Need More Sleep

September 26, 2023
Tidal Basin at sunrise.


Dear Conflict Coach,

Help! My roommate and I have sleeping schedules that just don’t align. How do I fix this?


Dear Exhausted–

I’m so sorry. Sleep conflicts make everything harder. You may have already tried things like earplugs, white noise apps, or eye mask covers. If you haven’t, those devices may help you engineer your way through this, and I also know they don’t work for everyone.

You don’t say whether you’ve spoken with your roommate, and whether they’re experiencing the same issue, but your use of the word “align” makes me think that the disrupted sleep may be mutual. If you haven’t talked to your roommate, I suggest doing so. In choosing the word “align,” you’ve done a great job framing this as a shared problem for you both to tackle together–rather than a problem caused entirely by one of you. Conflict theory calls this strategy “people vs. the problem”--and it’s usually more effective than “people vs. people,” if for no other reason than you have a larger team solving the conflict. 

So, you can approach this conflict conversation with your roommate exactly as you approached it with me, “Hey roomie. Our sleeping schedules just don’t seem to line up great. I know that’s hard for me, and I’m guessing it’s hard for you, too.” When you approach your roommate this way,you’ve framed the problem of disrupted sleep as one you can work on together.

The reality is that lots of conflicts are experienced similarly by both people, even if they don’t perceive it that way at the beginning. Going into the conversation with that viewpoint sets you both up to be partners in defeating this challenge.

As you move into talking about sleep itself, some of the following questions might help you sort out what you both need so you can rest and be your best selves.

  • Ideally, when would you each like to start and end your sleep? You may find that you’re not as incompatible as you think.
  • What adjustments to sleep schedules work and don’t work for each of you? Some people can happily wake up earlier, make-up for night sleep with daytime naps, or go to bed earlier. Knowing what flexibility is possible will help you all adjust where you can.
  • What is actually disrupting sleep for each of you? Is it overhearing the other person’s conversation on the phone? Is it light or noise? Is it a specific noise? (Conflict Coach cannot sleep through the sound of a latch clicking open or closed.) Is one of you snoring? Note: Moving to a new city can trigger allergies. Once you identify the specific source of the problem, you can solve for that, rather than just, “I’m not sleeping enough.”

The good news is that a lot of sleep disruption can be managed logistically once you’ve positioned you and your roommate as a team. Finally, as both you and your roommate get used to a new environment, you’re likely to sleep better simply because you’re more comfortable and you adapt to small noises. As you work through this, keep an open mind that the situation will probably be best improved if you both make small changes. 

Got a question for the Conflict Coach? You can anonymously submit your question.