This February The Huffington Post UK is running Making Modern Love, a fortnight-long focus on what love means to Britons in the 21st Century. Built on the three themes of finding love, building love and losing love, HuffPost will feature human stories that explore exactly what it is to be in love in modern times
My husband and I have been together for 12 years. The last ten have seen us traverse our 40s. Across this decade we succumbed to some standard, middle-aged, middle class couples' behaviours. Bed times have slowly crept earlier each night, the number of hangovers we endure are fewer, we've started to view exercise as a maintenance task, and in the last year we've started drinking green juices each morning. All rather pedestrian really. Like many others of our vintage, we care about our health and want to maximise our chances of hanging around for as long as possible.
However, there is a decision we made one week after starting to live together 11 years ago that not as many couples do - but possibly need to.
We sleep in separate rooms.
When we were in the early throes of romance, the last thing either of us thought would be a distinctive feature of our relationship was heading to separate rooms each night. But it is, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Essentially - he snores, I sleep lightly, he wakes (very) early, I love a lie in.
After making the decision to have separate rooms, we also made the decision to make our relationship be fantastic and everything WE wanted it to be. For the readers - yes, we still have sex, we spend time lying next to each other in bed (either mine or his) chatting, catching up on the day's events, lying next to each other in silence, and all the other 'normal' couple's bed-related activities. But when it comes to actually sleeping - we choose OUR 'normal'.
Even though we were comfortable with the decision all those years ago, when the topic came up in conversation I would notice there were many reactions that were either negative - "this (relationship) won't last long"; positive - "good on you, we do that too"; or inquisitive "we would like to do that, but didn't think we could" or "how do we get a piece of that action?". The spectrum of responses from negative judgement, to secret separate-sleeping confessions, to pleas for help to find respite from a disruptive partner led me to write a book and so put separate sleeping on the social agenda.
Sleeping Apart not Falling Apart: How to get a good night's sleep and keep your relationship alive looks at the science behind, and history of sleep, and then the practicalities of approaching the sometimes delicate task of negotiating couples sleeping arrangements that don't align with current cultural norms.
The reality is that it's only been since about the 1970s that Western culture has constructed the ideal that a happy couple sleep in the same bed. Prior to that single beds in the same room were the norm, and head back a few more decades and centuries and communal sleeping was the norm for most of us. It was only the rich and the royal who had their own rooms - and they didn't sleep with their partner! How common!
So we've all got our knickers in a knot over something that has only been standard practice for the last 50-60 years, which if you think about it, matches the rise and rise of the media's intrusion and impact on our lives. (Do a quick search on how many times a celebrity couple's relationship is characterised to be in crisis because they are sleeping separately)
If your partner interrupts your sleep such that you are not regularly making it through all stages of the sleep cycle - of which there are five, and all critical to good health - then you are not only placing yourself at risk of a myriad of health issues (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure), you are also depriving yourself of all the amazing restorative processes (brain cleaning, tissue regeneration, hormone release) the body undertakes each night - especially in the deep sleep phase.
My husband and I genuinely care about having a great relationship. If we are tired, our relationship suffers.
Not only are we less able to deal with the tricky bits of our relationship because we can't think clearly and our interpersonal skills are not at their best, we are putting our health at risk, and really - how is that going to be of benefit to either of us?
Now, I would never suggest that couples who love sleeping together and do so successfully need to change. If you can share space with your loved one every night and get enough sleep to remain healthy, then "good on you". That's fabulous and long may you snuggle.
But! If anyone is sleep deprived, struggling to function, building resentment towards their partner, and then making decisions on a brain that isn't able to 're-set' itself every night, I challenge them to convince me that they're making a good decision continuing to share a bed.
I'm glad we decided to head down a path less followed and sleep separately. It's given us years of healthful sleep that has helped us manage our relationship. For couples struggling to share a bed, in finding a way to manage your situation, could this be the best decision for you too?