The sex is great, but afterward ... I need to sleep alone

I'm a normal man in my 30s, but sharing my bed leads to sleepless nights.

Published January 19, 2006 11:58AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 33-year-old male with a girlfriend. An issue that has proven uncomfortable and even disastrous to my previous relationships is coming up again in this one: I have extreme difficulty sleeping in the same bed as my partner.

First, some brief background: I am otherwise well-adjusted, healthy, fit, without sexual issues, and generally considered to be a great catch. That is, until it gets a little more serious and we spend the night together. It seems like a bizarre issue, and there is precious little help to be found on it, but I literally have such a tough time sleeping right next to someone that it impacts the relationship. I feel the covers move, hear the slightest sound, feel the lightest touch -- and I wake up. Often for hours on end, and sometimes five or six times a night. Every girl I've been with feels bad about waking me, but then also wants the closeness and "normalcy" that sharing a bed should bring. I'm at a loss. Please advise!

Sleepless in Canada

Dear Sleepless,

I suggest that you be honest and be practical.

First, find a place in your home where you can sleep other than the bed you and your girlfriend make love in and fall asleep in. Prepare this place so you can sleep in it comfortably.

I don't know the layout of your home nor whether you are rich or poor, so I don't know where this sleeping place would be. But with some thought you can probably identify a location in your home that can serve as an alternate sleeping place.

Spend some time making this spot as comfortable as possible. Sleep there a couple of times when you have no overnight guest. That will give you confidence that should you be unable to sleep in your bed, you really do have another place to go. As you are testing it out, take note of what you need to sleep well -- pillow, water, more blankets, etc. Get what you need and put it there or store it nearby.

Also in your test run, examine how your alternate sleeping space interacts visually and sonically with the place where you usually sleep. If you want to read, for instance, and turn a light on in your new place, does it affect the other sleeping place? I say this because while the other place might be a bedroom, your girlfriend might like the door open, or it might be your habit to leave the door open. How about sound? If you require sound, for instance (some people find that turning on the television helps them get back to sleep), would that disturb anyone sleeping in your bed? Try these things out, and do what you can to make sure that should you awaken in the middle of the night, you have a place to quietly go where you can continue to sleep and not disturb your girlfriend.

Once you've got it all squared away, be honest; tell your girlfriend about your problem and what you've done to respond to it. Ask her how she feels about it. Listen carefully to what she says. If you are concerned that she might think it's weird, tell her your concern. Just confess that you're embarrassed about it. Ask her honestly if she thinks it's weird. I don't know how she will respond. But if she is a rational creature I predict that she will be able to accept the situation.

Honesty in a relationship is a great thing. When you are straightforward, practical and honest about something that is troubling you, you find that you deliver two messages. One is the message about the immediate situation -- that here's the situation and here's how I'm dealing with it. The other is more of a meta-message: That this is a relationship in which difficult, troubling, potentially embarrassing situations can be dealt with and talked about. This tells your girlfriend that if she has some quirk or idiosyncrasy that embarrasses her, she can deal with it and tell you about it as well. So you not only solve the immediate problem but help prepare a foundation for confronting future problems in a similarly practical, honest way.

Now then. May I just say something? I know this is not a self-help meeting, but still, I've just got to say: It's taken me longer than expected to write this. Why? Because I looked on the Internet for information about sleeping customs.

You have no idea how much information there is.

Actually, come to think of it, you probably have some idea.

Anyway, till tomorrow: Sleep tight! (Speaking of which, do you know the derivation of the term "sleep tight"? I now do...)

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