What could possibly be more romantic than Paris? The city itself is like a Hallmark card: twinkling lights over the Seine; tiny, cute coffees in pavement cafes; hand-holding along the Champs-Élysées; artists thronging through Montmartre. Yet if Paris (ergo France, to extrapolate: bear with me) is the epicentre of love, why is it that more and more couples there are choosing to sleep apart?
Because that’s what is happening, and it’s causing no small degree of bemusement. Researchers have discovered that 10 per cent of French couples who live together now sleep in different rooms and a further 6 per cent would like to – but are scared of the consequences. The Ifop study found that more than 20 per cent of couples aged 65 and over sleep in separate rooms; but it’s not just older people. Reports suggest young people are increasingly choosing to sleep in separate beds, too.
So, what’s going on? I have an idea: people are choosing to prioritise their wellbeing, over the (yes, I’ll say it) somewhat sanctimonious belief that to be truly happy together, you have to share a bed; and so sacrifice a solid night’s sleep – with all the painful ramifications that come with that.
After all, studies show that an inadequate amount of sleep can affect your brain’s ability to retain memory, and sleeplessness can be connected to having a weaker immune system.
Science seems to back up the idea that our ability to regulate our emotions is reduced after a bad night’s sleep; and we now know that having as little as six hours sleep a night can lead to a 200 per cent increased risk of suffering a stroke or fatal heart attack, according to a 2021 research paper. Lack of sleep can also lead your brain to develop a greater concentration of beta amyloid – a toxic protein that’s linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Losing sleep can even increase your risk of developing bowel, prostate or breast cancer later in life.
On the flip side: getting a good night’s sleep can help mediate your blood pressure – which is why missing out on a restful night can also negatively impact your cardiovascular system – and it might make you happier, too.
Let’s look at it bluntly: if you can sleep anywhere, like the dead, then good for you. I can’t. Countless others can’t, either – not when there’s someone (maybe) snoring and (sometimes) talking and (very likely) rustling the bedsheets and (almost definitely) checking their phone. If you choose to get a good eight hours in your own bed, away from your partner – to improve your health as well as your emotional wellbeing – that is a good thing. We should celebrate it.
I’m not alone: I have dozens of friends who are, like me, in their forties and no longer sharing a bed – either because they’re single (and relish being able to starfish in the middle of the mattress without getting an elbow in the face); or because they’ve made the conscious decision to sleep blissfully alone.
I spoke to one friend recently who confessed, almost guiltily, that she’s been saying “goodnight” to her partner before going into her own bedroom to sleep at night, where it is “calm and clean and smells of lavender”. But there seems to me such shame and stigma around admitting you don’t choose to sleep every night with your significant other – especially if you’re young. For my friend, it prevented her from saying it in anything but a whisper.
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So, what are the fears around sleeping apart? Is it because it implies your relationship is “over” – or doomed? Do you worry that it might mean the end of your physical relationship? Is that really what’s going on: people are too afraid it will stop them having sex – or, perhaps highlight all the sex they’re not having?
Consider this as an alternative: sleeping separately doesn’t automatically spell the death knell of a relationship – it might even improve it. How? Well, we’ve all read about long-term relationships “gone stale” and the idea that to fix that, you could consider introducing something new. What could be newer than finding somewhere different in the house (or out of it) to be together without the tired old routine of the marital bed? Don’t take it from me, take it from the (s)experts who say the fastest route to desire is finding anywhere but the bedroom to make love.
There are plenty of ways to show you love and care for someone – and desire them – without having to put up with them snoring in your ear all night; or rolling over and accidentally kneeing you in the small of your back.
But I digress: I simply can’t see it as anything but a good thing if people are stating their needs within a relationship. And if those needs include getting a basic eight hours, then we could all learn a thing or two from that.