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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Married, Sleeping Solo?

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You're not alone. Well, maybe you are at night in bed, but you're among the 23 percent of married couples who sleep solo. Would you believe that requests for two master bedrooms in new homes is on the rise? That's right: the National Association of Home Builders predicts that by 2015, 60 percent of all custom upscale homes will be built with two "owner suites." Wow.

More and more people these days are saying good night to their significant other and closing the bedroom door behind them. I heard about this sleep trend a while ago, and then read a more sobering article last week online that highlights the extent-- and potential downfalls-- of this movement.

People are choosing it for a variety of reasons, the common denominator being that couples don't get a good night's sleep while sharing a bed. Snoring, general tossing and turning, and opposite schedules are chiefly to blame (sorry, but I'm leaving out the "I don't like my spouse anymore" motive; let's keep the sleeping separately for serious relationship/emotional issues aside please).


On the one hand, maintaining separate bedrooms has its benefits if
you've tried everything to sync your sleep habits and both get a good
night's sleep. But psychologists and marriage counselors point to some
of the pitfalls of this arrangement. Not surprisingly, you lose that
certain intimacy that comes naturally with sleeping side by side. You
also lose that sense that you're part of something-- someone-- else. If you
can be happy and content in another room, then is there something else
wrong? One man featured in the article admits he feels "out of the
loop" when he sleeps in another room. 

But I am particularly
amused by the comments made by Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage: A
History
and director of research and public education at the Council
on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research organization. She says
sleeping in separate beds in order to get a good night's rest is
"reasonable and revolutionary"; in fact she notes how we are accustomed
to believing that we need to sleep beside our beloved, yet in the last
30 years we've learned that "there's more than one way to do marriage"
and that there are "lots of ways to have a happy marriage and even a
good sex life."

Okay, so maybe that's true. But it's also true
that we've revolutionized sleep medicine in the past 30 years. Heck, in
just the past 10 years it's come a long way. If two people are sleeping
solo because one or both have trouble sleeping, they should address
those issues.

What if you've got a hubby with sleep apnea, which can be
life-threatening, and then cast him aside to another room and never get
him treated? Having a bed partner can actually reinforce good sleep
habits, like getting to bed at a reasonable hour ("Honey, please come
to bed!") or engaging in spontaneous sex in the morning (as opposed to
knocking on another door in the house and get invited in). How many
couples who sleep solo trade a less-than-perfect sex life for better
sleep? I think people can have it both ways...if they pay attention.

Let's
also not forget about all the "revolutionary" products we have today
that can help two couples share the same bed comfortably--despite their
individual habits. Might I suggest:

  • A bed with two different sides to it (you can tailor it to your individual cushion needs and so can your spouse).
  • A bigger bed with plenty of extra space (how many of you are still trying to accommodate two big bodies on a queen?).
  • Attention to details: try a bed with memory foam so your spouse's nighttime restlessness doesn't bother you; banish the electronics (TV, computer, and cell phone) from the room.
  • Attention to serious problems: if your spouse snores, it may be time to discuss this with your doctor and look into underlying causes that can be addressed appropriately to ease or stop the snoring. Remember, sleep apnea could be serious.

Lastly, it always helps to have an open conversation
with your bed partner about how each of you can accommodate your unique
sleep needs. If you keep different schedules, then learn how to respect
the other's sleep when one of you gets up or goes to bed at a different
time.

It's not that difficult. I don't know many couples who share the
exact same schedule. The key is to keep the bedroom a quiet sanctuary
at all times and do your loud business (i.e., getting dressed, using
the computer, text-messaging, responding the calls and e-mails,
watching TV, etc.) elsewhere. Now that's a revolutionary concept!

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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