Separate beds aren’t a sign of marital strife — they’re the key to better health and a happier relationship.
Or so suggests a survey, which showed that one in six couples has resorted to sleeping apart not because they can’t stand each other, but because they’re desperate for a decent night’s sleep.
One party’s snoring, fidgeting, or simply the fact that they crawl in at midnight when the other person bedded down hours before, can leave couples craving what’s been emotively dubbed a ‘sleep divorce’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report was conducted by a mattress company — but some experts agree with its findings.
Not only that, they say breaking up a relationship at bedtime should be encouraged. Dr Neil Stanley has been conducting sleep research for 35 years — and sleeping not just in a separate bed, but in a different room, from his partner for almost as long. ‘I’m the world’s leading advocate of separate beds,’ says Dr Stanley.
In 2005, he co-authored a study in which couples wore a device as they slept that monitored waking and motion: the results showed that when one partner stirred, the other did, too. ‘In fact, a third of your sleep disturbance is caused by your partner,’ he says.
The impact of this disturbance on your health, and the health of your relationship, can be huge.
A 2016 analysis of previous studies by Paracelsus Medical University in Germany showed that sleep issues and relationship problems tend to occur simultaneously.
Research also suggests those who sleep poorly have higher rates of divorce — and if a person sleeps badly, they lack empathy and are more argumentative. (Plus, just one bad night’s sleep makes you four times more likely to catch a cold, according to a 2015 study in the journal Sleep.)
‘Poor sleep affects your performance, relationships, increases your risk of accidents and, in the longterm, is associated with an increase in weight, type 2 diabetes and depression,’ adds Dr Stanley.
This is because each cell in the body has its own ‘clock’, so prolonged disruption to these rhythms through lack of sleep has a knock-on effect on every cell.
‘Sleep is vitally important, and there’s no reason to compromise it for the sake of an unscientific social construct of sleeping together,’ insists Dr Stanley. But will separate rooms for the sake of shut-eye have a negative affect on your sex life?
Apparently not. In fact, it may improve, as sleeping apart means sex becomes more intentional. ‘In a paper, a sociologist showed that the only reason you have sex with your partner in bed before you sleep, is because it’s the only time that you are together in private,’ Dr Stanley says.
‘Yet it’s not necessarily the best time emotionally or physiologically to have sex.’ The idea that sharing a bed with your other half is the ‘done thing’ is actually a relatively new one.
In a book published earlier this year, Professor Hilary Hinds, a researcher at Lancaster University, explains that until the 1950s, sharing a bed was not considered desirable at all — separate bedrooms were the long-established preference of the upper classes, while the middle classes first took to twin beds in the late Victorian era, initially for health reasons.
‘The predominant theory of disease transmission at the time was that illness would generate spontaneously in foul air,’ Professor Hinds explains. ‘So there was an anxiety that if you were to inhale the exhaled breath of your fellow bed partner, you were putting yourself at risk.’
‘Yet even when this idea was superseded by a more accurate understanding of how germs were passed on, twin beds didn’t disappear, adds Professor Hinds.
‘It then became more a matter of getting away from the snoring or the less than fresh breath of your fellow sleeper,’ she says.
‘I traced twin beds through to their demise in the post-War period, when you see a new emphasis on togetherness in marriage and a move away from twin beds back into the double beds for sleeping couples.’
Now, after our 20th-century flirtation with the double bed, we seem to be moving back towards the preferences of the upper classes throughout history. ‘Certainly, there is a growing trend for building houses with two master bedrooms,’ says Dr Stanley.
Professor Hinds concurs: ‘I’ve come across half a dozen recent articles that talked about separate bedrooms as if it was a contemporary phenomenon…and it’s certainly seen as having a cachet now; there’s this recognition of the autonomy of each partner in the couple.’
But what if separate rooms aren’t an option? Not everyone can afford an extra bedroom.
‘At the least, two adults should have a 6ft-wide bed, a super king, because then you have 3ft to yourself as you would in a single bed; that would be a start,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘Twin beds are better, so you can have the mattress and duvet thickness that suits you.
‘After all, sleep is the most selfish thing that we can do. You can’t share your sleep with anybody, so why share your bed?’