How to Touch Someone in Their Sleep Without Waking Them Up

Sleep is essential for us all as it allows our bodies time to rest and recuperate. But if you have a newborn baby who can only fall asleep while laying on your chest, or you share a bed with someone who saws logs or has migrated to your side, sleep might not be so easy. If this sounds familiar, you probably want to know how to extricate yourself or adjust your loved one without waking them up.

Here’s how you can touch someone in their sleep without waking them up in 5 easy steps:

  1. Wait until they are in a deep sleep.
  2. Determine which way to move them.
  3. Apply gentle pressure with a flat hand.
  4. Slowly increase pressure.
  5. Put a barrier, such as a pillow, between the two of you.

The five steps above are straightforward. However, there are a few ways to identify when someone is in a deep sleep and some ideal places to apply pressure to encourage someone to move. If you would like to perfect your technique, keep reading.

1. Wait Until They Are in a Deep Sleep

The first step in adjusting someone is to wait until the person you want to move is in a deep sleep. Sounds reasonable, right? But how do you know when that is?

Depending on your source of information, there are either four or five stages of sleep. According to The American Sleep Association, five stages of sleep make up a person’s sleep cycle:

  • Stages 1 and 2 are lighter sleep periods.
  • Stages 3 and 4 are deeper rest periods.
  • Stage 5 is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and is arguably the most critical.

Some other organizations combine stages 3 and 4. Either way, to touch or move someone without waking them, you should focus on ensuring you wait for the deeper sleep stages.

Let’s take a closer look at each stage so you can better understand what to look for.

Stage 1 Sleep

Stage 1 sleep is when the body is just moving into sleep. Although a short period, this stage is the lightest period.

It’s not a good time to try to touch someone at this point, as you will very likely wake them.

If you can count the number of minutes since someone fell asleep on one hand, tread lightly as they are probably still in stage 1.

Stage 2 Sleep

Your sleeper is getting closer to deep sleep, but they are not quite there yet. Stage two is still non-REM sleep and represents the last stage before the deep sleep mecca you’ve been awaiting.

This stage lasts between 10 and 60 minutes – though the time duration varies by person. Note that infants may pass through stage 2 more quickly than adults. (Music to the new parent’s ears!)

During stage 2, the sleeper’s heartbeat and breathing are slowing, and their muscles are relaxing. However, you may still see movement under the eyelids and notice relatively shallow breathing.

Stage 3 Sleep (or 3 and 4, Depending on Your Source)

You are here – deep sleep has finally arrived! The sleeping body is fully relaxed in the deep sleep stage.

The sleeper’s pulse and breathing have decreased even further. Their muscles are relaxed, and you should not see any movement behind their eyelids.

Now is your first chance to interact with the sleeper without waking them.

Stage 5 – REM Sleep

During REM sleep, brain activity increases. Rapid breathing and eye movement, similar to the early sleep stages, are also notable.

People typically do not move during REM sleep. WebMD reports that REM sleep is the deepest sleep stage.

To differentiate the eye movement associated with the early sleep stages from REM sleep, consider whether the person just fell asleep. If so, they are likely in an early sleep stage.

If they have been asleep for hours, carefully lift the sleeper’s sleeve until their hand is a few centimeters off the bed. If the hand drops to the bed when you let go, they are in deep REM sleep. If the person jerks their hand away when you lift, beware – they are not sleeping deeply, and if you try to move them, they may wake up!

Once you’ve scoped out the situation and are reasonably sure the person is sleeping deeply, you can likely touch them without waking them. If you have a sleeping infant on your chest, now is your chance.

Take this opportunity to rise from the rocking chair slowly, lay them in their crib, and head to your bed as quickly as humanly possible to get some sleep yourself.

If your spouse has a rogue arm laying on you and you are no longer in the mood for a cuddle, take this opportunity to move it away. If you need to adjust a partner or a child from your side of the bed, this situation is trickier and needs a bit of forethought – you first need to figure out where you want to move them.

2. Determine Which Way to Move Them

Determining the best new position for the crowding sleeper should only take a moment.

Suppose the person is lying on their side. In that case, you will want to use gravity, and the application of strategic pressure, to your advantage to help them roll away from you. Moving them will provide you the space you need to get comfortable.

If the person is already on their back or stomach, determine which part of them is most in your space and focus your efforts there first. If their entire body is on your side of the bed, get up and switch sides. Just kidding! Instead, plan to apply pressure to their center of gravity – their hips and shoulders simultaneously.

Before beginning to move a sleeping person, make sure you aren’t pushing them into anything.

Roll them onto a hard plastic toy or accidentally smoosh their face into a pillow while moving them, and all your preparation may be for nothing.

Once you’ve identified your strategy and ensured the coast is clear, get prepared for the move.

3. Apply Gentle Pressure With a Flat Hand

Focus your efforts on the offending body part(s), place your flat hand on the person and begin applying gentle pressure.

If the person begins to move as soon as you’ve placed your hands gently on them, they are not sleeping deeply. Abort the mission! If you’re applying gentle pressure and the person has not moved, you should be good to go.

When someone needs to rotate, position your dominant hand on the back of their shoulder. Place your non-dominant hand on the front. A two-handed approach will keep them from waking due to moving too abruptly. Gravity should help in this situation, but you don’t want it to take over.

For those invaders who have migrated onto your side of the bed, place your hands flat against the most offending body part. Alternatively, if their entire body is on your side, place one hand on their hip and the other on their shoulder and get ready to increase pressure.

4. Slowly Increase Pressure

Once your hands are in place and you’ve confirmed your sleeper has not moved, you can begin increasing the pressure.

Slowly, while doing your best to avoid contact with the person’s skin, increase the applied force until the sleeping person’s body begins to shift positions.

If you are rolling the person, use your dominant hand to apply the pressure to move. In contrast, your non-dominant hand supports their body as the pressure and gravity bring them down to the bed away from you.

If you are helping someone shift back after they’ve wandered over to your side of the bed, continue pushing until they are safely back into an ideal position.

Unfortunately, while driving one limb away, another may drift towards you. In this case, revisit the new offending body part and restart the process.

First, clear any:

  • Stuffed animals
  • Pillows
  • Bunched-up blankets

Then, apply gentle but increasing pressure until all body parts are back on the right side of the bed.

5. Put a Barrier, Such as a Pillow, Between the Two of You

You have moved your sleeping partner, and they stayed asleep – whew! You can now roll over and head back to sleep yourself. Alternatively, you can take additional steps to keep them from rolling or drifting right back to where they started.

The most successful way to keep people where they belong is to set up a barrier. For example, sharing a bed with my kids on vacation can be a nightmare. I found placing a pillow in the middle of the bed gives me protection from flailing limbs that abruptly wake me in the middle of the night.

Foam pool noodles are also a great and inexpensive option. Pick one up from a local big box store in the summer for about $1 or, if you missed pool noodle season, you could get one like the Infgreateh Pool Noodle from Amazon for less than $5. It’s small enough to fit without being intrusive, and its bright colors will help you keep track of it in the dark.

These are perfect for keeping kids transitioning from cribs to big kid beds from rolling onto the floor. When placed under the sheets in the center of your bed, they act as a physical barrier to prevent sleeping partner migration.

Final Thoughts

If your partner tends to hog the bed, or if your kids sometimes end up snuggled into your back, it’s natural to want to find a way to move them without waking them up.

Luckily, it’s easy enough to do, provided you know when they’re in their REM sleep cycle. Remember to avoid skin-on-skin contact and only ever apply gentle pressure. Hopefully, you found this article helpful. I wish you luck in giving everyone in your household the best chance at a restful night!

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