real life

Your bedroom or mine?

When you woke up this morning, whose bed were you in? The answer to
this question for many, many people is ‘not my own’. And not just the
singles who got lucky last night. Even if you’re married or living with
someone, there’s a good chance you didn’t wake up beside them.

An epidemic of bed hopping is sweeping Australia and it’s coming to a
house near you. Perhaps it’s already there. Perhaps you already play
Musical Beds at your place. We do. Because when you have small children
– and even when you don’t – falling asleep beside your partner doesn’t
guarantee you’ll wake up in the same bed. Or with the same person.

There are three main reasons couples sleep apart:

1.    THE DOGHOUSE. This is where you go when you are booted out of the Big Bed due to some kind of transgression. A night in the relationship sin bin rarely involves an actual doghouse unless you’ve been really, really bad or are so drunk it seems like a sensible place to crash. Mostly ‘doghouse’ is a metaphor for the spare room, the couch or, occasionally, the car (see above point about being drunk).

2.    KIDS. When they’re small, off-spring have a tendency to require attention during the night. This is a common cause of musical beds, which goes something like this: house wakes to the sound of crying. Both parents pretend to be asleep, attempting to bluff each other into getting up to deal with it. Regular breathing and absolute stillness is essential until Parent 1 caves and resentfully stumbles out of bed towards source of crying. Parent 2 congratulates self on sterling acting job and considers nominating self for Oscar. Meanwhile, Parent 1 seeks revenge on lazy-ass Parent 2 by bringing wailing child into marital bed. Soon, child no longer crying but not sleeping either. Child wriggles and kicks restlessly until Parent 2, no longer smug, is forced to abandon marital bed for relative peace of….child’s now-empty bed. Elder child, woken by traffic in hall, gets up to investigate. Discovers Parent 2 squashed uncomfortably into small rocket ship bed with legs hanging off end. Locates missing sibling in big bed with Parent 1. Looks fun. Decides to join party. Parent 1 now shoved to side of big bed and forced to sleep on mattress piping while children sprawl like starfish sleeping soundly.
To meet this challenge head-on, I know one family whose three young kids all have double beds. This way, everyone gets a decent sleep, no matter who ends up crashing where and with whom. “I haven’t woken up next to my husband in a year and a half,” admits another mum, whose toddler doesn’t sleep. “I know I should be stricter about the way my son ends up in our bed every night but I’m trapped in the sleep deprivation cycle and it’s just easier for one of us to go sleep somewhere else. Hopefully he’ll grow out of it before he gets to high school….”


3.LIFESTYLE. Maybe one of you snores. Or comes to bed late and checks their email in bed. Maybe one of you gets up at 5:30am to go to the gym. Or has insomnia and likes to read. Maybe one of you has hot flushes and wants to sleep with only a sheet. Because of lifestyle issues like these, an increasing number of couples are choosing, by mutual agreement, to sleep in separate bedrooms. Some occasionally. Some regularly. Some permanently.

Often, it’s an age thing. Sleep gets lighter as you get older, snoring gets heavier and a spare bedroom may conveniently become available when kids leave home. One person will be driven into the spare bed by desperation and once there, discover that sleeping solo is the answer to a good night’s sleep.

This is not a new phenomenon. People have been doing it for yonks. But it’s always been hush-hush due to the stigma; the mistaken assumption that separate beds must mean doghouse and/or no sex. In fact, many solo-sleeping couples find the opposite is true. “There’s no bigger passion killer than lying awake all night next to a large snoring man,” shudders one woman I know. She’s found she’s far more likely to want to get jiggy with it after a good night’s sleep. “And when you sleep separately, it’s not just the dreaded wandering hand under the doona as you’re drifting off. It’s actually quite fun to say ‘your room or mine?’”


In a story called “To Have, Hold & Cherish, Until Bedtime”, the New York Times recently blew the lid off this dirty little marital secret, declaring separate bedrooms a full-blown global trend.

It seems lots of people don’t want to sleep together anymore and it has nothing to do with sex. Architects and builders are reporting an avalanche of requests for dual master bedrooms and a 2007 survey by the National Association of Home Builders in America, predicted an astonishing 60 percent of custom houses would have two main bedrooms by 2015.

Once it was his-n-hers towels. Then bathrooms. Now bedrooms. What’s next?  “A lot of people I know fantasise about living in the same apartment building as their husband – but in a separate apartment,” sociologist Pamela Smock tells the newspaper. “That could be next.”

Helena Bonham Carter and her director husband Tim Burton have separate house – adjoining and connected by a hallway. “It’s ideal because we can steer well clear of each other” explains Helena who recently gave birth to their second child. “He might come in and get the milk, but that’s about it. In any relationship, after the first year is over, you can’t help but want your own space. We have different telly tastes and both work from home. But things obviously aren’t that bad between us, or I wouldn’t have gotten up the duff, would I?” Good point. It seems sleeping separately does not preclude sleeping together…..