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The Secret to a Happy Marriage (and Healthy Self): Separate Beds? I Doubt it!

I have saved more marriages as a sleep specialist than I probably would have as a marital therapist, just by getting people back in bed, sleeping together!
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This topic is always popular: sleeping in separate beds for the sake of getting restful sleep and enjoying your partner even more as a result.

  • Have you ever been awakened by your bed partner? (snoring, thrashing, moving around)
  • Have you ever been the unintentional recipient of a battle by your bed partner in the middle of the night? (hit or punched as your bed partner physically plays out his dream without even knowing it)
  • Have you ever gotten better sleep in your partner's absence?
  • Have you ever slept on a couch because you couldn't get the sleep you needed in the same bed as your partner?
  • Have you ever thought about sleeping in separate beds on a routine basis?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you're not alone (well, maybe you are alone now sleeping soundly in your own bed).

In 2005, a National Sleep Foundation began reporting on this trend in separate sleeping beds. A survey then showed that 23 percent of married Americans sleep alone, an increase from 12 percent in 2001. Glamour magazine also reported on a survey of builders and architects who predict that double master bedrooms will soon be the norm.

Then there's the report by British sleep specialist Dr. Neil Stanley at a recent conference that has lots of people talking on the Internet: married people suffer 50 percent more harmful sleep disturbances if they share a bed. And this does not bode well for the sufferer of poor sleep, as it can cause depression, heart disease, stroke, lung disorders and accidents.

No doubt about that. He could have just summed it all up by saying bed partners are hazardous to your health!

But I think this is a bit one-sided. I am not questioning the validity of his results, but there are some serious advantages to sleeping with a bed partner.

  • In many cases this is the time for intimacy, from cuddling to sex, and it usually occurs in bed. Sure you can have "dates" for this, but how do you say, "Honey, I love you, thanks and bye!"
  • Sometimes this is one of the best times for communication. If you have been running around all day, and not had time to "catch up" with your partner, this is usually the best time to do it. Of course large emotional discussions are best out of the bedroom, but just everyday catching up is fine.
  • While I can't put my finger on it, the mere fact that you are physically close to someone, feels like (no pun intended) it has a positive effect on any relationship. Think about what you are saying to someone when you refuse to sleep next to them.
  • There is also one research study from Australia that shows men sleep better when they are sleeping next to someone.
Okay, so the separate bed thing may not be for everyone. But if you have a bad bed partner, and the last time you got a good night's sleep was when you were alone in your bed, then it may be time to look at this situation. Here is what I suggest:

If you are concerned that your bed partner may have a sleep disorder, a visit to a primary care physician and/or sleep specialist is the place to start to rule out potentially serious disorders like sleep apnea, periodic limb movement, or restless leg syndrome, or any other health issue that could be interfering with their (or your) sleep.

  • If it is snoring that bothers your sleep, consider ear plugs, a sound machine, or some type of anti-snoring device.
  • If it is their movement that bothers your sleep, consider a new mattress that reduces motion transfer.
  • If they get up in the middle of the night and disturb you, consider two beds in the same room, or a mattress that reduces motion transfer.
  • If they have a different schedule, consider scheduling changes, eye masks, book lights, etc.

Or, in the very least, opt for a bigger bed. You may be surprised by how well today's mattresses can accommodate two very different sleepers.

Here is what I know to be true above all else:

I have saved more marriages as a sleep specialist than I probably would have as a marital therapist, just by getting people back in bed, sleeping together!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

This article about bed partners is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.