Can sleeping in separate beds save your marriage?
Posted 18 August 2010 - 05:39 AM
Relationship experts say that sleeping in separate beds and even rooms can save your marriage and actually help you feel like newlyweds again.
Though the idea sounds a little bit untypical for a happily married couple, at a closer look it DOES make sense.
Mike and Jean Collom have performed the same ritual every night for the past eight years. They exchange a loving kiss, a warm embrace, wish one another a peaceful night’s rest — and then disappear into separate bedrooms. The happily married couple, from Chippenham in Wiltshire, have decided that, for them, the key to a successful relationship lies in sleeping apart.
I’m sure it’s why our marriage works so well,’ says Jean, a 58-year-old professional gardener. ‘I couldn’t stand Mike’s snoring, and would have to wake him to stop it — which meant that neither of us was getting a decent night’s sleep. The solution was obvious. I now sleep in the marital bed, as I like to sit up and read, and Mike has moved to the single bed in the spare room.’
The sleep solution has proved so successful that they now insist on separate rooms wherever they go — even though this can cause a raised eyebrow at times.
‘Our friends do think it’s odd, and some have assumed our marriage has problems,’ says Jean.
‘But, in fact, the complete opposite is true: we’re taking action to avoid problems. I’m not in the least embarrassed for people to know we sleep apart. Now when we meet in the kitchen at breakfast, we’re really pleased to see each other. We hold hands when we’re walking and cuddle on the sofa watching TV. It’s lovely.’
While the majority of married couples do share a double bed, there’s no doubt that a growing number — and particularly those in high-powered jobs — are choosing to sleep separately, shunning convention in return for quality rest.
The natural assumption would be that couples who don’t share a bed do not have as fulfilling a sex life as those who do. But Jean is quick to knock down that theory. ‘If either of us is feeling in the mood, then we start off the night in bed with each other, but then move before we fall asleep. Because we both get a good night’s sleep, we argue much less than many other couples, and we make an effort to be more tactile with each other the rest of the time. And occasionally we’ll tiptoe down the hallway and pay one another a visit, which has an element of “naughtiness” to it that makes us feel young again.’
It’s no coincidence that 45-year-old Dr Neil Stanley, one of this country’s leading sleep experts, does not share a bed with his wife of nine years. ‘Human beings get the best sleep on their own,’ he says. ‘If you take a standard 4ft 6in double bed, then you are allowing each adult less personal space than a child would have in a single bed. It makes no sense.’
And his own research has convinced him that the number of couples sleeping apart is on the increase. ‘Couples who sleep together suffer sleep disturbance for at least 50% of the night, whether that’s caused by snoring, fidgeting, duvet-stealing or trips to the loo,’ he says. ‘It isn’t the done thing in Britain for happily married people to admit they don’t share a bed, but I know that many couples are doing this.’
He says the belief that married couples should sleep together began in Tudor times. ‘Before that, only the poor would sleep together,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘If you look round stately homes, there are always separate bedrooms for the Lord and his wife. Our own Queen and Prince Philip have this arrangement, and they seem to have had a long and happy marriage as a result.’
The Tudor Age saw the beginning of the explosion of the ‘middle classes’, through increased trade. For the first time, it meant there was a group of people — neither rich nor poor — who didn’t have enough room to sleep apart, and yet had social status.
Dr Stanley adds: ‘We also have the Hollywood myth of romantically sleeping in each other’s arms. Somehow, this image has perpetuated that to have a happy marriage, you have to sleep entwined. But for most people this doesn’t feel natural or comfortable.’
He also believes that sharing a bed has little to do with a healthy sex life.‘We are the only species which equates sex with being in bed and then falling asleep,’ he points out. ‘Even our nearest species, chimpanzees and apes, do not sleep together as couples. The women sleep with their babies, and the men sleep in a nest they have made on their own.’
Dr Stanley also believes that one half of many couples may want to broach the subject of separate sleeping arrangements but are too scared to do so for fear of upsetting their partner. ‘To us, sleep is sacrosanct - I can cope with most things if I have had a reasonable night’s sleep. Sleeping separately helps us both to live a much more harmonious life’
Dr Stanley says that couples must be honest if they wish to sleep apart. ‘If you can sleep together perfectly well, then don’t change. But if you find you’re waking up every few hours or, worse, lying awake feeling deeply resentful of your sleeping partner, then change the situation. Say: “Look, darling, I love you very much, but I think I need to sleep on my own.” You need to present it in a loving way and avoid blame. The problem remains our link between sleep and sex. People think that their partner will take this as a sign that they don’t want sex with them any more. But this isn’t the case at all: if anything, sleeping apart can enhance your sex life because then you are choosing when to be together.’
Young couple Natalie and Gareth Snow admit, however, that their decision to sleep apart has affected their sex life a little. Natalie, 27, works as a consultant, while husband Gareth, 30, is in advertising. They live in West Sussex and have been together for three years and married for two. Natalie says: ‘Sleeping in separate beds does mean that there are fewer opportunities to make love, as we aren’t physically together. But it also means we look forward to the weekends much more, and it’s made us more adventurous and spontaneous. Gareth snores and I get night cramps, so I was waking him up by accidentally kicking him. It was horrendous. We both work long hours, and the lack of sleep was making us very bad-tempered. When I tentatively suggested that we might be happier sleeping apart, I was worried Gareth might be upset — but, in fact, he thought it was a good idea too. At first I was a bit lonely, but now I love having my own space. I find I can sleep uninterrupted for eight hours — and I can cope with anything if I have enough sleep.’
Echoing her words Dr Stanley says, is the key to good health. ‘This is a
message I am passionate about,’ he adds. ‘We have proved, scientifically, that disrupted and poor sleep is linked to depression, obesity, strokes and nervous disorders. There is no set amount that people should sleep at night — some can manage on as little as five hours. But if you are feeling tired and want to sleep during the day, then you are not getting enough and are endangering your health. If this is the case, then you should seriously consider sleeping apart from your partner.’
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