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I'll take the spare room

15/09/2014 By Hugh Wilson, MSN Life & Style

Last night was a good night. I slept for a solid eight hours, can barely remember waking in the night, and woke up this morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day.


I really needed it, because the night before that had been exactly the opposite, a hellish eight hours of broken sleep, restlessness and staring at the ceiling.


Oh, and with the occasional dig in the ribs thrown in for good measure.


Happily, the cause and effect is easy to understand. I know exactly why one night was good, and the other bad. Quite simply, last night I slept on my own, on a single mattress in the spare room, while the previous night had been spent in more traditional circumstances: in the marital double bed, with another human being, failing to get a restful sleep (and suffering the occasional snoring-related dig in the ribs).


On average, I probably spend three nights a week in the spare room. This is never because my wife and I have argued (OK, rarely), or because our relationship is in trouble, or because we don’t like each other that much. It’s because sometimes we both really need a good night’s sleep, and sleeping apart is the best way to ensure that we get it.


To be fair, we’re not the only ones. According to research by The Sleep Council, one in four of us now regularly head for the spare room or sofa, and seven percent of couples already have separate beds.


Nor is the preference for sleeping alone determined by age. A twenty-something couple is as likely to utilise the spare room - at least some of the time - as their parents.


In America, sleeping apart is becoming the norm. According to research for the National Sleep Foundation, a quarter of married Americans now sleep alone. Meanwhile, a survey of American builders and architects predicts that, by 2015, 60% of custom-built houses will have two master bedrooms.


There are a million reasons why otherwise loving couples choose to spend the night apart. Snoring is chief among them, along with restless limbs, duvet hogging, sleep talking and the dreaded roll together.


Some people simply get too hot in bed to share the precious space comfortably with another warm body.


Among younger people, modern lifestyles are often to blame. One partner pulling a late shift at work, or the other rolling in from the pub at 1am, can lead to a night on the sofa. In such instances, sleeping well is considered more important than sleeping together.


Whatever the reason, an increasing number of experts believe sleeping apart - either permanently or just when you feel the need - is a perfectly reasonable solution to a growing problem. We live in a sleep-deprived, 24 hour society, where the demands on our downtime are greater than ever. Making the most of our precious moments in bed is essential for physical and mental health.


“Sleeping apart is a practical issue for most couples who just want a good night’s sleep,” says relationship expert Paula Haul of “It may seem unromantic, but so is snoring, back problems, and waking up irritable and exhausted every morning.”


Neil Stanley, a sleep researcher at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, agrees: “We’ve been sold a myth that we have to share a bed or our marriage is doomed. But people who are more tired are more miserable and have a higher rate of divorce.”


But sneaking off to the spare room is not without its downsides. When I first mentioned to a friend that I’d spent the night in the spare room, he assumed it was the spare room of the dog house.


It’s a common reaction. Co-habiting couples are supposed to sleep together, the argument goes. Sharing our most vulnerable state with another human being is the ultimate symbol of mutual trust. It creates a state of intimacy and a sense of belonging. Lose the co-sleeping and you lose part of the reason for living together in the first place.


Paula Hall says couples who choose to sleep apart do have to guard against the loss of intimacy:


“If you literally only sleep apart, neither of you will notice the difference,” she says. “Problems arise when you don't make the time to snuggle up in one bed before you go to sleep or share a cup of tea in bed in the morning.”


“You've got to be committed at working together to ensure you maintain intimacy in other ways.”


That shouldn‘t be too hard, because sleeping apart was once the norm. Neil Stanley says sharing a bed only became fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century. In earlier times, co-sleeping was only endured out of necessity, the result of limited space and means.


Rich folks - who could afford to sleep separately - have traditionally enjoyed blissful nights of splendid isolation, just as the Queen and Prince Philip, and Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, do today.


And frankly, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve got it right. Cuddling up on a cold night might be one of the great benefits of co-habiting, but if it means waking up with a clear head and a renewed zest for life, it’s one I’m prepared to forego.


Do you sleep apart from your partner? Have you thought about having two master bedrooms? Or do you think it's important that you both sleep in the same bed? Talk about it here.


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