Different sleep types: How do larks and owls get along as a couple?

Many know it: one person is already looking towards the bed while the other is still awake and alert.

Different sleep types: How do larks and owls get along as a couple?

Many know it: one person is already looking towards the bed while the other is still awake and alert. You can't change your sleep type because it's innate. This can be a real problem for couples. However, not an unsolvable one - under one condition.

One of them regularly falls asleep during the movie night together, while the other is still fit in the evening but has difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. The reason for these different sleeping habits is due to belonging to the chronotype. People who stay up late in the evening and like to sleep longer in the morning belong to the so-called owls. On the other hand, those who get up early in the morning but also fall asleep earlier in the evening are counted among the larks.

"But that's a very simplified representation. In reality, there are more than these two chronotypes," says psychotherapist Katja Beer. According to sleep researcher Gerhard Klösch, 70 to 80 percent are "indifferent types". This means that they adapt well and can even go to bed two hours earlier or later. Then there are moderate owls or larks that go to bed just a little bit earlier or later than the average.

Extreme evening and morning people are about 10 to 15 percent of the population. They could bring tension into the partnership. The lark may be annoyed by the partner who stays in bed all morning at the weekend and misses breakfast. And the owl does not like spending the evening alone and being woken up by the lark in the morning when it is still tired.

It would be useful if the chronotype could be changed. But it is innate: "It is programmed into us whether we are larks or owls," says sleep medicine specialist Prof. Ulrich Sommer. Although the day on earth has 24 hours, many people would have shorter or longer days. Owls have about 25 or 26 hour days and are therefore awake longer in the evenings. Not much can be done about that.

According to Klösch, however, indifferent types in particular can stabilize their inner clock in the morning through exercise and daylight. If you get up earlier in the morning, you also have to go to bed on time in the evening. In the evening you shouldn't look at screens anymore, because blue light in particular prevents the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which makes you tired. However, extreme owls or larks could trick their biologically determined sleep rhythm.

So what can you do if one or both partners in the relationship are dissatisfied with the other's sleep pattern? "Especially when a couple has very different chronotypes, you should make sure that there is more time for physical closeness, for communication and for joint activities outside of bedtime," says Beer. If there is no cuddling in the evening, according to Kloesch, couples can solve it as follows: First they go to bed together.

When the tired partner then sleeps, the other gets up again for a while. That would have another advantage: due to hormones, women often have problems with their temperature regulation when falling asleep, they often have cold hands and feet and then find it difficult to sleep. "Men serve as hot-water bottles and thus make it easier to fall asleep," says Kloesch. It becomes problematic when the partners wake each other up when going to bed or getting up.

"That can lead to conflicts. It's important to note that normal sleep doesn't necessarily mean that you sleep through the night. It's completely normal to wake up at night," says Beer. The attitude to the situation also plays a role: "It also depends on how we evaluate the partner's behavior. For example, when the lark wakes up, it could think that it's nice that its partner is here now, and fall asleep again calmly, instead of thinking that he's going to be a nuisance again," says Beer.

However, if the lark cannot fall asleep for a long time after waking up and is not recovered the next morning, then the couple should look for a pragmatic solution, sleeping separately during the week. Or one adapts to the other. For example, the owl can go to bed a little earlier.

Prof. Sommer also supports this solution: "In terms of sleep medicine, the basic recommendation to the owls is to maintain the 24-hour rhythm and to go to bed with their lark partner." Even at the weekend, the bedtime should not deviate too much, otherwise the bedtime will be pushed back further and further.

Then you would have the phenomenon of the so-called "free-running sleep phases". Here the day moves backwards and forwards. And at some point owls are awake in the middle of the night. But only very few people are affected by this. According to Prof. Sommer, there is no reason for people who only need a little sleep to be well rested to go to bed earlier. Everyone is born with a personal need for sleep, there is not much you can do about it.

If one partner needs eight hours of sleep and the other only five, then mutual consideration is important: "Maybe just change in front of the bedroom, brush your teeth quietly and sneak in," says Prof. Sommer. In any case, it is important that everyone gets enough sleep, because lack of sleep leads to a bad mood in most people, which can negatively affect the relationship.

There is a ray of hope for everyone who has trouble coming to terms with a different chronotype: at some point, coexistence between owls and larks will become easier. The chronotype is innate, but according to Klösch, bedtimes change over the course of life: "The older we get, the more we tend to be morning people. In a partnership in which both are over 45 years old, the probability is higher that both are moderate types," says Klösch.

Over time, couples also synchronize their sleep. "The older we get and the more stable a partnership and the longer we've been together, the more our sleep patterns adjust," says the sleep researcher. Then at least the bedtimes would be similar. According to Beer and Klösch, this is the case above all in functioning partnerships.