Understanding sleep among couples: gender and the social patterning of sleep maintenance among younger and older couples


  • Robert Meadows University of Surrey
  • Sara Arber University of Surrey




Understanding Society, sleep, couples, gender



Sleep, which is vital for health and wellbeing, is influenced by a complex array of (neuro)biological and social factors.  Previous research has suggested that these factors vary across the life course, as well as being affected by transitions, such as parenthood, care-giving and widowhood.  This research has also suggested that many of these transitions have a greater affect on women’s sleep. Yet much of this research has focused on women and one-sided reports of partner behaviours.  This paper draws on data from Wave 1 of the Understanding Society Survey to examine gender differences in sleep maintenance within younger and older heterosexual couples.  Data were collected in 2009 from a representative sample of households in Britain with a response rate of 59%. Sleep maintenance, namely waking on 3 or more nights per week, was included in a self-completion module.  A series of logistic regression models are run using sleep maintenance as a dependent variable; i) a two level model for couples where the male is aged 50 or less (n=2452 couples); ii) a two level model for older couples where the male is aged above 50 (n=1972 couples); iii) bivariate models which allow for odds to be calculated separately for male and female partners.  Results from the couple level models illustrate how both younger and older women have increased odds of difficulties with sleep maintenance (as compared to their male partners).  Poor sleep maintenance is also associated with poor health, own unemployment, dissatisfaction with income, having had a previous cohabiting relationship and having younger children for both men and women.  Reports by the husband of frequency of coughing/snoring at night is significantly associated with their wives’ sleep maintenance among younger couples and vice versa; but among older couples there is only a significant association of husband’s snoring on wife’s sleep.  Whilst the current analysis is cross-sectional, further understanding of the dynamic relationships of sleep will be revealed through longitudinal analysis as Understanding Society moves through future waves.

Author Biographies

Robert Meadows, University of Surrey

Lecturer in Sociology

Department of in Sociology

Sara Arber, University of Surrey

Professor of Sociology

Department of in Sociology