Sydney Morning Herald - August 4, 2012 - Harriet Alexander
Sharing a bed can be more of a nightmare than a dream, but snorers, doona thieves and night owls need not be banished to separate rooms
Sound sleep is being ruined everywhere by tossers. And turners. Not to mention light flickers, page turners, sheet stealers, snorers and kickers. That most sacred site in any relationship, the bed, is actually a blanket-snaffling place. Trying to change a partner's sleeping habits is as useful as howling at the moon.
However, a body of evidence suggests there are health benefits to sharing a bed. Research from the University of Pittsburgh indicates that sleeping next to someone encourages feelings of security and lowers the stress hormone cortisol, at the same time as increasing the love hormone oxytocin, which plays a vital role in overall health.
Many couples are searching for ways to remain in the same bed; a system of bed etiquette.
Clementine, a recently married Sydney woman, has a multitude of issues sharing a bed. She likes going to bed early; he likes going to bed late. He likes to read before bed or use his iPad. When he reads with his Kindle, she wakes up at the clicking noises as he turns pages. She dislikes the concept of a computer in the bedroom and also likes to sleep in the middle of the mattress.
The couple use various tactics to allow them to sleep together. For example, she bought him a torch, so he doesn't have to turn the light on when he comes to bed.
''Now often he turns the big light on to find his little torch,'' she says. ''What I thought I would do is buy him a new Kindle with one of those dim-light torches, so then he doesn't have to crunch around trying to find the torch.''
Differing sleep schedules are a common problem among couples. Most people find it very difficult to change their natural bedtime and therapists suggest it is better for people to accept their mismatched rhythms and aim for some time together in the morning or at night.
To tackle blanket stealing and differing body temperatures, it can help to do as the Germans do and buy separate covers.
Many couples find the answer to night-time noisiness - snoring or, in extreme cases, screams from night terrors - is to move to separate bedrooms. But apart from forfeiting the health benefits of sharing a bed, the social and personal pressure to share makes separate bedrooms unrealistic for many, says Bella Ellwood-Clayton, a sexual anthropologist and the author of Sex Drive: In Pursuit of Female Desire.
''My grandparents had two beds, one for each of them, but the difference is our current expectations of the role of intimacy … are so high that people are generally disappointed [if they do not share a bed] and feel that their sex lives don't live up to the media ideals,'' she says.
''The bed symbolises a place of peace and connection and can be about so many different things.''
She is concerned by husbands being displaced from the marital bed by sleepless children and the encroachment of iPads into the bedroom, which have pushed sex down the list of priorities.
''[If] one partner doesn't feel sexually satisfied in the relationship, which is extremely common … the partner ends up wanting a divorce or ends up cheating, so there [are] huge consequences,'' she says.
The answer, Ellwood-Clayton says, is to make time for intimacy.
And remember there is usually somebody worse off than you.
Pity the husband of Jessica Knox, who has been known to wake flatmates, babies and neighbours with the screams from her night terrors. They arrive suddenly - the feeling that a person or presence is standing beside her.
''If you asked me to replicate the scream for you now I could not do it - it is more of a terrified howl,'' she says.
''My heart is racing when I finally wake up. However, I can usually get back to sleep pretty quickly. My husband, on the other hand, has usually jumped out of bed to face the attacker and has adrenalin surging through his body, so it tends to take him a little longer.''