10 September 2009

Sharing a Bed is bad for your Health

I have always known it, and said it to many people for decades: Sharing a bed is bad for your health.

Now, after all those years when people looked at me strangely, laughed at me or even thought I had problems with my sex life, renowned British scientists and medical experts have confirmed my long-held opinion in full.

Couples should consider sleeping apart for the good of their health and relationship, say the experts.

Somnologist (sleep specialist) Dr. Neil Stanley told the British Science Festival how sharing a bed can cause rows over snoring and duvet-hogging, and how it robs precious sleep.

One of several studies into sleep patterns found that - on average - couples suffered 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared a bed.

Dr. Stanley points out that we were never meant to share our beds, and that historically human beings hardly ever did it until very recent times.
The modern practice of the shared marital bed only began with the industrial revolution (in the late 18th and early 19th century), when many people were moved from the land to overcrowded towns and cities, where they found themselves short of living space.

Before the Victorian era it was not common for married couples to sleep together. And in ancient Rome, for example, the marital bed was a place for sexual congress only, but never for sleeping.

Dr. Stanley, who set up one of Britain's leading sleep laboratories at the University of Surrey, says the people of today should consider returning to the old tradition of sleeping separately.

"It's about what makes you happy. If you've been sleeping together and you both sleep perfectly well, then don't change," he explains. "But don't be afraid to do something different. We all know what it's like to have a cuddle and then say 'I'm going to sleep now' and go to the opposite side of the bed. So why not just toddle off down the landing?"

Poor sleep is linked to depression, heart disease, strokes, lung disorders, traffic and industrial accidents, and divorce as well. Yet sleep is largely ignored as an important aspect of health.

"People actually feel that they sleep better when they are with a partner," says Dr. Robert Meadows, a sociologist at the University of Surrey. "But the evidence suggests otherwise."

Dr. Meadows carried out a study to compare how well couples slept when they shared a bed, versus sleeping separately.
He found that when couples share a bed and one of them moves in his or her sleep, there is a 50% chance that their slumbering partner will be disturbed as a result.

Despite this, couples are reluctant to sleep apart, with only 8% of those in their 40s and 50s sleeping in separate rooms.

Dr. Stanley, who is happily married for nine years, sleeps separately from his wife, who is happy with the arrangement as well.

Having served in the Navy for a long time and thus spent many years at sea, I have slept alone for most of my life. And as I am not married, this continues now in my civilian life. Even at times when I was in a relationship with a woman, I tried to sleep alone as often as possible. And most of the nights I shared a bed I was indeed disturbed by one thing or another, woke up several times and did get a lot less rest than I would have normally.

As a result of many years at sea, I never sleep very long. Between three and four hours of sleep is all I need within 24 hours, which means that I have more time for other things than most people (who on average sleep about eight hours each night).
One of the habits I developed over the years is to read and write during the hours of darkness, when it is quiet, no one disturbs me and no telephone calls interrupt my train of thought. So I hardly ever go to bed before 3 a.m., and by 7 a.m. at the latest I am up again.

In contrast to myself, my most recent partner needed a lot of sleep. By 10 p.m. - a time I am getting ready to write another couple of thousand words - she was totally worn out and tired and had to go to bed. Had I joined her there at 3 a.m., I would most likely have woken her up during her deep sleep. So separate beds are not only more healthy for most people, in our case they also helped to give both of us the sleep we need and protect domestic peace.

In fact, my long-standing criticism of modern sleeping habits goes even further than sleep itself. I think that our whole attitude to life, including the way we design and organise our houses, is in need of a drastic reform. Everywhere in the western world houses are rated by their number of bedrooms. Even the concept of a 'bedroom' is quite wrong in my opinion.

Why do we have one of the main rooms in the house (and several when it is a family home) designated for nothing but sleeping during the night? Unless one is an extreme long-sleeper, this means that a large space in the house is not used for anything for two thirds of every day. This is not only strange, but - more important - a terrible waste of good domestic space.

In my opinion we should re-design our houses, and instead of 'bedrooms' that stand empty all day and are thus pretty useless except for spending the night, we should have personal rooms that include a bed. Couples should have their separate personal living spheres, where they can do what they like best, follow their hobbies and keep things they are particularly fond of. These rooms should include a bed for sleeping alone.
Whenever romantic feelings occur, the partners can be intimate in whatever form and room they want. This would be a lot more interesting than limiting all sexual encounters to the marital bed in one designated and shared 'bedroom'.

As the sleep experts from the University of Surrey have established beyond any doubt, partners sleep better alone and will have more physical and mental energy after a good night's rest.
This should lead rather to more intimacy and happiness than to less. Not even to mention the many couples where one of the partners snores. This can not only ruin the other partner's sleep each night, it can - and does - also lead to disliking the snorer, to estrangement and eventually split-up and divorce.

So, as I have been saying for most of my life, sleeping apart makes happier and healthier people, and more couples stay together for life when they sleep separately at night.

Don't be shy, stubborn or inflexible! Discuss it with your partner and try it out. If you miss each other terribly, then - by all means - go back to a shared bed. But if you feel better and stronger in the morning, and are happier and more relaxed, then it would be the best to return to the long-established sleeping habits of our distant ancestors from before the industrial revolution.

The Emerald Islander

P.S. - When you sleep separately, you also do something good for our ailing economy. Buying two beds instead of one can stimulate business, and when you are happier and more relaxed, you are also more likely to do other things as well that will stimulate the economy. The only people who might see a decline of business would be psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage guidance counsellors and divorce lawyers. And this would not be a bad development at all.


Anonymous said...

I sleep with a tooth-grinding snorer so can identify with the health repercussions.

But he's also a taxi driver who works nights so... Happy Days!!!

Anonymous said...

your most recent partner? Well love lasts long with you now doesn't it. Perhaps that is why you haven't had a successful one due to being emotionally and physically unavailable. Cuddle up to that. And being in the Navy has nothing to do with it, its called Narcissism.

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