schedule in general as we go about our day. Go to sleep at or around the same time each night, but also do other tasks like showering and walking the dog at around the same time. The journal Sleep reports that this scheduled behavior allowed insomniacs to fall asleep faster.
So cut off work and wind down. A new study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology points out that even mundane tasks like answering emails amp up the brain's focus, making it difficult to fall asleep so allow time to wind down.
Furthermore, avoid dehydration. A University of Pennsylvania study found people who get the full amount of sleep drink more water than those who get six hours or less. But everything in moderation -- avoid drinking too much before bed and just be aware of staying hydrated throughout the day.
Additionally, listening to slow music helps you reach deeper levels of sleep so enlist your playlist to provide calming music. Address health concerns that may be getting in the way of both sleep and intimacy. Ask your doctor about problems that interfere with sleep. Things like frequent urination or restless leg syndrome may have simple solutions that your body will respond to and will make sleep easier and better. And the same holds true for sex. Discuss any changes with a doctor before simply accepting that this is how life is. Better quality of sleep (and intimacy) is an attainable goal.
M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, rabbi, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as "One of the best psychotherapists in the world."