Jill Goldson

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families, Jill's here to help navigate the rocky road that is Other People.

Jill Goldson: How important is sharing a bed?

How important is sharing a bed? Lots of couples seem to slip in to the habit of separate rooms over time, but this seems like a loss of intimacy to me. I was wondering where the concept came from and why we do it?
Most people associate sharing a bed with the quality of sex life, which might not be accurate. 
Photo / Thinkstock
Most people associate sharing a bed with the quality of sex life, which might not be accurate. Photo / Thinkstock

Many happy couples exchange a loving kiss and say goodnight - and disappear into separate bedrooms. The majority of couples do share a double bed but there is no doubt that more and more are choosing the need for quality rest over convention. Many of these couples say that their relationship benefits from a good night's sleep and that they make more of an effort to be tactile with each other the rest of the time.

Got a broken heart, relationship niggle, infuriating family member, or anything in between? Email your questions here and check back next Friday to hear Jill's wisdom.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a growing number of American couples sleep in separate bedrooms - studies in England and Japan reveal a similar trend. The reasons given for sleeping in separate beds range from differing bedtime habits (43 per cent), to snoring, (36 per cent), to general preference (20 per cent).

What might happen if we don't sleep in the same bed as our partner? After all, studies of happiness and relationships advocate staying close throughout the night. Professor Richard Wiseman, at the University of Hertfordshire, found that 94 per cent of couples that spend the night in physical contact with each other were happy in their relationship, compared to just 68 per cent of those who don't touch at night.

From a biochemical perspective, we are told that sleeping next to someone lowers the stress hormone cortisol and that this is maximised by cuddling in bed. 'Pillow talk' is known to release the love hormone oxytocin which is known to induce bonding feelings and to help the body relax and to encourage healing and to reduce blood pressure.
So is the assumption seems to be that couples who don't share a bed do not have as fulfilling a sex life as those who do? Dr Neil Stanley, sleep expert in the UK, heartily contests this theory. He is happily married and does not share a bed with his wife. He believes that many couples may want to broach the subject of sleeping separately but are too scared of upsetting their partner and so they say nothing.

The belief that married couples should sleep together began in the Tudor times - and before this, only the poor slept together. Increased trade created "middle classes", a strata of people who were neither rich nor poor. They had social status but not enough room to sleep apart unlike the aristocratic lords and ladies in their stately homes.

"The problem remains our link between sex and sleep," says Stanley.

"People think their partner will take it as a sign that they don't want sex with them any more. But if anything, sleeping apart can enhance your sex life because you are choosing when to be together."

Uninterrupted sleep also plays a critically important role in good health and well-being whilst poor sleep is linked to depression, obesity, strokes and nervous disorders.
Dr Tracey Marks, an Atlanta based psychiatrist and sleep expert, tells us that 'spooning' can increase body heat and make it difficult to stay asleep and that snoring, restless leg syndrome and a partner who sleep talks might mean that sleeping apart can in fact save a marriage.

So with study after study suggesting that not getting enough sleep may affect your mood, your weight and your sex life, and an equal number of studies informing us that quality relationships are best maintained by lying intertwined all night - we are left with a conundrum about balancing our needs.

Wiseman's study also tells us that those who sleep close to their partners at night tend to be more extroverted and creative - yet any of us who have spent time with a partner who is not well rested can attest to the fact that fatigue does not promote intimacy. And if one partner is feeling creative and extroverted and the other exhausted and irritable, the end result is rather predictable.

We need to preserve optimum health in all of the varied spheres of our lives: relationships, employment and family life. Look at your own circumstances and needs - and prioritise these ahead of rules and conventions about how to live.

Life is a continuous tightrope balance and the only way to sort our way through this is to talk to our partner and to recognise that - despite the studies and the magazine articles - our own joint solutions will be the best for our particular situations. If you are not sleeping well this will impact on so many aspects of your life - including of course, intimacy and libido. There are no rules except for the ones which provide the balance for your unique situation. We need intimacy and we need rest.

Research studies which suggest you have got it right or wrong are blunt instruments - it is your life and your challenge. Balance and communication are the vital ingredients.

Whilst separate beds can solve immediate sleep problems it is important that we stay conscious of the potential unintended consequences - like rejection, hurt, frustration and anger. Lack of intimacy can create a distance in our key relationships and it is all too easy to let tiredness - and then habit - creep into our living arrangements.

Stop worrying and look together for the creative mix of getting the sleep you need, whilst continuing to enjoy the intimacy which provides the oxygen for your relationship.
Physical caresses, tenderness and demonstrations of love are very revitalising -rules are made to be broken and habits need to be reviewed.

Follow Life & Style on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 29 Dec 2014 20:35:42 Processing Time: 400ms