One party’s snoring, fidgeting, or simply the fact that they crawl in at midnight when the other person bedded down hours before, can leave couples craving what’s been emotively dubbed a ‘sleep divorce’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report was conducted by a mattress company — but some experts agree with its findings.
Not only that, they say breaking up a relationship at bedtime should be encouraged. Dr Neil Stanley has been conducting sleep research for 35 years — and sleeping not just in a separate bed, but in a different room, from his partner for almost as long. ‘I’m the world’s leading advocate of separate beds,’ says Dr Stanley.
In 2005, he co-authored a study in which couples wore a device as they slept that monitored waking and motion: the results showed that when one partner stirred, the other did, too. ‘In fact, a third of your sleep disturbance is caused by your partner,’ he says.
The impact of this disturbance on your health, and the health of your relationship, can be huge.
A 2016 analysis of previous studies by Paracelsus Medical University in Germany showed that sleep issues and relationship problems tend to occur simultaneously.
Research also suggests those who sleep poorly have higher rates of divorce — and if a person sleeps badly, they lack empathy and are more argumentative. (Plus, just one bad night’s sleep makes you four times more likely to catch a cold, according to a 2015 study in the journal Sleep.)
In a book published earlier this year, Professor Hilary Hinds, a researcher at Lancaster University, explains that until the 1950s, sharing a bed was not considered desirable at all — separate bedrooms were the long-established preference of the upper classes, while the middle classes first took to twin beds in the late Victorian era, initially for health reasons.
‘The predominant theory of disease transmission at the time was that illness would generate spontaneously in foul air,’ Professor Hinds explains. ‘So there was an anxiety that if you were to inhale the exhaled breath of your fellow bed partner, you were putting yourself at risk.’
‘It then became more a matter of getting away from the snoring or the less than fresh breath of your fellow sleeper,’ she says.
‘I traced twin beds through to their demise in the post-War period, when you see a new emphasis on togetherness in marriage and a move away from twin beds back into the double beds for sleeping couples.’
Now, after our 20th-century flirtation with the double bed, we seem to be moving back towards the preferences of the upper classes throughout history. ‘Certainly, there is a growing trend for building houses with two master bedrooms,’ says Dr Stanley.
But what if separate rooms aren’t an option? Not everyone can afford an extra bedroom.
‘At the least, two adults should have a 6ft-wide bed, a super king, because then you have 3ft to yourself as you would in a single bed; that would be a start,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘Twin beds are better, so you can have the mattress and duvet thickness that suits you.