The bed shook. My eyes popped open in the dark. I lay still, hopeful that I could fall back to sleep. Just as my lids closed, a quick jerk roused me again. Then a three-stage snore ripped through the silence. Exasperated, I threw back the covers and headed for the guest room.
Tempted to stomp across the hall, I tiptoed instead. Even though my husband's sounds and motion prevented a restful night for me, I didn't want to wake him. No sense in both of us stumbling around in a fog at work the next day. He snored peacefully . . . and loudly, unaware that I'd left our bedroom yet again.
During 20 years of marriage Jerry and I slept most nights in the same bed. However, his snoring and restlessness increased over the years. In addition, I experienced more difficulty staying asleep, even if he was still and quiet. For two long years I'd move to another bed every night after about one hour's sleep. That's when I departed to a more tranquil environment. After tucking myself in bed, I might lie awake for another hour or two. I grew weary, angry, and frustrated but still hesitated to suggest separate bedrooms. I didn't want to hurt his feelings or cause him to think that my love for him was fading.
Finally I couldn't continue in a sleep-deprived state any more. I brought up the subject one night at dinner.
To my surprise my dear husband said, "I know you need your rest. It's okay." No signs of defensiveness or hurt.
"Of course, we'll have dates," I said. He raised his eyebrows and smiled at our code word for sex.
That night I kissed and hugged him and walked into my own bedroom. I read a few minutes and then drifted off to uninterrupted sleep. Jerry slept better with our new arrangement also. If he got wide-eyed in the middle of the night, he could turn on the TV and let it lull him back to sleep. Separate bedrooms made sense for us.
We're Not Alone
When I mentioned this arrangement to others, I discovered that we weren't alone. Several friends enjoyed solid marriages but simply couldn't sleep with their spouses. It went beyond my circle of acquaintances. The National Sleep Foundation Survey of Women in 2007 found that 24 percent of women don't sleep with their significant other. The National Association of Home Builders observed a trend toward separate bedrooms. It predicted that 60 percent of new upscale homes will have two master bedrooms by 2015.
My friends told me their reasons for sleeping apart. In my unscientific survey, a spouse's snoring seemed to be the number one reason, regardless of age. Health also caused need for different sleep accommodations. Three friends or their spouses developed back problems and slept in recliners for relief. Hot flashes parted one woman and her husband so at least he could sleep. Also, two family members had opposite work schedules that required different sleep schedules.
Every person I talked with tried various remedies, as did I, before resorting to another bed: nose strips or tablets to quiet snoring, earplugs, retiring earlier than the snorer or restless sleeper. While those may help some couples, none of us met long-term success. Even when a health issue, such as pain, restless leg syndrome, or body tics, interfered with sleep, spouses tried to maintain their common bed. Eventually, the need for sleep took precedence.
Each couple worked out the best solution for their situation. Sam and Jen sleep separately during the work week due to her snoring. They sleep together on weekends when he can snooze later. Mary spends the first hour or so with Joe to talk and cuddle, then she climbs the stairs to her own room to sleep. Cindy and Don begin the night in separate rooms. He likes to read, but she needs a dark room to fall asleep. The ones who use recliners also begin the night in their separate sleep places. Each couple settled into a routine that satisfied them both.
Younger women that I interviewed experienced some of the same problems as middle-aged women. Jennie, a 30something, told me that her husband's snoring was driving her to the sofa several nights per week. Amy said that she and her husband part if one is sick or experiencing occasional insomnia. While empty nesters may have the luxury of more than one bedroom, younger couples found solutions as well. They retreated to a futon or sofa in a family room or basement recreation room. It wasn't a nightly habit, but used only as needed.
Not an End to Intimacy
Maintaining separate bedrooms doesn't signal trouble in a marriage unless spouses use them to avoid talking about problems. Honest communication is preferable to pulling into your own space like a turtle, even if you can only agree to talk about the finances, sex, child rearing, or whatever the next day. Sharon appreciated an older acquaintance's advice when she was a newlywed: stop going to another bed when she was mad at her husband.
"Honey," the woman told her. "The Bible says . Your marriage won't last if you don't face your problems."
As for Jerry and me, working together to solve our sleeplessness strengthened our relationship. Restful sleep dried up the nearly constant undercurrent of irritability so we could focus on other things, like each other.
Sleeping in separate bedrooms doesn't have to be embarrassing or an end to intimacy. It doesn't mean the spark has faded from your marriage. In fact, "Your place or mine?" can add spice to your sexual relationship. It does mean that you may need to be more intentional about assuring each other of your love and deepening your bond. Of course, all marriages require thoughtfulness and work.
If you believe that in order to sleep well you and your husband may need to sleep apart, pray about it. Then talk with him about it. This needs to be a mutual decision that's comfortable and acceptable to both spouses. And it really isn't anyone else's business what you do—not your friends, family, or even adult children. The purpose of sleeping in separate bedrooms is, well, to sleep.
Linda Holloway is a freelance writer.