Why We Sleep Together

This morning, I was struck by this Atlantic article, which asks why we share beds. “Sleep, much like running a marathon or chewing food, is a solitary activity,” writes Jon Methven. “We physically lie next to each other, but we sleep alone.” You could argue that beds are expensive, people are scared of the dark, or it’s easier to have sex in a big bed…

But, really, says Methven, sleeping together is a bonding experience.

“’Often a bedmate became your best friend. Not just married couples, but sons sleeping with servants, sisters with one another, and aristocratic wives with mistresses. Darkness, within the intimate confines of a bed, leveled social distinctions despite differences in gender and status,’ Ekirch [a historian and professor] says. ‘Most individuals did not readily fall sleep but conversed freely. In the absence of light, bedmates coveted that hour when, frequently, formality and etiquette perished by the bedside.’ “

…Our minds need rest, but our minds also need camaraderie and intimacy and whispering. Anxiety and stress seem less intimidating when discussed with a partner while wearing pajamas. It’s important to talk about our days lying side by side, discuss children and household situations, gossip about neighbors and colleagues, plan for tomorrow in the confines of private chambers. We cuddle. We laugh. At the end of each day we remove the onerous cloaks we’ve donned to face the world, and we want to do this lying next to our best friends, to know we’re not in it alone.”

What do you think? I completely agree.

This is part of a series called “What We’re Reading“—featuring interesting articles on different topics we find during the week. I know most of you are big readers. Hope you like it!

P.S. Do you ever freak yourself out at night, and would you have a family bed?

(Photo from The Atlantic)

  1. Was visiting a friend I haven’t since since high school and we slept together for the first time in decades. Memories of our childhood friendship was flowing. I believe we are now more closer than we were before.

  2. Amazing! :D. My family sleep together. We have big bed. I think it’s good for my son!

  3. Aidel.K says...

    I also saw the link to this on your post today. It made me think of two different situations in my own life. I was put on a brief bedrest toward the end of my first pregnancy. I was lonely. My friends would come over and lay in bed with me–sometimes 3 or 4 at a time. Of course we were all fully clothed–we’d all just hang out talking. I have such fond memories of that; it made the bedrest bearable. The reason I missed this post when it ran is because my daughter was getting married in a far-away country. I’ve flown there (on a 12-hour flight) 3 times since she got married. It’s hard not to doze (however fitfully) on such a long flight. I think about sleeping next to a total stranger–sleeping is such an intimate activity. It’s sort of the opposite of sharing your sleep with a loved one, and I really don’t like sleeping next to a stranger.

  4. B says...

    The Once a year article also led me here.

    This really strike a chord as my S.O. is off visiting his family for the holidays and I just realized how big and dark our apartment gets at night without him. I find myself waiting for the other person to be here to brush my teeth, wash my face, and bed down with. Those rituals are so shared now, in a way they never were before.
    Now, with all the technology infiltrating our lives, when we turn all the screens off and just touch feet, that time is infinitely precious.

  5. Jenny says...

    I just re-discovered this post at the bottom of today’s “26 Things Every Person Should Do for Themselves Once a Year” post. I’m sure that I read it when it was written originally, but it has new-found significance to me. At the time it was posted, I hadn’t been in a serious don-sweats-together-keep-a-tooth-brush-at-each-others-house relationship in a few years, which also meant I had become very accustomed to sleeping diagonally across my queen bed. Enter new sweats-wearing-tooth-brush-keeping boyfriend. It didn’t help that it was also in midst of the hottest summer on record, but we quickly discovered that we’re not very compatible sleepers. I need a firm bed for my janky back, while he loves his super squishy pillow top. I’m a very light sleeper, while he is a restless sleeper (I swear he actually gets air when he flips over). I tend to go to bed fairly early and need no-screens quiet time (usually involving tea and a book) before going to sleep, while he likes to stay up late watching tv or playing video games with his long-distance best friend as his way to wind down. It was a point of contention to begin with, because being incompatible sleepers didn’t follow the script. We’re taught that couples share beds. The “husband on the couch” trope is the symbol of an unhappy relationship. But we found that when we stopped forcing the square peg of our relationship into the round hole of universal relationship expectations, we actually fought LESS. No more sleepless nights blamed on the other partner. Becoming flexible and listening to what we needed as a couple, rather than what we thought we should do, lifted a huge weight. I’m reminded of Amy Poehler’s wonderful advice: “Good for her! Not for me.” That absolutely applies to relationships as well. Letting go of the guilt and shame of not following the script has been incredibly liberating for us. When we spend the night at each other’s homes, we’ll get in our pajamas, hang out in the bathroom together brushing teeth, washing faces, etc., spend time hanging out on the couch watching Netflix, having tea, etc., and then I’ll head to bed and read for a few minutes before going to sleep, while he stays up and does his own thing before turning in on the couch. And then we greet each other the following morning, well rested, with coffee and kisses. We’re planning on moving in together within the next year and getting a place with 2 bedrooms. Although unconventional, what works for us is spending quality time together before bed, allowing us our individual routines for a good night’s sleep, and then crawling into bed with each other the following morning to begin the day together. It would be so silly to let being incompatible sleepers convince us we were incompatible partners.

  6. I’m just realizing more and more that we both sleep so much better alone! Hubs and I will be married 5 years in october, and maybe the first 2 years I think we slept more in bed together, but we all grow and change. He loves the couch as it’s cozy and micro-fiber- so comfy! He also gets hot very easily and if most of the vents aren’t open or the fan isn’t moving above him, he’ll go downstairs eventually anyway. I somehow “got stuck” with our king bed and loooove it! I don’t like fans blowing on me or cold air on me and I’m a sprawler. Especially since having a child, good/decent sleep quality is more important to us than sleeping together. We always try here and there….especially later at night ( most likely on a Saturday night) after some great sex and too much wine but again, in the end, one of us will usually just go on the couch. We still love and adore one another, I promise. Sleep quality just wins right now. ;)

  7. My hubs and I save all of our serious talks for when we’re lying naked in bed. There’s a vulnerability, an openness, an honesty, a focus, that seems only to be available to us when we’re laying side-by-side, skin-to-skin.

  8. I know this is an older post, Joanna, but it made me smile. Just wanted to pass along a pleasant moment! Cheers.

  9. I love this article and fully agree. After reading it, I realized my husband and I do most of our in depth discussion in bed. Even if it’s not bedtime, one will go in there and lay down and we’ll both be in there and discuss whatever happens to be going on and it’s never intentional.
    Very lovely article!

  10. “At the end of each day we remove the onerous cloaks we’ve donned to face the world, and we want to do this lying next to our best friends, to know we’re not in it alone.” Loved this article, especially this last quote.
    Lying in bed with my husband at the end of each day, whether it was good or bad, always makes me feel like I can get through tomorrow with him there beside me. Thanks for sharing.

  11. My oldest friend and I have *never* slept apart when we sleep in the same place. On school trips, when we had sleepovers as teenagers and even now. We always sleep in the same bed, and, at her hen party she chose the only room with the double bed so we could sleep together! I’m not sure what will happen when she is actually married, tho’ :P

  12. Agree.Just definitely happy when i do it with some nieces,nephews and talk all things,what we do, what we have done, what he/she/they should do later…

  13. After 9 years sleeping with my hubby, I hate sleeping alone, and actually don’t sleep as well without him. Having a good cwtch at the end of the day or in the morning before we get up is my favourite part of the day!
    Two Hearts One Roof

  14. I sometimes sleep next to my housemate when one of us (usually me, too emotional for my good) is having a hard time of it. It’s very comforting knowing that the other person is there, and it’s definitely a bonding experience x

  15. I don’t know if this comment qualifies as “nice” or not but the ONLY reason I would sleep with someone is if I knew I was going to have sex with them.

  16. Definitely agree with this. I’d had my own room all my life so when I married at 30, I thought it was going to be a difficult transition, having to share a room and bed with someone else. Almost 8 years on, I fall asleep quicker if he wraps his arms around me :)

  17. My young son and daughter share a bed. They rotate between their rooms. My husband recently told me that going to sleep next to me is the best part of his day. I like to think we are two sets of best friends and my kids will be in the future :)

  18. Not only do I think it really helps with intimacy, I also sleep way better with my husband than I did when I was single. I used to have a lot of insomnia issues and now that rarely happens, even though he can snore a bit at times. We refuse to get anything other than a queen size bed too, because we like to be able to touch each other.
    Bed time is seriously one of my favorite times of day.

  19. Love this – I think this series is one of my very favorite things y’all are doing right now…

  20. I love is! I’ve actually got a few coupled-up friends who swear by sleeping in different rooms, and I always wondered if it didn’t change the dynamic of the relationship. There’s something very intimate and special about sleeping next to someone, be it lover, sister or friend. When the boyf is away on business, while I have no trouble falling asleep, I do wake up with a very profound sense of ‘aloneness’.

    Such an interesting topic!

  21. I thought this article was interesting too! To be perfectly honest, my husband and I probably sleep best alone in terms of sleep quality, but I do think that the intimacy that comes with co-slumber is absolutely worth it. :)

  22. recently spent the night at a girlfriends house and we were giggling about being too old to share a bed (33) but i wouldn’t have it any other way!we also wondered if we were too old for sleepovers ;/ my nieces sleep with me when they visit, my son often sleeps with me, and i love waking up and talking with my man about our dreams.

  23. That’s difficult. I love sleeping alone basically because I move a lot in dreams (and that may be a bother to whoever I share the bed with). But… never say never, right?

  24. Married for 15 years, sleep is a struggle; I prefer sleeping alone, as they did in the old days, madame and monsieur had separte quarters with a personal bedroom, bathroom and office each. I wish I had enough money to have a house like that!

  25. I’m into this – thanks for sharing.

  26. I think this is such a lovely and fascinating way to look at something we do every night. So true

  27. I would definitely sleep better alone as I’m a light sleeper but I love having him by my side. This past couple of days I’ve been sleeping in the other room due to him having early starts and I feel as though I’ve barely seem him, even though the only thing that has changed is not spending the night together.

  28. I love cuddling and talking but when it comes down to pure sleep I sleep best alone. I am kind of a light sleeper and also always fall asleep after my husband that snores. It is so hard for me to fall asleep as I lay in bed getting annoyed over the snoring sounds. I actually think that one sleeps better by one self. You are less disturbed during the night when you sleep solo. Maybe I am also an introvert at night as I am during the day as Eleanor stated above.

  29. agreed! I would add that, like running a marathon, your own sleep can only be achieved by you, but it sure is a hell of a lot more fun, comforting, even easier when you have a buddy. :)

  30. I attribute my children’s closeness to the fact that they share a room (and often the same bed). They talk each other to sleep every night, imagine all that conversation never had if they were separated.

  31. I totally agree! It’s so important to have that special, quiet time where you can say anything and feel totally free.

  32. I have to travel out of town for work a lot and I always have such a hard time sleeping without my husband next to me. This restlessness surprises me because I love my space. I need it. And we are very independent people.

    But surprisingly not in the bedroom. Perhaps its a result of our solace-before-sleep pact we made when we first got married (over 12 years ago! gross).

    The Shaded Acorn

  33. How interesting! I was just wondering about why we share a bed this morning. I just moved in with my boyfriend so have been thinking a lot of why we do the things we do. Genius! Thanks for sharing :)

  34. agree with the article, but have to admit some nights my husband will sleep in the spare room so we both get a good nights sleep! He doesn’t just turn in the bed continuously,his whole 6″4 body jumps off the bed and bounces back down again!

  35. I also read an article that said happier couples sleep touching one another, or at least within close proximity.

    I love sharing a bed with my husband, but before him I’ve always liked to sleep alone – I’m a sprawler.

  36. Well I completely disagree!! By accident my husband and I separated our bedroom, we where in a new house the main room was to cold, he was getting a cold…long story short we ended buying a bed for him and it has been the most liberating move in our relationship! We have been together for 14 years and honestly is the best thing that has happened to us. We have different sleeping hours, he watches tv I don’t , I snore he thinks he doesn’t, he is a light sleeper I sleep heavily. Honestly I wouldn’t have any other way, I love my space and my little daughter co sleeps with me and deep down I hope she will stay in her bed because I adore sleeping alone. We even consulted a psychologist to see if we where traumatizing her in any way and we where given green light to keep our happy habit! We have a three bedroom apartment and live happily ever after like that!

  37. Great post! It’s a topic that occasionally comes up in our social circle, as we have several married friends who sleep in different rooms. I physically sleep the hardest after my husband gets out of bed to get ready because its cold but I also know that he’s still there. But when he is out of town I cant sleep because I’m scared. Or if I’m scared or anxious and he’s there, I have to have my hand on him. Sort of like, in college, when you’d get the spins from drinking and you were supposed to put your foot on the floor.

  38. no says...

    I have had some of my most intimate conversations with people I’ve never shared a bed with. Also, I’ve shared a bed with a person that I felt incredibly isolated from.

    I don’t believe physical closeness equals emotional intimacy. It’s nice, but not required.

  39. Maybe I’m just weird, but the only person I have ever enjoyed sharing a bed with is my husband. Echoing what eleanor said, perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert?

  40. Completely agree–it’s an interesting insight. I look forward to this time of day; it feels unstructured and fun but also important. Serious things are often discussed, but in an intimate, gentle way.

  41. I totally agree with this. When I have something serious and scary to bring up with my husband, I ask him to come to bed because it rarely turns into an argument due to the relaxed environment. We’re both on the same level, and we can be close to eachother.

  42. Agree, but. Still get a better night’s sleep when we retreat to our own rooms.

  43. I agree too. My partner and I don’t even like a King bed – it’s too big. Yes, I probably sleep better alone, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s the point of great sex if you can’t melt into the other person’s arms and drift into slumber?

  44. We’re not very big people, so I prefer to sleep in a queen bed with my husband – just enough room that we can each have our space but close enough to touch when wanted. I hate being in hotels with ginormous beds because I wake up feeling like I’ve been alone (on my side of the bed) all night!

  45. This is fascinating, I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for sharing.

    xoxo Roseann from sunny California ;)

  46. I also wonder if it has something to do with being pack animals- from an evolutionary point of view, i bet it has more to do with safety in numbers.

  47. Fantastic series!!! One of my favorites.

    I love, love, love sharing a bed with my significant other. We often remark we have some of our most serious, meaningful conversations in bed.

  48. I’m single, so I sleep alone most of the time. However, when friends and family come to visit they always share the bed with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  49. Love this! I love when my sisters visit and we share a bed…we have the best heart to hearts after the lights go out and we end up talking for hours. My sister and I shared a room growing up and we would do the same thing as kids. I think its a big part of why we’re still extremely close– everything comes out in nighttime chats!

  50. So, so interesting. I saw this article this morning, too, but haven’t yet had a chance to read it. Thanks for the clips! Very nice thoughts :)

  51. Despite having a husband and 2 children who I love dearly, I sleep best all alone. Guess I’m an introvert even when I’m alseep?