At the end of the day, you and your partner shut the door and draw the curtains on the world, cosy up to each other under the covers, and drift peacefully off to sleep. In the morning, you are rudely awakened by the dustmen, the alarm clock, or - if you are lucky - birdsong outside your window. You climb out of bed, ready to face the day ahead.
If that sounds familiar, count yourself among the lucky ones. Increasingly hectic lifestyles, anti-social working hours, and unpleasant sleep-disturbing conditions mean that a growing number of couples are sleeping in separate beds or even separate rooms.
From different personal preferences for conditions in the bedroom and the effect of shift work on body clocks to conditions as diverse as snoring, teeth-grinding, sleep apnoea, and REM sleep, there are several reasons why couples are going their separate ways at bedtime.
You might think that sleeping apart would have a detrimental impact on their relationships, or that it is symptomatic of deeper issues. Au contraire, say the separate-sleepers, who insist that the improvements to their individual sleep patterns - and, therefore, their mood and emotional wellbeing - benefit their relationships more generally.
They awake properly refreshed, and as a result are substantially less irritable. And far from separate bedrooms enforcing a monastic lifestyle, several separate-sleepers actually report improvements to their sex lives. As long as separate bedrooms don't become no-go zones, cordoned off from the other partner, there seems to be no reason why sleeping apart should harm a relationship.
But if you don't want to go down that road, you will probably want to do something about the irritating conditions that disrupt your night's sleep and that of your partner. I might not be able to do much about your kleptomaniac partner's duvet-stealing habit, or their insistence on sleeping with the window wide open even in the depths of winter, but I can help you ward off the jabs in the ribs designed to stop you snoring.
Often the butt of jokes, snoring can in fact be severely disruptive and have serious implications for your health: from daytime tiredness and irritability to high cholesterol, increased blood pressure, and increased chance of stroke, snoring can be a related factor. Here are my top tips to help you kick the habit:
- Avoid alcohol: it might seem like a stock response to most health problems, but cutting your alcohol intake can have a noticeable effect on your snoring. Alcohol is a relaxant: I'm sure we've all experienced its ability to loosen the tongue, but it affects the throat as well, causing soft tissue swelling, relaxing muscles that can restrict the flow of air and making your snoring worse.
- Stay on your side: most people find they snore more when they sleep on their back, so try to lie on your side in bed. Anything you can do to stop yourself rolling over in the night - or to ensure you quickly roll back onto your side again - will help. Try sewing a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas - you won't stay on your back for long!
- Change your bedding at least once a week, and hoover regularly: it might sound odd, but it can make a real difference. Dust and other tiny particles in the air can lead to irritation in the nasal passage. As a natural reaction, the body creates more mucus to block the nose, and this leads to you sleeping with your mouth open, so exacerbating a snoring problem. Fresh sheets and a bit of dusting can work wonders for keeping your nose clear, your mouth shut, and your partner asleep. I also recommend buying the cheapest pillows you can find and disposing and replacing them regularly - around every three months or so.
- Identify and understand the root cause of your snoring: snoring can result from blockages in the nose, throat, or palate, or combinations of the three, so getting yourself checked out by your GP - and an ENT specialist if necessary - should help you find the cause and identify which off-the-shelf and over-the-counter remedies is going to be most appropriate. A throat spray will be no good if you are a nose-snorer, and throat-snorers shouldn't waste time and money on nose strips!
- Investigate permanent solutions: for many people, following these simple tips will be enough to ease their problem sufficiently to restore harmony in the bedroom. But for those with more serious issues, it may be worth looking into some non-invasive procedures that are available to permanently stop their snoring. Laser treatments that clear the airways in the throat and open up the nasal passage can ensure uninhibited airflow and end snoring for good.
Or for another permanent solution, you could go down the separate bedrooms route. It won't be right for all, but for some it could help restore the harmony to the household that snoring can so often disrupt.