Given that we spend a third of our lives sleeping (or trying to get to sleep), it’s slightly infuriating that society still makes out that sharing the same bed as your partner is the benchmark for a healthy relationship, with any deviation from the norm seen as the gateway to separation – the great symbol of ‘uh oh, trouble in paradise’.
Despite the slew of reasons why someone might struggle to get to sleep – too much Netflix, noisy neighbours, new job nerves, a snoring S.O. or simply a clash of chronotypes – we’re expected to suffer for our sleep because of the stigma attached to sleeping solo. Right…
On her podcast Happy Place, Fearne Cotton has spoken openly about her struggle with panic attacks and insomnia, choosing to sleep apart from her husband Jesse Wood to give herself the best chance of catching those precious Zs. Naturally, the tabloids saw this as an opportunity to suggest her marriage was on the rocks. Eye. Roll.
In 2019, she took to Instagram to set the record straight and defend her relationship. In a heartfelt post, she captioned a photo of her and her husband: “Dear newspapers, (once again) my marriage IS NOT on the rocks. Here is a photo of me being very in love with my husband. I have recently talked about some sleep problems I have as sometimes when my insomnia is really bad I find it hard to sleep in a bed with Jesse. Not because we’re on the rocks or struggling within our marriage but because when my mad head is slightly overstretched it likes to cling on to weird mental patterns or behaviour. Sometimes it’s panic attacks triggered by being on a motorway, sometimes it’s insomnia due to stress. I’ve actually broken out of this particular neurosis recently and have been sleeping so well. Out of respect to my children and teenage stepchildren I would love this sort of mindless headline to be thought about more carefully.”
When society equates sleeping in the same bed with peak marital bliss and stability, it’s no wonder couples with a different bedtime routine opt to keep such matters strictly between the sheets, fearful of other people’s opinions about the state of their relationship, however wildly inaccurate they are.
Happy couples share beds and if you don’t, there must be something fundamentally wrong with your relationship. Well to that we say: Bull. Crap. It never did the Victorians any harm and sleeping in separate chambers served The Queen and Prince Philip perfectly well throughout their marriage.
In the same way that sharing a bed isn’t a prerequisite for a happy and successful relationship, sleeping apart isn’t a sign of an impending break-up. It’s 2022 and being well-rested matters. Hell, sleeping solo actually has the power to strengthen and *make* a relationship what it is, while sleepless nights can cause resentment and relationship harm.
When it comes to catching those precious Zs, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, with everything from shift work to circadian rhythms affecting how easy it is for us to drift off into the land of nod. Sleeping in different beds, simply ain’t that deep.
To shed light on what is often seen as quite a taboo topic, we chatted to Alexandra, who has blissfully unsubscribed from the ‘communal bed’ model in favour of prioritising a good night’s sleep (here for it) and has since lapped up the benefits of having her very own sanctuary to starfish and chill to their heart’s content.
Society not only normalises sharing a bed with your partner but glorifies it as some sort of benchmark for a healthy and happy relationship. How did you feel about sleeping in separate beds beforehand?
I too had preconceived notions that it was a sign of a failed relationship or that it was weird. I soon got over that when I realised that nobody knows how and who you share a bed with and when I was sleeping so well alone!
It is gradually becoming more common now, perhaps because people are talking about it and realising it’s not such a big deal as society would have us believe. Do you know anyone else in your immediate circle who chooses to sleep solo?
No. I wish I did.
How did the conversation come about between you and your partner, and why did you decide sleeping solo was the right thing for you as a couple?
The conversation came from me as I am the one that struggles to sleep in a shared bed. I had tried and tried to share a bed but it was always me suffering and struggling to sleep and feeling dreadful the next day. He has been very supportive and says it doesn’t bother him at all. I think now he benefits as well as I can be a nightmare when I cant sleep both in the night and during the day when I am more tired than normal, thereby affecting him. He has said that he sleeps better without me. Win win!?
Did you have any reservations about how it would affect your relationship before going into it?
I worried it would create a distance between us and romance/intimacy would go but that hasn’t been the case.
What are the benefits of sleeping apart from your partner would you say? How has it changed your relationship for the better?
I sleep much better. As a result I have more energy to be a better partner to him. I don’t feel cross and resentful towards him when he has slept well and I haven’t (when we tried to share a bed). Everyone is happier with more sleep!
Due to the stigma associated with sleeping apart, people tend to assume it must mean something is wrong with your relationship or jump to the wrong conclusion. How do people react when you tell them you don’t share a bed with your partner?
To be honest, I don’t broadcast the fact, it is a private thing. I sometimes make a joke that I end up in the spare bed if I can’t sleep but I have never admitted that it’s every night. I am a bit embarrassed about the situation and it isn’t something I’d ever mention willingly. I am going to work on that and try and be more honest and open.
Why do you think there’s still such a stigma associated with it and has the weight of other people’s opinions and societal norms ever held you back from telling people about your sleeping arrangements?
I have seen comments from sleep doctors/psychologists about how they sleep apart from their partners and how it can really benefit some people. That reassures me that I’m not alone / it is a step that makes sense. They have said that a double bed for 2 people is tiny, you have less space per person than a child’s cot or a single bed. I think a larger bed may help us but we don’t have room for anything except a double at the moment. I think people equate sharing a bed with sex and intimacy. And if you aren’t sharing a bed then you are automatically not having either of those things. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can make an effort to do those things even if after you sleep separately. I am pretty certain that some women leave for the spare bed in the night anyway as they can’t sleep, so why not save yourself the hassle?!
It’s strange how much value society has placed on sharing a bed!
How do you deal with unsolicited opinions?
I have mentioned things in a vague sense to some friends and my mum and they have responded supportively. I am lucky to never have encountered an upsetting, unsolicited opinion. If I did I would explain that I sleep better alone and that it has no effect on our relationship.
How has it affected intimacy and your quality time as a couple?
Do you think the fact that you’re well-rested and less cranky has actually strengthened your relationship in the bedroom department, ha? We have definitely benefitted from being less tired. We spend the evenings winding down/reading/on iPads/dozing/intimate time together on our main bed and then we are ready for sleep we go our separate ways. We do all the usual stuff a couple might do before bed before separating for sleep. I don’t understand why it is seen to be weird to be asleep without your partner, you are literally unconscious!
What would you say to anyone else/other couples who are thinking about sleeping in separate beds but they’re not sure how to approach the topic or are perhaps influenced by societal norms?
Do what works best for you. If you are particularly tired and struggling to sleep, try sleeping alone if you can and assess the benefits. If you feel amazing then you will soon lose the weight of other people’s perceptions and opinions.How you sleep is none of anyone’s business. Sleep is so important and affects so much of our lives. A step to improving that can be literally life changing.
Is there anything they should know about how it could change their relationship?
You might have to adapt and learn to deal with the change of being separate at night when it comes to intimacy. But your partner is never far away, you can alway swing by for a visit! On the positive side you may have more energy for your relationship which can only be a good thing!
What does your bedtime routine look like now?
We spend the evenings winding down/reading/on iPads/dozing/intimate time together on our main bed and then we are ready for sleep we go our separate ways. We do all the usual stuff a couple might do before bed before separating for sleep. I don’t understand why it is seen to be weird to be asleep without your partner, you are literally unconscious! Sometimes we doze together for a while before I end up sneaking off. It is entirely a pressure free time, we do what we want and what suits us.
If your circumstances were different, would you go back to sharing a bed if you could? Is there anything you miss about it or is there no going back now you’ve experienced the unparalleled joy of getting a decent night’s sleep?
I really wish I could share a bed with anyone. It isn’t just my partner, I struggle to share a bed/room with anyone as I am very fussy about noise/light and I just can’t bear snoring. It makes holidays/weekends away/ visiting difficult as I always have to put up with a crap night’s sleep. That’s when I feel that I am the odd one out the most. There’s an expectation that you both have to sleep in a double bed. No questions or changes. It’s hard when you are on holiday and obviously paying for 2 rooms is impossible. We have a holiday coming up and we have booked twin beds next to each other. I expect to sleep less well than normal. But at least it’ll be a relaxing time anyway. I miss cuddling in the night and falling asleep together but what difference does that make once you are asleep? I can spread out like a starfish at night which is just the best feeling. We make an effort to have a cuddle and say hi in the morning so we still have that intimacy.
Any parting words of wisdom?
Do what’s best for you! better sleep is so important.