Separate bedrooms: A prescription for better sleep?
New Jersey couple Rachel Kramel Bussel and Drew Griffiths have shared a home for a decade, but they have never shared a bedroom.
"Having my own space, that feels comforting to me," said Bussel, a freelance writer.
Spencer asked, "When you were looking for a home, was the bedroom issue a non-negotiable item?"
"Yes," said Griffiths, an abstract painter. "Two bedrooms, absolutely necessary."
They agree that sleeping apart means sleeping better. But they don't agree on a whole lot else. "I like a very empty, clean bed," Griffiths stated.
Which is not what you'd find in Bussel's bedroom. "This is a mess," said Spencer. Bussel concurred. "When I have nothing in the bed, it feels weird to me," she said.
Spencer asked, "How would you react if you had to sleep in his room?"
"I could do it for a night," said Bussel. "But I think more than one night I would be like, 'Where's my stuff?'"
There's also temperature. "I like cool," Griffiths said. "If I could figure out how to, like, pump air-conditioning through my pillow at all times, I probably would."
"I like to be very warm," said Bussel. "I wear pajamas. Sometimes I wear a sweater over pajamas. I have a weighted blanket and a quilt, and then sometimes I put another blanket over my shoulders."
Diametrically opposed. Yet, they're not alone in sleeping alone. According to a recent survey by the International Housewares Association for The New York Times, one in five American couples keeps separate bedrooms.
Spencer asked, "You know, when people hear separate beds, you know what they think."
"That we're not madly in love with each other?" Griffiths replied.
"That's one thing. And they think, 'What about sex?'"
"Well, that's what my room's for!" said Griffiths.
Jade Wu, a Duke University sleep specialist who's written a book on insomnia, says there is a stigma in society around sleeping apart: "Almost as if, you know, if you don't sleep in the same bed, there must be something wrong with your relationship. But there's no reason why you have to share the same surface while you're unconscious for seven hours."
Maybe not, but Wu said patients are frequently surprised by her advice. She said she's recommended couples sleep apart to about 24% of her patients. "The number one red flag for me is when a middle-aged or older woman tells me that her husband snores like a freight train," Wu said.
Which brings us back to Bussel and Griffiths, who say snoring is one more reason they sleep apart. But at the end of the day, sleeping apart may be what's kept them together.
Spencer asked, "Can you ever foresee a day when you would walk into your one beautiful bedroom, and you had to share?"
"I mean, not if we have a choice," Griffiths replied.
Bussel said, "I think it would be too jarring for each of us to give up our separate spaces."
"They're like sanctuaries?"
"Definitely," said Griffiths.
For more info:
- "Hello Sleep: The Science and Art of Overcoming Insomnia Without Medications" by Jade Wu, Ph.D. (St. Martin's), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
- Artist Drew Griffiths
- Writer-editor Rachel Kramer Bussel
Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross.
More on sleep from Susan Spencer:
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