The Impact of Sleep Loss on Intimacy
Missing the Kissing: The Tale of the Dragging Duos
John Thurman, M.Div., M.A., LCMHC
Clay and Jennie looked haggard. Clay said, “We are toast, between our work and Harry, our one-year old, we hardly have time for anything, including church or sex.” Jennie sighed in agreement. Clay was working as the middle shift manager (3:00 p.m.-midnight) for a large grocery store chain and Jennie worked part time at clothing store at the mall.
Jennie told me that she liked her day time job because it gave her a break from being a mom, plus she got a good discount on her purchases. As the three of us talked, Jennie stated that she rarely got a good night’s sleep and that she felt tired and not up to par at least three days a week. She lamented the fact that she had missed a couple of appointments and had made a few mistakes at work because she was tired. Jennie looked me right in the eye and said, “I miss being intimate with Clay, but I am just too worn out to enjoy sex, could I be depressed?” I feel like I am grumpy, irritable and spent most of the time. I had no idea being a working mom would be so tough!” She felt that one of the reasons she and Clay were in counseling was because they both felt worn out and seemed to be having more disagreements.
Clay piped up, “You know, it’s not just Jennie! I feel pretty tuckered out most of the time.” If it wasn’t for our in-store Starbucks I don’t think I could function. Clay explained that he helps take care of Harry during the three days Jennie works. “I love nap time, because Harry and I will both sleep for about an hour. As Clay unpacked his story, he told me that he has a hard time falling asleep and sometimes will have a drink or two to help him slow down. Don’t get me wrong, I am well paid by the store, but the job is so demanding and some nights all I want to do is crash out, other nights I am too wired to go to be and need Leno and Nightline to slow me down.” He thought for a minute and said, “I think that our schedules are slowly killing our relationship. Clay continues, “I feel that all of this stress is causing problems between Jennie and me in nearly every area of our life.
. At this point I asked, “Why are you guys working so hard?’ Jennie and Clay looked at each other and in concert turned to me and said, “We have a lot of credit card debt.”
Like many couples, the ease of consumer credit had slowly enslaved them. My momma used to say, “Don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach or you will feel miserable. According to researches money issues can be a one of the leading tension points for married couples. I suggested they talk with their pastor about either using some proven material designed to help them gain control over their finances.
While Clay and Jennie mentioned the reason for all of the work is debt, the focus of this article will be on how to get more rest and show you some practical changes that Clay and Jennie were able make to improve their sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is a major challenge for millions of Americans.
Have you noticed the television ads for prescription sleep aids? The Luna Moth, Abe Lincoln and the talking beaver or the man or woman tossing and turning in bed are some of the current visuals used to promote prescription sleep aids. It seems that our culture is having a hard time falling to sleep, staying asleep and feeling rested. As a result, manufactures of prescription and over the counter medications are investing millions of dollars to sell products that promise a good nights sleep.
The National Institute for Health reports that over sixty million Americans struggle with sleep issues. I know, I have my struggles with sleep from time to time. My wife, on the other and usually sleeps as sound as a baby.
So what is insomnia? Simply stated, it means not getting enough sleep. People with insomnia have one or more of the following classic symptom:
· Trouble falling asleep
· Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
· Waking up too early in the morning
· Unrefreshing sleep
Insomnia will usually lead to some problems during the day such as sleepiness, fatigue, problems with concentration and irritability. A person with insomnia may also have another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.
Types of Insomnia
Individuals can have primary or secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia simple means that the person is having sleep problems that are not directly related to any other health condition or problem. Secondary insomnia means that a person is having sleep difficulties because of something else, such as a health condition (like depression, heartburn, pain, medication, or a substance they are using).
As we continued our conversation I asked Clay and Jennie a series of questions designed to evaluate them for major depression or anxiety. As I listened and observed, it became apparent that both Clay and Jennie were dealing with primary insomnia. I did refer them to their Primary Care Physician for a general physical just to be on the safe side.
Insomnia can vary in how long it lasts and how often it occurs. Short-term insomnia is called acute insomnia can last a few nights to a few weeks. This type of sleep loss is usually directly related to:
· Significant life stress (job loss, new child, death of a loved one, moving)
· Environmental factors like, light, noise, extreme temperature changed
· Jet lag,
· Work shift changes, changing both to and from Daylight Savings Time
Chronic (long term) insomnia is when a person has had a break in their normal sleeping pattern for at least three nights a week for one month or longer. It can be caused by many things and often occurs along with other health problems. Common causes of chronic insomnia are depression, chronic stress, and pain or discomfort at night.
The good news is that there are a number of ways to get your sleep back on track.
As our sessions continued, Clay, Jennie and I formulated a plan that would help them get back on track. We agreed to do five sessions over a ten-week period, focusing on re-establishing good sleep patterns and dealing with basic communication and financial principles. Over the next few weeks they reported significant improvement their relationship.
Here are some of the changes Clay and Jennie implemented.
1. They tried going to bed together the same time every night and getting up at the same time in the morning, including weekends. This was fairly formidable for Clay, since he needed some “wind down time.” He found that if he and Jennie looked into the nooks and crannies of their evening he could find time for both is son and his wife. They both report things are better in this area.
2. The second adjustment they both had to make was regarding caffeine. Jennie and Clay were both frequent at their local Starbucks. They took a good look at their coffee consumption and decided to limit it to the mornings.
3. This one may sound a little absurd, but I suggested that they schedule time for intimacy. A study done by the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org) indicates that forty-two percent of couple’s who are too tired for sexual intimacy. They were resistant at first, but discovered that this technique helped them get back on track as far as physical intimacy. After a month or so intimacy began to be more spontaneous.
4. Jennie challenged Clay’s behavior of doing work on his laptop in the bed. One night she modeled some special bedroom evening attire and suggested that the bedroom be a place for sleep, talk, and lovemaking. Needless to say, that got Clay’s attention.
5. They both setup appointments with their primary care physician to see if any medical issues were present. After doing some test and talking with Jennie and Clay, the doctor gave them the “all clear” and asked them to continue to make the lifestyle changes.
6. Clay took the lead and developed to ways for their little family to wind down in the evenings. He and Jennie would spend a few minutes with Harry, usually listening to some relaxing music and after getting Harry down for the night; they would spend some time together. They discovered that this worked best for them about three times a week. Clay’s home team leader and friend Jeff had shared a bible verse, “You can lie down without fear, and enjoy pleasant dreams.” (Proverbs 3:24) Clay was going to believe that promise for he and Jennie, they committed it to memory and made it part of their prayer time.
7. Jennie decided to make the bedroom more sleep friendly by changing the lighting (using a three-way bulb and having Clay install a dimmer switch), and by putting a floor fan in their bedroom. She learned that she could still hear Harry over the white noise of the fan.
8. They both began to increase their exercising. Clay began to take Harry for a two-mile stroller walk three days a week and Jennie began doing the same routine a couple of afternoons a week, when she would get home from work.
9. Jennie and Clay mutually agreed to avoid talking about stressful issues such as finances and work after 8:15 p.m. As a practical step, they would agree to schedule a time to discuss these problematic issues at a better time.
As they began to re-establish healthy sleep and communication patterns, I referred them to a friend of mine who helps couples learn to manage their finances. (www.daveramsey.com or www.crownfinancial.com)
Clay and Jennie showed dramatic improvement in their sleep and in their relationship in the five sessions. It was at this point that I suggested that we end counseling and do a couple of follow-up calls within the next few weeks. They would continue with their home team, and do some of their financial work a web-based training program.
What do you need to do?
If you think you, or your spouse has insomnia, do some web based research, one reputable site is www.sleepfoundation.org. If you feel you are having significant sleep related issues talk to your health care provider. An evaluation may include a physical exam, blood tests, and a sleep history. You may even be asked to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, keeping track of your sleep patterns and how you feel during the day. Your health provider may also want to interview you spouse or roommate about the quantity and quality of your sleep. In some instances, you may be referred to a sleep center for special tests.
How is insomnia treated?
Acute or short-term insomnia may not require any medical treatment and may be helped by some small lifestyle changes. (See sidebar). But if your insomnia makes it hard to function during the day because you are sleepy and tired, your health care provider may prescribe sleeping pills for a limited time.
Treatment for chronic (long-term) insomnia includes first treating any underlying conditions or health problems that could be causing the insomnia. If the insomnia continues, your health care provider may suggest some behavioral therapy or medication. Most medications that are used for sleep have side effects and must be used with caution. It is not recommended to use over-the-counter medications for chronic insomnia. Small life changes can go a long way in helping re-establish sleeping patterns.
(c) 2007 John Thurman