Are Separate Bedrooms the New Black?

While the days of famous TV couples sleeping separately are long past, couples who sleep apart shouldn't feel as if they have a dirty little secret to hide.
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Lucy and Ricky. Laura and Rob. June and Ward.

What did these famous TV couples have in common?

They slept in separate beds.

From the 1930s through the late 1960s, the Hays Code, a series of guidelines that set boundaries for what could be seen and heard on movie and television screens, prohibited couples from being shown in the same bed.

We've come a long way since then in terms of on-screen relationships, but an interesting shift is happening off-screen. According to The National Sleep Foundation, today a growing number of American couples actually sleep in separate bedrooms. Studies in England and Japan reveal a similar trend.

For the 25 percent of couples who choose to sleep apart, reasons include snoring, disrupted sleep, temperature preferences, different schedules or sleep habits.

With more people making sleep a priority, architects and builders are benefiting from the trend toward sleeping apart and are being asked to convert closets within a master bedroom into "snoring rooms" so that a snorer feels she has a special place of her own to retreat to at bedtime.

Truth can be stranger than fiction.

A recent Wall Street Journal article touted the health benefits couples derive from sleeping in the same bed. So does this mean couples should make spooning part of their bedtime ritual?

There haven't been many scientific studies about the impact of couples sleeping together. However, experts believe oxytocin, the "love hormone," is released through touching, including cuddling. According to neurologist Dr. Rachel Salas, assistant medical director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, increased oxytocin helps the body relax, encourages healing and reduces blood pressure.

Dr. Salas believes that touching, such as spooning, brings about feelings of love, security and affection. While Dr. Salas can't point to a specific study that supports a clear link between spooning and a good night's sleep, she believes that, "having a person that you are the protector for or who protects you nearby increases the release of neurotransmitters involved with good sleep."

Atlanta-based psychiatrist and sleep expert Dr. Tracey Marks agrees that for many people sleeping with a partner is very comforting and soothing. Dr. Marks believes that conditioning is a big factor here. "We tend to want what we are used to."

Dr. Marks also identified some potentially negative issues that may arise from sleeping together or spooning. Although touch makes us feel good, spooning can increase body heat and make it difficult to stay asleep. (This issue is particularly relevant for women in perimenopause or menopause who are experiencing night sweats and struggling to get a good night's sleep.) Light sleepers may be disrupted if their partner shifts positions throughout the night. For those who need to escape from a thrashing partner or simply need their physical space but still want the security of a partner close by, a larger bed may enable them to sleep together and get a good night's sleep.

There may come a time when a person living with a partner who snores, has restless leg or talks in his sleep finds that sleeping separately is the only way to get a good night's sleep. While to some the idea of couples sleeping separately may seem at odds with intimacy, passion and romance, Dr. Marks believes there are times when doing so may become necessary. In some instances, sleeping apart as a way to deal with sleep issues can actually save a marriage and increase intimacy.

According to sex therapist Miriam Baker, everyone has a history with cuddling beginning in childhood. Some may find it soothing while for others it may feel intrusive. Depending on that history, cuddling or spooning at bedtime may not be right for all couples. In her post titled, "Cuddling. Is It Sex?", Ms. Baker explores the physical and emotional signs and limitations of cuddling as they relate to sex. "Making time to cuddle like time for sex feels good if it's conflict free."

Whether or not you like to spoon, one thing is certain: It's better for your relationship if both of you are well-rested. Anyone who has spent the day with a partner who didn't get a good night's sleep can attest to this.

While the days of famous TV couples sleeping separately are long past, couples who sleep apart shouldn't feel as if they have a dirty little secret to hide. So next time you're at a cocktail party and the conversation turns to "sleep" or the lack thereof, listen carefully to what your friends have to say about where they sleep. You might be surprised.


Cindy Bressler
Co-founder, Bedtime Network
twitter: @bedtimenetwork

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