That was the subject line of the first email that pinged in my email inbox after I wrote a little story about how to get a good night’s sleep and included info from a couple of experts who recommended separate bedrooms for better zzzzz’s – and a better relationship.
“I DO THIS. MY BF AND I HAVE SEPARATE BEDROOMS AND IT’S THE BEST THING EVER. THANK YOU FOR WRITING ABOUT THIS. YEEEEEESSSSS,” the all-caps email screamed.
For the rest of the evening, and the next day, my email kept buzzing with stories women singing the praises of their own space.
They were from a whole spectrum of age groups and life stages, but the majority were women in their 20s and 30s.
Have separate bedrooms become the new thing to do for millennials?!?
“I’m 27 and have been sleeping in a separate bedroom to my long-term boyfriend for four years now,” told Huia. “The first two years we lived together we stayed in the same bedroom, but I am a night owl and his alarm goes off at 5.30, when I’ve been asleep only a few hours.”
So, when Huia and her partner’s flatmate moved out, he started sleeping in the spare room while they looked for someone new, but then, they loved it so much, they rented out the room themselves.
“We were really nervous about telling our two flatmates, like it might make them feel weird, or like there was something wrong with us, but they were stoked for us. One said if his girlfriend ever moved in he’d want his own room too!”
It’s the stigma that’s the main issue, says separate sleeper and mum Nicky. “We have been trying to normalise sleeping separate for years,” she tells. “Everyone is more loving and chipper when the house gets good sleep. I have found the most judgy people are actually the ones whose relationships are a bit rocky. They think the shared bed is essential to intimacy – they’re clinging to it.”
Aucklander Nicole was so worried about what other people would think, she and her husband kept up a façade of still sharing a bedroom for more than a year.
It started off during a period where they just weren’t sleeping well. “I was too cold, he was too hot and there was lots of tossing and turning.” Then they both got a cold and she moved into the spare room to recover. But then, she never wanted to go back.
“My husband loves to go to sleep with background noise, which he could never do unless I wore earplugs. Now he has a TV in the room and falls asleep with it going. I prefer to read and light candles (which he hates the smell of). Having my own space feels like my own area to retreat to. The kids want my attention all day, but now I have a space that is just mine.”
But still for more than a year she packed up her things, got up early and went to her husband’s room so their kids – and any guests – wouldn’t know their secret.
“Eventually I got so sick of it that we just let it slide,” she tells. And the amazing part – no one cared! Now their kids wake up and run into one of their rooms to say which room morning cuddles are in. “Granted, these days it seems to be more their dad’s room so there’s a chance they might be able to watch TV!”
A BETTER, SEXIER LIFE?
Matthew Walker – professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California in Berkley, and author of Why We Sleep, is a separate sleeper and an advocate for trying it out. His advice though is to ensure you have a bedroom goodnight routine (and morning cuddle) to maintain (or improve) your physical relationship.
It’s a sentiment echoed of New York clinical psychologist Jill Lankler who says that separate beds can actually crate the opportunity to be more intentional about having a healthy sex life. It can alleviate some of the pressure to be intimate when a bed is shared, too.
“You actually get to carve out time,” she says. “You get to do it in a way that is not intended and not sort of expected.”
Young Kiwi Caren says its actually greatly improved her sex-life with her long-term boyfriend. “We have more conversations about sex now, rather than one of us just kind of expecting it to happen,” she says. And although a lot of it is now scheduled in a way, it’s also added some more fun to their relationship. “It’s actually really fun sneaking into each other’s rooms now. Like we’re teenagers on camp or something not wanting to get caught! Now we have coloured door hangers so the other knows if it’s a green light to sneak in, or not-tonight red.”
For Michelle, it was a rocky start, but she now thinks her physical relationship is stronger, thanks to the separate spaces.
When she moved to the couch, then turned the office into her room, at first, things were fraught with her husband – resentment became one of the hallmarks of their marriage.
“He has sleep apnoea and I have bouts of insomnia,” she explains. It was during one of her bouts that she made the couch her home. “We were both so grouchy: neither of us were sleeping well and we started fighting more. And there wasn’t a lot of making up!”
Night-time became a tension point, until they decided to see a counsellor and realised things weren’t so bad after all. It wasn’t a lack of love that kept them separated at night – it was just self-preservation to have the energy to make it through the next day! After talking it through, they made their peace and have never felt closer.
“Sometimes I’ll have a date night in his bed and watch a movie, we’ll fool around and then I’ll leave to go to my bedroom without there being any resentment.”
Communication is key in making separate beds or bedrooms work, not just for intimacy, but for keeping your relationship – as a whole – healthy.
“What’s equally as important to why you want to sleep apart is how you plan to ensure intimacy is retained in the relationship,” says Jennifer Adams, the author of Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart.
“Making sure you have a routine and set times to connect is key, such as having breakfast together each morning or a drink together before bed at night, and welcoming each other into your room.”
SEPARATE BEDS, SEPARATE LIVES?
When Kerry* read the paragraphs singing the praises of separate bedrooms in the World Sleep Day story, she felt a knot in her stomach. Everything seemed to be wonderful in her five year marriage, when her husband moved into their spare bedroom after breaking his collar bone. Unable to get comfortable at night, he’d move around until he found a sweet spot where he could sleep – which is normally when Kerry would cough or roll over and put him back to square one.
What was meant to be something that would just be a few nights now and then, became weeks, then months. “Communication went right out the door,” says Kerry. “We became ships in the night. I’d get nothing more than some grunts in the morning if we were up at the same time.” Somehow, their separate bedrooms progressed into leading separate lives. “It ruined my relationship,” she says.
It snuck up slowly on Kerry, but after it became apparent there were some big issues happening she broached the subject with her husband – who was unwilling to talk to her, or, see a therapist. They ended up separating a few years ago, and Kerry now has a new partner, but she worries any time he’s away. “If he goes away for work for a few nights, I spend the whole night awake.”
SNORING, SNEEZING, BABIES & THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT…
There’s a myriad of different reasons why some couples find it tricky sleeping side by side. Anna says, “I love my husband very much, but he snores and sneezes/sniffs all night to the point that it’s rage invoking, esp at 2.30am…which can’t be great for romance, in anyone’s books!”
Mia says, “My BF is allergic to his cat but refuses to acknowledge it or do anything about so sneezes many times during the night. It’s too much to sleep with!”
And when Laura and her boyfriend welcomed their daughter into the world, as light sleepers, they both found the transition outrageously difficult.
Eventually, they decided it made no sense them both getting a terrible night’s sleep, so they made over the nursery as a second bedroom. The baby sleeps in Laura’s room four to five nights a week and her husband’s two to three (one or two weeknights when he has a late start the next day at work, and they each get a weekend night off).
“It has saved our sleep and our relationship,” says Laura. “At first we were really embarrassed about telling people, but we were also too tired to care. Tonnes of people have been extra supportive.” And that includes both of their mum’s who have now offered to take care of their little one, for one night every weekend so they can have some time to themselves. “I don’t know if we’ll go back to sleeping in the same bed though!” says Laura.