Is sleeping the new sex?
For snoring spouses, separate beds may actually bring you closer together, writes Caitriona Palmer
Sleep is the new sex. Or at least that's the case for millions of married Americans who are challenging expectations of marital bliss by sleeping in separate bedrooms.
It's not about sex -- there's still plenty of that going on. It's more about the snoring, duvet snatching, teeth grinding and -- let's face it -- wind breaking that has driven many an American spouse to take refuge in the spare room.
"Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do. You can't share your sleep with somebody else" said Dr Neil Stanley a sleep expert at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital who believes that sleeping apart from your spouse promotes a happier -- and much healthier -- marriage.
"We know that people who have poor sleep have higher rates of divorce," Stanley told the Irish Independent. "They're more miserable. They're more depressed."
A recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that one in four married Americans are now sleeping alone.
And a new study of American builders and architects predicted that by 2015, over 60pc of high-end custom-built houses in America would have two separate master bedrooms.
"There's a definite demand for his-and-hers bedrooms," says Gopal Ahluwalia of the National Association of Home Builders who conducted the survey. "It started with closets and bathrooms and now the trend is for bedrooms."
Even many celebrities see the benefits of sleeping solo. The actress Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, film director Tim Burton, sleep in their own -- albeit attached -- houses. The designer Diane von Furstenberg chooses to stay above her studio in New York while her husband sleeps down the street at the Carlyle Hotel.
Even Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who reportedly slept in separate rooms while they were dating, have kept the same arrangement since their 2006 marriage.
"Now that they are married, they don't feel the need to alter the arrangement," said a Hollywood source. "Tom has his master bedroom and Katie has hers.
"In fact, they even joke about having separate bedrooms to their friends. Katie says Tom snores and this way she can get her beauty sleep."
A partner who snores is one of the main reasons why many couples choose to sleep separately, says Stanley, but a huge cultural taboo surrounding the sanctity of the marital bed prevents them from openly discussing their new sleeping arrangements.
"A lot of people, mainly middle aged women, relocate in the middle of the night by going to the back bedroom but they don't admit to it," he said.
"There should be no stigma about separate bedrooms but there is that cultural stigma that people apply to it."
But the stigma is perpetuated because of the popular assumption that if a couple is not sleeping side by side, then they're not "sleeping together", said Stanley. "It's just one of those bizarre things of the English language that we use the term 'sleeping together' to mean both sleeping together and sex," he said.
"Sex and sleep are entirely separate entities, whereas we have put them into almost the same activity where if you're not sleeping next to somebody then you're not having sex with them and that's just foolish in the extreme. It doesn't make sense."
Just ask Washington DC resident Laura (34) who last year banished her husband down the hall to the back room when his incessant snoring, bed tossing and night-owl tendencies pushed their marriage to the brink.
Now that she can sleep an entire night without being kicked in the back by her unconscious husband, she suddenly feels a whole lot happier.
"I used to be an insomniac but now I've gotten my regular sleep schedule back and sleep throughout the night," she said. "I feel much more rested and my mood during the day has improved dramatically."
And not just her mood but also her marriage. Laura scoffs at the notion that having her husband down the hall has dampened their sex life.
"Having a special date or 'inviting' the other person over is much more exciting than making it happen when we're just lying next to one another," she said.
Dr Joy Davidson, a renowned sex therapist and psychologist agrees and said that sleeping in separate bedrooms can keep the romance alive and, in some cases, even save a floundering marriage.
"Separate bedrooms allow a couple to maintain some of the mystery and anticipation that they experienced in the dating and honeymoon period," she said.
But saturated by television and movie images of blissful couples sleeping peacefully side by side, it's hard for many sleep-deprived couples to go against the sacred creed of the 'marital bed'.
"You never fall asleep in each other's arms. That's just a Hollywood myth," said Stanley.
He points out that in the past, the monarchy and the very wealthy never shared beds -- they found it much too offensive. Even today, the Queen of England and Prince Phillip reportedly sleep in separate rooms.
Not until the Industrial Revolution, when families were forced out of the countryside and into crowded tiny two-room houses in the new industrial heartland, did the notion of bed sharing for married couples become popular.
And up until the mid 1970s, the vast majority of American married couples chose twin beds over doubles.
Now, married couples in the UK and Ireland who sleep in traditional double beds find themselves with only 27 inches of personal space to manoeuvre during the night.
Yet many people are still reluctant to broach the subject of separate rooms with their partners for fear of hurting their feelings.
"We don't talk about sleep. We don't have it as a topic of conversation in a relationship. If most people said, 'Look, I still love you, I still desire you but at the end of the day do you mind if we had separate bedrooms,' their partners would probably say, 'Yes, that sounds like a brilliant idea'," said Stanley.
But this advice holds only for those couples who still enjoy an intimate relationship: "If you have separate bedrooms and you're not being intimate then you've probably got problems," he said.
Stanley himself -- who has been called an "evangelist for separate bedrooms" -- admits that he and his partner sleep in separate bedrooms. He also goes that extra mile to ensure a good night's slumber by buying the finest bedding and bed he can find.
After all, he says, the average person will end up spending a third of their life asleep. "Twenty-five years of your life is going to be spent in bed. It's worth spending a bit of money on it," he said.
But on a purely practical level, those who advocate separate bedrooms for the chronically sleep deprived, admit that sleeping separately from your spouse is not a realistic option for many.
Few cash-strapped couples have a spare bedroom lying around and fewer still have the resources to build an entirely separate master suite.
There are also those who actually enjoy sleeping next to their spouses, despite the occasional elbow in the face or waft of noxious gasses.
For those lucky couples, Stanley has some words of advice: "If it works for you, then don't change it."