We all know how important sleep is – scores of studies have linked a lack of it to diabetes and depression, Alzheimer's and obesity, low sperm count and cancer. Yet the UK still isn’t getting enough, with the average Brit only getting around six and a half hours a night (falling short of the recommended seven to nine hours most adults need).
Fall in the former camp? Along with sleep trackers, herbal pills and lavender-scented pillow sprays comes the latest expert recommendation – kicking your partner out of bed. Whether they’re a snorer or a restless sleeper, have a boiling body temperature or love to read late into the night with the light on, chances are your other half disturbs your sleep. In fact, it’s estimated that when you share a bed with someone else, your sleep is 50% more disturbed than it would be if you slept alone.
Recent research suggests nearly one in four US couples sleep in separate beds, along with 30-40% of couples in Canada. And it’s certainly not a new concept – dating back to the 1700s. Following the Industrial Revolution, sleeping together was no longer the only way to stay warm and safe overnight, and many aristocratic couples opted to reside in separate bedrooms. Middle and upper-class couples sometimes kept different chambers too, especially if they were ill (sounds like heaven to us).
Jennifer Adams, author of Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart, wants separate sleeping to be a valid and unjudged choice for all couples. A dedicated ‘sleep divorcee’ herself, she says her friends were deeply concerned when they first found out about her and her husband’s decision.
"It was a tragedy of epic proportions because nobody within my friendship circle knew a couple who slept separately. Immediately everyone assumed that this was never going to work," she says. "There's a notion that a happy couple sleeps in the same bed and there's trouble in paradise if you're not."
Adams reveals that more people sleep apart than we realise, and they fall into two distinct camps: those who value a good night’s sleep above all else and don't care what others think, and those who hide the arrangement. So why keep it a secret? Apparently, the blurring of lines between sex and sleep are at the core of social pressure. ‘If you're not 'sleeping together, then are you having sex?’ is a question Adam often gets asked.
To the contrary, experts like Betty Stockley – a registered psychotherapist and marriage counsellor – believe sleeping apart could actually spice up your sex life. Just as being separated from your partner (say, during a business trip) may increase feelings of intimacy when they return, being apart overnight may also spike your libido.
“You can tell your partner that they can come visit you in the other room at any time,” Stockley advises “It’s important to communicate that it won’t interfere with sex.” If you’re proposing a sleep separation, she also recommends framing the request as something you’re doing for the benefit of your relationship and suggests trying it for one or two nights a week before committing full-time.
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