Think your partner is overly grumpy in the morning? Maybe it's their sleeping position. Our resident Sleep Expert, Christabel Majendie explores how sleeping positions can affect relationships.

Apparently, the most common sleeping position for couples in the UK is back to back without contact, adopted by 27 per cent, according to a small survey. Although it appears to lack intimacy, it may be that this position leads to the best quality sleep as you are less likely to wake each other with movement, heavy breathing or increases in body temperature. Having a better night’s sleep means we are less likely to be irritable with each other and more motivated to do leisure activities together resulting in a stronger relationship in the long term.

Popular sleeping positions for couples

Other popular sleeping positions for couples are lying back to back touching and front to back touching or ‘spooning.’ These preferences are not surprising given that lying on the side is the most popular individual sleeping position in adults. Interestingly, some of the most stereotypical sleeping positions for couples are those that are the least common: resting head on chest or lying face to face with limbs intertwined. These are likely to cause the most disruption to your sleep with fluctuations in temperature, movement and bodily discomfort.

According to the small scale survey, 10% of couples sleep in separate beds to improve their sleep. This says less about the relationship and more about an individual recognising the importance of a good night’s sleep. The results of the survey showed that 25 % of couples argue about being kept awake by each other. Ironically, sleeping apart may actually improve the relationship if sharing a bed means disrupted sleep. This may initially be due to a health issue but sleeping apart may become the preference due to the increased quality sleep.

How sleep affects relationships

Our sleeping habits can influence our relationships, particularly if one partner has a sleep disorder. Insomniacs often toss and turn while trying to get to sleep and frequently get in and out of bed. This can disturb the other bed member. Furthermore resentment can build up towards the partner who is sleeping as the other spends hours awake. One may express boredom the next day about hearing about how badly the other slept and this can lead to feelings of being misunderstood or alone with the problem. If this is an issue in your relationship, cognitive behavioural therapy has been proven to be the most effective treatment for insomnia so ask your GP about this.

Another common sleep problem that affects relationships is snoring. This can lead to anger and resentment from the other partner about being kept awake, especially if the snorer denies the problem. One solution is to record the snorer then, with evidence in hand, suggest a change of sleeping position to the side as snoring is often worst when lying on the back. Another idea is to go to bed half an hour earlier so that you are already in a deep sleep by the time the snoring kicks in.

Other issues are Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a sleep disorder characterised by an overwhelming urge to move the legs because of uncomfortable sensations, and Periodic Leg Movement Disorder characterised by repetitive muscle twitches or jerking in the legs. These disorders can disrupt sleep for both partners. Sleeping on your side holding your legs may reduce the symptoms of these disorders. It is best to seek advice from the GP if you think this is an issue but it may also be worth considering an upgrade to a king-size or super king-size bed so the other partner is less likely to be woken by leg movements. Keep your eye out for the last part in our Sleeping Position Series with Christabel Majendie - Co-Sleeping!