Time to stop sleeping with my husband?

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Separate beds can solve insomnia problems but can they damage a marriage? Tash Bell investigates.
I love my husband, but love my sleep more. Photo / 123RF
I love my husband, but love my sleep more. Photo / 123RF

The other night, I was roused from sleep, not by an amorous husband, but my 6-year-old daughter weeing on me. It wasn't her fault - she was under the weather - more pertinently, I was in her bed again. Driven from the marital bed by my husband's snoring - and my own fitful insomnia - I frequently shack up in the spare room, and when that's taken, pad round the house, getting in with anyone who'll have me. (Guest numbers have dwindled).

For years, I kept my bed-hopping quiet, but then I started to hear stories - rumours circulating at dinner parties - were others at it too? If you're in a couple, I urge you step into my Circle of Trust: What did you do last night? And was your spouse there?

My name is Tash and I'm a kinky sleeper. Eight hours of straight snooze in the marital bed? Sorry, it doesn't do it for me; it hasn't since motherhood gifted me batlike hearing and the urge to wee like a sprinkler. Now every evening follows a pattern. 7.30pm: I frogmarch our children to bed. 8.30pm: Supper cleared, I feel the first throb of anticipation. 8.45pm: It's here - the moment I've been lusting after since first I awoke. Elbowing my husband out of the way, I whip up a Horlicks and hotfoot it to bed.

I love my husband, but love my sleep more. And since we've married, I've just stopped getting it. When he's at home Mat stays up late, then sleeps like a log. I toss and turn, then rise with the lark (and generally swear at it). It's my husband who cops it worse though. If, by the following night, he's not in bed by 9.30pm, I'm hanging over the banister, yelling, "Goddamnit, man, it's not New Year's Eve!". When he does, finally, fall asleep beside me, I resent the fact I can't. Soon I fear it won't be just our nights fracturing. And I'm not the only one worried.

"We've unlearnt how to sleep," says Kathryn Pinkham, insomnia consultant and founder of The Insomnia Clinic.

We're working all hours, then texting as we brush our teeth, and, she points out, "losing the routine around bedtime". A third of us now manifest sleep problems - while our "other halves" take the hit. Insomniacs are four times more likely to develop mental health issues, and 60 per cent likelier to be obese. Memory, concentration and motivation suffer, notes Pinkham, and "all this impacts on a relationship". Ironic, then, that insomnia often starts "when someone meets a partner with a different sleep schedule to their own". Honeymoon over, the couple's bed can become a battlefield.

For many couples, it's the coming of kids that signals the end of co-sleeping. One mate of mine ended up sleeping on the floor by her colicky baby's cot for months. Meanwhile her husband complained "because he missed having me to cuddle". My hairdresser Tracy, 35, ends up comforting her toddler twins so frequently, she's moved each into their own double bed. (When sniffles strike, why pretend she won't be getting in with them?). Our own house can feel like Spaghetti Junction some nights - one kid rolling out of the top bunk, while another projectile vomits below. My husband sleeps through the lot. Bless the blokes - doing the sleeping, so we women don't have to! All blokes, that is, save for Nigel.

A dear family friend, Nigel is a 52-year-old accountant and practising insomniac. "I've been hooked on Night Nurse for 20 years," he confides. When first married, he'd listen to "rainforest sounds" on his cassette player, only for his wife to rail against the scrape of turning tape and the escaping cry of bonobos. He invested in Mini-Discs, "but they whirred, she said". Updating to an iPod produced loud clicks and a lot of "Turn that f***ing thing off", so Nigel turned in desperation to a sleep clinic. They sent him home loaded down with breathing apparatus. He passed a long, sleepless night with tubes emerging from his ears, mouth and nose, while his wife vibrated furiously beside him. "It was," he conceded, "the lowest point." So why do it? Why keep sharing a bed? "We both find it hugely comforting," says Nigel.

It's a conjugal catch-22 for so many couples: We love the idea of cuddling up together, but hate each other by morning. So are we actually risking our relationship in our rush to conform to a romantic ideal? And whom exactly are we seeking to impress? Among all my married peers, I could find only one who admitted to separate sleeping. "People's first response is suspicion," says Tabitha, a happily married mother of four. Second response, however, is envy. "Oh my God", they say. "If I had a spare bed, I'd be in it every night."

Exhausted by her husband's contrary sleep patterns, Tabitha moved into the spare room three years ago.

She concedes her husband would rather still snuggle but their sex life hasn't suffered. "I just invite him up," says Tabitha. "Plus he's on a four-day week, which helps."

Flexible work hours can put the bounce back into any bedroom. (By 9pm, I am a stone, but catch me after elevenses and I'm rabid). So does sleeping together increase your odds of having sex? Not if your nights are disturbed, says Peter Saddington, Relate psychosexual counsellor and chair of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists. More and more couples are "just too stressed and tired" to ... well, couple.

Keen to batten down my husband's hatches - aware he's only got three nights at home before flying off to his next job - I call in the insomnia consultant. Pinkham prescribes "a sleep cleanse" to synch up our sleep drive: Mat and I are to stay downstairs together until 10.30pm (without drinking!) then head upstairs and put ourselves to sleep without aid of book, tech or television. Simple.

Except it's not, is it? First night back after a work trip, Mat wants to stay up late, and revel in being home. But I'm so shattered by the week, just saying "10.30pm" makes me want to cry. We part.

Night two: no cleansing occurs. ("It's Saturday night," says Mat. "There's no way I'm not having a beer.") The boiler's broken, so I go to bed early, hugging our youngest for warmth, then wake at 3am - for good.

Night three: we finally achieve cleansing. Mostly because we're both shattered, and Mat has to get up at 4am. So come 10.30pm, we retire to bed. And sleep. By 2am, I'm awake again, reading The Forsyte Saga in the spare room. Two hours later, I'm waving Mat off to the airport. Knock-out marital action? We'll try again next weekend.

Some names have been changed.

Four top tips from Kathryn Pinkham

1. Stick to your own sleep pattern.
Some of us need eight hours, some only five. If your partner needs less sleep than you, go to bed together - have a cuddle/put the day to rest - then let your partner leave to finish his or her evening, while you drift off.

2. If your spouse's snoring is keeping you awake, don't seethe with resentment, remove yourself.
Get out of bed. Do something relaxing (don't drink caffeine) and return to bed when tired.

3. Don't focus too much on sleep.
The more you analyse the "problem" - and try to fix it - the worse it gets.

4. Stop watching the clock.
Poor sleepers wake up and check the time, which increases our arousal and makes us stressed about the hours left remaining.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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