The Value of Going to Bed at the Same Time as Your Partner

New research gives tips for better bedtime, relationship, and life satisfaction

Posted Feb 10, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

  • For many couples, going to bed at the same time is a core commitment, and those partners often strive to protect that time together.
  • New research justifies this approach, finding that partners with a disconnect between bedtimes reported lower satisfaction with both their relationships and their sex lives.
  • Even when couples engaged in different activities in bed (such as using different apps on their smartphones), they had greater satisfaction when they turned in together.

One of my favorite movie lines ever is from Top Gun. A 25-year-old Meg Ryan shouts to her pilot husband, Goose, playfully, “Take me to bed or lose me forever.”

It’s sweet. Loving. Flirtatious. Irresistible. And it speaks a simple truth—"I want you…now.” To me, though, the sexual overtone of this sentiment is overshadowed by something a little more basic and perhaps even more meaningful. Meg Ryan’s character, Carole, was saying to her lover in a crowded restaurant, “It’s time for us to leave, together, and go to bed.”

Sex or no sex, going to bed as a couple is a gateway to increased connection. At the end of the night, unencumbered by children, work tasks, and housework, people can really unwind. They can talk and touch. Just being in the bedroom at nighttime with a partner is a promising concoction for intimacy. As Ernest Hemingway noted in A Moveable Feast: “We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.” He mentions nothing about sex or conversation. And yet his portrayal of a couple lying side by side, reading under the starlight, is dizzyingly romantic.

Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels
Man and woman in bed together
Source: Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels

Perhaps it’s the combination of these sentiments that led me to make a pact with my husband more than a decade ago, when we were already 15 years into our 25-year relationship: We would always, regardless of time, day, or pending obligations, go to bed together.

Aside from times when one of us is traveling away for work, this is a pact we’ve kept. Sometimes this means we go to bed at 8:30 or 9. Sometimes this means one of us brings a laptop, turns on the television, or reads while the other sleeps. But usually it doesn’t feel like a compromise. The short amount of time between when we get into bed and we fall asleep (usually 2-3 hours) is our protected time together—a cherished time when we can devote ourselves to one another. It’s a compromise that works, and according to my recent research with Dr. Brandon McDaniel, it’s a compromise more couples should be making.

In our recent study, we asked 289 American adults in married or cohabiting relationships how they typically spend their nighttime routines with their partners. We also asked them what they would ideally want to do with their partners during these hours before bedtime. Unfortunately, mismatches were common. Many of these individuals expressed frustrations with their partner, noting that their partner went to bed without them, spent time alone on their computer or watching TV, or never wanted any physical or emotional intimacy. Many of them mentioned they were unhappy with their typical nighttime routines. Miserable, in fact.

While a mismatch between typical and ideal routines was not predictive of satisfaction, generally, when there was a mismatch in physical intimacy (i.e., the person wanted physical intimacy but wasn’t getting it in their typical nighttime routine), it led to lower bedtime satisfaction. In turn, people who were less satisfied at bedtime were less satisfied sexually, less satisfied in their relationship, and less satisfied in their life, overall.

Other activities that predicted bedtime satisfaction?

  • Joint media use (like watching TV or Netflix together).
  • Emotional intimacy before bed (e.g., conversations with a partner).
  • Simply going to bed with a partner.

Although we thought that couples engaging in separate activities (especially tech-related activities) before bedtime would have lower satisfaction, this wasn't a significant predictor of bedtime satisfaction. And engaging with technology with a partner was actually a good thing. Perhaps this is why “Netflix and Chill” has become such a popular hook. In the best-case scenario, you have amazing and fulfilling sex. But even in the worst-case scenario, you still watch a movie and relax with someone you like. Win-win.

Perhaps, then, the solution for a happy life as a couple really does begin in the bedroom. But building an ideal nighttime routine is not a fail-proof recipe of X + Y + Z. Some couples are going to want more sex. Others might want more talking. Still others might want to watch a movie together. As each couple's dynamic is unique, the best place to start is a conversation with your partner. It could begin with a simple question: What would your ideal nighttime routine look like? And couples could build from there. Incorporate more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

Or maybe the first step is a bolder approach. A la Meg Ryan in the 80s, you can shout across a crowded restaurant to your piano-playing lover: “Take me to bed, or lose me forever.”

Follow me on Instagram @dr.michelledrouin and Twitter @DrMDrouin

Facebook image: Kleber Cordeiro/Shutterstock

References

Drouin, M., & McDaniel, B. (2021). Technology use during couples’ bedtime routines, bedtime satisfaction, and associations with individual and relational well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407521991925