It started off as a Sunday night thing. You know, when the ‘all-I-can-think-about-is-my-endless-to-do-list-and-everything-bad-that-could-ever-happen’ fear sets in and it’s impossible to sleep. The segregation then extended to Tuesday, then Wednesday until it was a weeknight routine. Now, we even sleep apart most weekends. And life is so much better for it.
We’re not the only ones. According to research by the National Bed Federation, one in six couples who live together now sleep apart. The findings show that, of those who sleep apart, 85 per cent have done so for longer than a year, with over a third slumbering separately for over five years.
This backs up the Sleep Council’s 2017 Great British Bedtime Report which showed that ‘sleep divorces’ are soaring. The report showed that nearly a quarter of couples sleep apart some of the time with one in 10 turning their back on shared snuggling permanently.
More recently, for National Sleep Week, mattress company Dreams surveyed over 2,000 Brits and found that nearly half of them sleep in different rooms from their partner for four or more nights a week.
“Fifty per cent of sleep disturbance is caused by sharing a bed,” says Lisa Artis, Head of the Sleep Council. “And with many of us struggling to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, having a bed mate makes getting that quality shut-eye even more difficult.
“If you share your bed with a snorer, a duvet hogger, a wriggler or someone who has a different bedtime, then it makes perfect sense to sleep in separate bedrooms before resentment and frustration builds. “
The main problem for me is that my husband snores like an agitated sea lion. I sleep with heavy duty ear plugs and he could write the book on anti-snoring aids, but still it’s unbearable. It’s a running joke among his friends and old flatmates (they’ve had movie nights ruined by his snoring vibrating through the walls), but it’s not so funny when you’re looking at an average of three hours’ sleep a night because of it. And that’s not all. His body temperature is about 15 degrees hotter than mine so it’s like sleeping a few feet from the surface of the sun and, on top of all that, he’s a duvet-hogger. All in all, awful stuff.
It’s not surprising then, that all these niggles add up, as do the hours of sleep deprivation, to one unhappy couple. New research from Benson for Beds found that one in seven Brits say their relationship is suffering due to disrupted shut-eye. Those annoying nocturnal habits become nightly tortures which leave you resenting your partner.
When my husband and I first moved in together I would wake up exhausted and angry. Blaming him and already dreading the next bedtime. I found it difficult to focus at work and I started to look as bad as I felt with under eye bags you could hold your weekly Ocado shop in. From his point of view, his sleep was constantly disrupted by my sighs, tuts and, if I’m honest, pretty hard kicks. Since we started snoozing separately, we’re infinitely happier and healthier.
When I tell people that my husband and I sleep apart, mostly, people seem shocked and are a bit judgey. But rather than the tired (sorry) old cliché that sleeping in separate bedrooms is a death knell for a relationship, it can be the opposite.
“To some, sleeping apart implies that there is trouble in paradise, but in reality, if your sleep habits don’t synchronise then it’s much better, for your relationship to sleep apart,” says The Sleep Council’s Artis.
“Tired people are less tolerant and patient than those who are fully rested, the result can easily be rows and arguments. Disputes that undermine relationships can drive couples apart.”
Solo shut-eye could save your relationship, but it could also save your life.
“Chronic sleep debt can have a seriously damaging effect on our mental and physical health,” says Artis. “A good night’s sleep is vital as a restorative time and plays a significant role in healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels, recharging the brain but also giving us the ability to manage and cope. Good sleep also strengthens the immune system and the cardiovascular system.
“Regular poor sleep also puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including depression obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s – and it shortens your life expectancy.”
And all this is worse for women. An Australian study found that women are more likely to suffer with sleep issues and to struggle more because of a lack of sleep with many experiencing problems with memory, concentration and even feelings of depression. Snoring was cited as the most common reason for disrupted sleep. Scientists also say that women need more sleep than men because of their ‘complex brains’.
The upper classes have always enjoyed separate sleeping quarters – as we’ve seen in Netflix’s brilliant The Crown, Her Majesty and Prince Philip each have their own rooms. Today’s rich are turning to this style of His and Her too. “Where Royalty and aristocracy have led, so the rich and famous have followed, so that celebrities, movie stars and business tycoons all like having private separate VIP bedroom suites for themselves and their partners,” says Peter Wetherell, Chief Executive of London estate agents Wetherell. “Now in Mayfair around 10 per cent of the houses and apartments have multiple master/VIP bedroom suites.”
But what if separate rooms isn’t an option? Sleep expert and nutritionist Rob Hobson has these tips for a good night’s kip…
1. Skipping evening meals, not eating enough or eating sugary foods before bed may cause dramatic shifts in blood glucose during the night which in turn can stimulate the brain, signalling it to wake up and eat. Try to eat something before bedtime and keep it light to avoid any digestive issues that may also contribute to your ability to get to sleep. Evening snacks containing protein and good fats, such as a handful almonds, are a good way to have a slow release of energy during the night.
2. Other nutrients, such as magnesium, also have a role to play in sleep quality and relaxation. Magnesium is difficult to absorb from food so to ensure you are getting enough in your diet (especially if you are under stress) you can increase your intake by including foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and cocoa powder.
3. Any light can be really annoying for the person lying next to you but if you want to read before you go to sleep and your other half is trying to doze off then invest in a small light that clips to your book – simple and obvious but really effective.
4. Try to use separate duvet covers at night to spare you the evening tug of war as you both grapple with your bedspread. This also helps you to regulate your own body temperature more easily which is conducive to a good night’s sleep.
5. Simple but effective tip for snoring is to place a pillow behind your other half to keep them asleep on their side to help relieve snoring. Getting them to ditch the booze helps too but if all else fails then invest in some good earplugs.