While visiting a friend who was convalescing postsurgery, I noticed that the king-sized bed she shares with her husband is actually a pair of twin beds under a single bedspread. She says they always go to bed at the same time but don’t go to sleep or wake at the same time. (I see you, headphones.) The two-bed system allows her to have the softer mattress she likes, and they add or remove blankets to suit their personal thermostats. She says it saved her marriage.
I like to joke that I have a 22-foot bed: four cats, one dog and me. Given that fact, I can’t claim to sleep alone, can I? But I have been out of a marital bed for over a decade. I sometimes miss the snuggling, but no one hogs the covers. My bulldog snores, but I’m used to it; my restless legs irritate the cats, but we manage. I believe that if my living situation changed to incorporate a human, I might want to keep my own bed. I’d be in good company.
I was surprised to learn that many couples sleep apart, having found that they simply sleep better in separate beds or even separate rooms. For some, it’s not just falling asleep in a shared bed that’s a challenge but staying asleep. Many people my age and older get up to use the bathroom during the night. The bed’s movement and lights going on could disrupt someone else’s good night’s sleep as well. And snoring can be an issue. That happens because as we age, we tend to lose muscle tone in our upper airways and gain weight in the neck area, due to lifestyle changes or menopause. If it’s your partner who snores, you may no longer be able to sleep through it as you did when you were younger. Snorers often rely on machines that in themselves make co-sleeping a feat.
We’re learning more about the importance of quality sleep. When sleep is compromised, that impacts the way adults function and their cognitive performance, and it can take a toll on mood as well. Getting seven to nine hours each night is recommended, with studies showing improved health, including a reduction in cardiovascular disease, stress levels, inflammation and depression. Your body is better able to regulate appetite, repair itself and keep a positive attitude.
Some couples choose separate sleeping spaces for weekdays but not weekends, which may be better suited for intimacy. A nightly uncoupling could be just what your relationship needs to reignite a longing for one another. It’s hard to feel romantic when you’re exhausted.
As for me, I’ve noticed that some mornings when I awake, my dog has left the bed for the living room chair. I guess my snoring is keeping her from a good night’s sleep.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.