real life

When sleep trumps spooning

Raise your hand if you have ever got out of bed after enduring a sleepless night because of your partner’s  snoring, tossing and turning, doona hogging or flinging, or other annoying nocturnal behaviour that interfered with your right to a good night’s sleep?

For all of you that have your hand raised, keep it raised if you would ever consider sleeping separately from your partner to get a good night’s sleep? I’ll bet a few hands have dropped – but I’ll also bet there are a few still raised – some a bit tentatively.

Keep those hands proudly raised folks and say “I love my partner, but I don’t love sleeping with them.” It’s time to claim back your right to a good night’s sleep.

A 2011 National Sleep Foundation Survey reported that 41% of people had their sleep significantly impacted by a snoring partner and 27% significantly impacted by partner movement.

The shared bed can be a battlefield, but night after night, many keep returning with the spirit of Winston Churchill – ready to fight on stoically, “whatever the cost may be”.

Challenging the ‘shameful’ secret of sleeping separately is becoming my personal crusade. In my late 30s I became less and less able to share a bed with my partner. I tried ear plugs, natural remedies and just ‘sucking it up’, but when it got to the point that I was prescribed Stilnox, I knew something had to change. The pressure associated with wanting to sleep separately was one of the key reasons that relationship ended. The boyfriend accused me of not trying hard enough to ‘get over’ my problems and made it quite clear that he would not be sleeping in a different bedroom to me – happy couples don’t do that! Eventually I had to say goodnight to him and the relationship.

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My husband and I met a few months later and when we first started living together, sharing a bed each night was again, a bit of a nightmare. His snoring and my routine of retiring to bed late at night, and then wanting to read, interfered with our ability to sleep well. We were both miserable, and after a couple of weeks sharing a bed, totally exhausted and unable to function as reasonable, rationale members of society. Fortunately I discovered that my future husband (as he was at that time) approached sleep with the same pragmatism as I did.

We decided that separate rooms were going to save both our sanity and our relationship. Seven years later we are still very much in love with each other – and our own bedrooms. We still enjoy the intimate aspects of a normal, healthy couple, and share the pleasure of lying with each other in bed at night and in the mornings, when one of us will slip in with the other for a cuddle. But the bit in the middle—where we just sleep— is an activity we happily and unashamedly do alone.

We have developed rules to ensure any closeness missed by sharing a bed each night is made up for in other ways. Whoever is up the latest (mostly me) has to make sure they spend a bit of time in the other’s bed before they sleep—with a goodnight kiss as a minimum. Whoever is up first (mostly him) must go to the other person’s room and give them a good morning kiss. These rules are non-negotiable. And then there’s the battle about whose bed is visited for the sex! It can make for a bit of fun when approached in the right spirit.

In its most basic form, sleeping is essentially an individual activity. But it’s an activity that many people lie next to another person to do. Ironic, isn’t it? Paul Rosenblatt, professor at the University of Minnesota, suggests that couples need to learn to share a bed if they are having difficulties sleeping together. Unfortunately, just as we all can’t master the complexities of quantum physics, not everyone can learn to endure night after night of minimal or broken sleep simply for the sake of sharing a bed with the person they love. I certainly worked and worked to learn to master the skill, but would have failed Professor Rosenblatt’s exams on stoicism.

Happy couples who want to sleep apart challenge social norms. I believe the fear of how others might judge a relationship is what keeps people returning to the same bed every night with a level of nervousness and, in some cases, sheer dread, that they are not going to get a good night’s sleep. I know—I have been there. However, having the strength to take the step to sleep separately is a practical choice that may just keep your relationship, your health and your sanity in one piece.

Sleeping apart does not mean your relationship is falling apart. It just means that you, along with a growing percentage of the population, are realising that sleep is more important than spooning.

Are there any more hands raised now?

Jennifer Adams is a a mid-40s, married woman, who is very open about the fact that she sleeps in a separate room to her husband. She is currently writing a book called “Sleeping apart – not falling apart: A practical guide for happy couples who want to sleep separately.”

Do your partner’s sleeping habits affect your quality of sleep?

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