Sleep and Biological Rhythms

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 271–276 | Cite as

Sex differences in the reactions to sleeping in pairs versus sleeping alone in humans

  • John DittamiEmail author
  • Marietta Keckeis
  • Ivo Machatschke
  • Stanislav Katina
  • Josef Zeitlhofer
  • Gerhard Kloesch
Original Article


Couples sleeping in pairs is a modern phenomenon with potential side-effects on sleep structure and circadian rhythms. In order to examine its effects, 10 healthy heterosexual couples with stable relationships who regularly sleep apart or together in their home environments were recruited. The participants were asked to spend at least 10 nights alone and 10 nights together over the course of the study. Their sleep was monitored over 28 days in their homes with actigraphic techniques and sleep diaries. Group analyses were performed on their sleep efficiency and subjective sleep quality according to sleep condition. The daily variations in sleep fragmentation indices of the partners were used as a measure of their nocturnal activity synchronization. Sharing a sleeping space with a partner had negative effects on sleep in women, as documented in the actigraphic measurements of sleep efficiency and subjective assessments of sleep and awakening quality. Sexual contact mitigated the negative subjective report, without changing the objective results. Subjective assessments of sleep quality were lower in men than women when sleeping alone. They increased to the same level as women while sleeping in pairs with or without sexual contact. The sleep efficiency in men was not reduced by the presence of their partner unless sexual contact occurred. Analyses of sleep fragmentation showed that there was no synchronization of deviation from the norm levels between the partners on individual nights either when they slept alone or in couples. The sex differences in the nocturnal sleep reactions to partner presence may be attributed to sex-specific behavioral traits associated with cultural norms or parenting in women and the desire for group sleep in men.

Key words

actigraphy sex differences sexual contact and sleep efficiency sleep environment sleeping in pairs 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jenni OG, O’Connor BB. Children’s sleep: an interplay between culture and biology. Pediatrics 2005; 115: 204–16.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hicks RA, Pellegrini RJ. The changing sleep habits of college students. Percept. Mot. Skills 1991; 72: 1106.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Iglowstein I, Jenni OG, Molinari L, Largo RH. Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics 2003; 111: 302–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Aubert V, White H. Sleep: a sociological interpretation I. Acta Sociol. 1959; 4: 46–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Aubert V, White H. Sleep: a sociological interpretation II. Acta Sociol. 1959; 4: 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Schwartz B. Notes on the sociology of sleep. Sociol. Q. 1970; 11: 485–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gleichmann PR. Einige soziale wanderungen des schlafes. Z. Soziol. 1980; 9: 236–50.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Taylor B. Unconsciousness and society: the sociology of sleep. Int. J. Polit. Cult. Soc. 1993; 6: 463–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Williams S. Sleep and Society. Sociological Ventures Into the (Un)k nown. Routledge: London, 2005.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ekirch AR. Sleep we have lost: pre-industrial slumber in the British Isles. Am. Hist. Rev. 2001; 106: 343–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Worthman CM, Melby MK. Toward a comparative developmental ecology of human sleep. In: Carskadon MA, ed., Adolescent Sleep Patterns: Biological, Social, and Psychological Influences. Cambridge University Press: New York, 2002; 69–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Wulff K, Siegmund R. Circadian and ultradian time patterns in human behaviour: part 1: activity monitoring of families from prepartum to postpartum. Biol. Rhythm Res. 2000; 31: 581–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Meadows R. The negotiated night: an embodied conceptual framework for the sociological study of sleep. Sociol. Rev. 2005; 53: 240–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Monroe LJ. Transient changes in EEG sleep patterns of married good sleepers: the effects of altering sleeping arrangement. Psychophysiology 1969; 6: 330–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Pankhurst FP, Horne JA. The influence of bed partners on movement during sleep. Sleep 1994; 17: 308–15.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Oakley NR. Validation with Polysomnography of the Sleep-watch Sleep/Wake Scoring Algorithm Used by the Actiwatch Activity Monitoring System. Mini Mitter: Bend, OR, 1997.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kushida CA, Chang A, Gadkary C, Guilleminault C, Carrillo O, Dement WC. Comparison of actigraphic, polysomnographic, and subjective assessment of sleep parameters in sleep-disordered patients. Sleep Med. 2001; 5: 389–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rosenblatt PC. Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing, State University of New York Press: New York, 2006.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Saletu B, Klösch G, Gruber G, Anderer P, Udomratn P, Frey R. First-night-effect on generalized anxiety disorder-(GAD) based insomnia: laboratory versus home sleep recordings. Sleep 1996; 19: 691–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Saletu B, Wessely P, Grünberger J, Schultes M. Erste klinische Erfahrungen mit einem neuen schlafan-stoßenden Benzodiazepin, Cinolazepam mittels eines Selbstbeurteilungsbogens für Schlaf- und Aufwachqualität (SSA). Neuropsychiatrie 1987; 1: 169–76.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Pesarin F. Multivariate Permutation Tests with Applications in Biostatistics. Wiley & Sons: New York, 2000.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Benington JH, Heller HC. Restoration of brain energy as the function of sleep. Prog. Neurobiol. 1995; 45: 347–60.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Maquet P. The role of sleep in learning and memory. Science 2001; 294: 1048–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Meadows R, Venn S, Hislop J, Stanley N, Arber S. Investigating couples’ sleep: an evaluation of actigraphic analysis techniques. J. Sleep Res. 2005; 14: 377–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hislop J, Arber S, Meadows R, Venn S. Narratives of the night: the use of audio diaries in researching sleep. Sociol. Res. Online 2005; 10: 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    De Waterman AL, Kerkhof G. Sleep-wake patterns of partners. Aviat. Space Environ. Med. 1994; 65: 654–60.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Sleep Research 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Dittami
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marietta Keckeis
    • 1
  • Ivo Machatschke
    • 1
  • Stanislav Katina
    • 2
    • 3
  • Josef Zeitlhofer
    • 4
  • Gerhard Kloesch
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Biology, Faculty of Life SciencesUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of Applied Mathematics and StatisticsComenius UniversityMlynskà dolinaSlovakia
  4. 4.Department of NeurologyMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations