Monday, September 14, 2009

From Bed to Worse: and this Column is Rated "G"

This column is about spousal behavior in bed, and it is rated "G" because my children read my columns, and because it is not about intimacy at all. The subjects to be covered here are sleep research and marital communication.
The Home News Tribune published this piece on August 31, 2009.

As Dr. Paul Rosenblatt, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, explained to Kate Murphy of the New York Times, "Sleep is no longer viewed as an individual phenomenon."

Rosenblatt's research includes interviews with couples who suffered unimaginable tragedy. Spouses would explain to Rosenblatt that, "They dealt with their grief by holding each other and talking together in bed at night." It indicates how sharing a bed impacts couples and their sense of well-being.

Further, it surprised Rosenblatt how many people say that they are alive today because they share a bed with their spouse. A woman's seizure was immediately noticed by her husband. And there are other stories of couples where one spouse had a heart attack, stroke, or went into diabetic shock.

Most couples report that the bed is where they talk, and since most Americans sleep at night, there is also something about late night that enables couples to open up and connect. Rosenblatt suggests, "The bed is where they found privacy and were able to leave behind the distractions and separate interests that keep them apart during the day."

But there are significant issues that affect a couple's sleep dynamic. There are conflicts over bedroom temperature, watching TV, and reading in bed. Perhaps the biggest problems are snoring and insomnia, in which the behavior of one spouse negatively impacts the other and may result in sleep deprivation.

That brings me to a disturbing trend in home design (although this recession may very well put a damper on this). Separate bedrooms, separate sleeping nooks, and his and her wings are described by Tracie Rozhon in the New York Times. The issues of snoring, children crying, late night e-mail, and heading for the gym at 5:30 a.m. are some examples of what created this trend of separate sleeping arrangements in perfectly good marriages.

Rozhon cited a survey of the National Association of Home Builders which predicts that more than 60 percent of custom homes will have dual master bedrooms by 2015. One woman from St. Louis, quoted in the article, is a light sleeper who battled for years with her husband's nocturnal restlessness. She took action by reconfiguring their condominium and adding walls to create separate bedrooms. What is the advantage to separate rooms? "My husband is still alive; I would have killed him."

A good perspective on what's being called "home-sleeping-alone" comes from University of Michigan sociologist, Pamela J. Smock. "The growing need for separate bedrooms also represents the speed-up of family life. Once women's roles have changed, and the need for extra space eases the strain on the relationship, if one of them snores, the other won't be able to perform the next day. It's not necessarily indicative of marital discord."

A professor of otolaryngology wrote a letter to the editor and described snoring, which may signal the presence of obstructive sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea increases one's risk for depression, heart disease and stroke. He suggests that it be treated before building separate bedrooms. "In my practice," he emphasized, "I have seen countless couples able to sleep in the same room again."

For a wealth of information on sleep disorders, visit

Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site


therapydoc said...

Thanks, Alan. I don't care how they arrange it, as long as there's no "family" bed. Keep the kids out of the big beds and lock the bedroom door.