Aug. 9, 2013 at 12:53 PM ET
So, it seems Lucy and Ricky Ricardo might’ve been on to something. Nearly 14,000 of you responded yesterday to our poll asking whether you sleep better with your partner, or alone -- and 60 percent of you admitted, in the safe anonymity of an online vote, that you actually sleep better solo. Science and history are on your side, too.
Sleep experts say that we tend to associate snoozing in a separate bed – or a separate room -- from your significant other with relationship problems, but that’s not always the case. Because some couples might work completely opposite schedules, and others might be dealing with health issues like sleep apnea, requiring a terribly noisy CPAP to run all night. But even one person’s mundane problem like snoring can keep the other up all night.
TODAY.com reader Nikki Garcia Lopez said on our Facebook page yesterday that she and her husband of 17 years have slept in separate rooms for 10 of those years. “He snores loud and moves (too) much keeping me up all night.” And despite their bedtime separation, Garcia Lopez says, “We are very happy.”
More couples might start sleeping separately as they get older, Dr. Neil Stanley, a UK sleep specialist, said in an email. “When you are young or in the first flush of a relationship, I don’t think sleeping separately is very common, but when you get to middle age you are perhaps more pragmatic.” Some couples might also have more space, since their children have grown up and left home. He thinks the 40 percent figure sounds about right for that age group.
Poor sleep has been linked with higher rates of depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, to name just a few of the lasting consequences of too little sleep, Stanley says. He adds that research has shown that up to 50 percent of your nightly sleep disturbances are caused by the person you share a bed with.
But but but, you say, I can’t sleep without my boo beside me! It’s a very nice thought, but that’s probably about all it is. One sleep study had couples sleep separately one night and together another night, while measuring each person’s brain waves to assess sleep quality. “Interestingly, couples said they slept better when they were sharing a bed with their partner,” says David K. Randall, who recently published a book all about slumber, called “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.” He says that although couples said they slept better together, their brain waves told a different story, showing sleep disturbances and wakefulness throughout the night. When sleeping separately, they were able to fall asleep faster and sleep better, all night long.
“It feels good to sleep next to somebody, but if you’re just looking at sleep itself, you’re generally going to sleep better when you sleep in a bed by yourself,” Randall says. (Especially, he adds, if you’re sleeping next to someone like him, who kicks and snores in his sleep. “That’s not necessarily fun to sleep next to,” he says.)
For his book, Randall looked into the history of sleeping (literally, sleeping) together. How long has it been considered the norm in our culture to share a bed? “If you look at the history of beds, it’s actually really weird how it’s changed,” Randall says. “If you look 120 years ago … everybody slept in separate beds.” He explains that in the Victorian era, especially, sharing a bed with your partner was considered unsanitary, even dangerous. “There was this idea that if you were sleeping next to somebody they could be stealing your ‘life forces.’ It was never really defined, but basically -- our vitality, happiness and all these other things,” he says.
Randall estimates that it was some time in the 1930s, 40s or even 50s that it became the norm for American married couples to share a bed -- sometime around the era that Freud's theories really took over, he says. “It’s just kind of one of those things where now seems like it’s normal in our culture,” Randall says. “But that’s just what’s popular now.”
New York City psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says if you’re not going to be sleeping together in the literal sense, you'll need to make it a point to continue sleeping together in the Biblical sense, since sleeping separately takes away some of that spontaneity. But, if it works for you, you don't need to worry that sleeping in separate beds means your relationship is on the rocks.
“The advice to sleep separately is not for everyone,” Stanley says. “If you are happy with your sleeping arrangements, then do not change; however, if you are being repeatedly disturbed from your sleep by your bed partner and this is affecting the way you feel during the day, then you may want to consider changing to separate beds (or) bedrooms.”