Do you and your partner love to spoon, or do you cringe at the idea of touching during sleep?
Research at the University of Hertfordshire found the most popular sleep styles for couples were back to back (42 percent) and facing the same direction (31 percent). Only 4 percent spent the night facing one another and 2 percent slept more than 30 inches apart.
The survey asked over 1,000 people to describe their preferred sleeping position and to rate their personality and quality of their relationship.
One important finding, according to psychology professor Richard Wiseman, who conducted the research, is that 94 percent of couples that spent the night in contact with one another were happy with their relationship, compared to just 68 percent who didn’t touch while snoozing.
“The most important thing for any relationship is that you find a good sleep-fit with your mate, or at the very least a good, sleepable compromise,” says Evany Thomas, author of The Secret Language of Sleep: A Couple’s Guide to the 39 Positions.
Here’s what your couple’s sleep style may say about your partnership:
The spoon position implies a level of closeness and intimacy that the newly-coupled or those together up to five years often embrace. It’s thought of as a cocooned, safe position that both partners crave, and may show a deep level of commitment and one partner’s protectiveness toward the other.
“If someone has sleep apnea, you don’t want to sleep on your back because that can close your airway. So you can even say that spooning can be a protective benefit against sleep apnea since you avoid sleeping on your back,” says Dr. Jose Colon, a sleep medicine specialist in Ft. Myers, Florida. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes breathing pauses during sleep.
Back to Back
The “liberty” position indicates affection and is a good balance for couples who want to touch but still have their independence. Couples who sleep back-to-back may be close yet secure in their relationship. What’s more important, says Colon, is to go to sleep at the same time. “Sleeping together at regular times has been shown to help in a couple’s relationship,” notes a study published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
You see this position mostly in the movies—post sex, where one partner rests their head on the other’s chest. You might start out this way, but not maintain it through the night on account of numb arms and stiff necks. Sweetheart’s cradle forgoes comfort in the name of cuddling. However, it’s a passionate sleep position that may spell new or rekindled love. Plus, Colon points out that oxytocin, the love hormone, is released when you touch the skin of your mate, which is associated with bonding.
If you and your partner enjoy sleeping face to face without touching, you may crave pillow chat and not mind breathing on one another. This position can mean you have a close bond and have a need to share, or perhaps chat in the middle of the night. The study found extroverts enjoy spending the night close to their partners, and creative types prefer left-side sleeping, so this position may say more about an individual’s personality.
In cliffhanger, both partners cling to the far sides of the bed, often hanging a foot out for temperature regulation. You might need double blankets in order for both partners to be covered. While you may think this is the least intimate sleep position and one in which couples that don’t feel connected sleep, it can also show two people secure in themselves and their relationship. If both partners are happily cliffhangers and it’s not a passive aggressive move indicating a bump in the relationship, enjoy those cliffs.
“Some people like to sleep snuggled up tightly with each other (like classic spooners), while other people prefer the comfort and cooler temperatures of their own separate sides of the bed (like cliffhangers),” says Thomas. The paper doll position allows both partners to lie on their backs beside one another holding hands or slightly touching arms or legs. It’s a win-win compromise for both space and contact.
There are compromise positions, like the tetherball, where the close sleeper curls in a self-cuddling ball while the solo sleeper keeps a comforting hand on their hip. You can use this position to bridge the gap between your conflicting approaches.
If you’re lucky, you’ve found a perfect match with someone who shares your preferred sleep style. “But if you do happen to fall for someone who’s your sleep opposite, it doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed,” says Thomas.
Just make sure you’re both happy with your nightly arrangement. The last thing either of you should do is suffer in silence.