Winter is nigh in Chicago, which has forced my girlfriend and me to layer our individual blankets and sleep… together. Ugh! Sharing blankets is awful. We do, in fact, like each other, but she’s a serial blanket thief with jimmy legs while I am a perfect sleeper. We typically sleep with separate blankets, and while it may sound unromantic or puritanical, it is far better than the alternative.
Realizing how superior the separate-blanket lifestyle is, I needed to know the facts: Does sleeping with two blankets lead to healthier sleep and a happier relationship? To find out, I talked to Alana Ogilvie, a couples therapist in Portland, and Christine Hansen, a sleep expert who coaches entrepreneurs and CEOs in better sleep habits.
Why Do People Sleep Next to Each Other Anyway?
Before my girlfriend moved in, I was perfectly happy sleeping alone. I slept through the night, had my own blankets and didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up. Who needs human intimacy anyway?
In his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, historian Roger Ekirch explains that people have chosen to sleep together for a number of reasons throughout history, beginning as a means of security: “Never did families feel more vulnerable than when they retired at night,” he writes. “Bedmates afforded a strong sense of security, given the prevalence of perils, real and imagined — from thieves and arsonists to ghosts, witches and the prince of darkness himself.”
According to Ekirch, sharing beds became the fiscally responsible thing to do in the 1800s, and eventually the practice became the great social equalizer in the 20th century with servants and families sleeping in the same beds. “Not just married couples, but sons sleeping with servants, sisters with one another. … Darkness, within the intimate confines of a bed, leveled social distinctions despite differences in gender and status,” he writes. “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.”
According to Hansen, so long as it doesn’t hurt your relationship, there is no real need for couples to sleep in the same bed — “especially if you have a snorer or someone who moves a lot,” she says. “If you manage to communicate that it has nothing to do with your relationship, then actually, a lot of the time, having separate bedrooms or seperate beds could be a good idea.”
But before you start looking at twin beds, Ogilvie points out that couples sleeping together isn’t just a matter of preference, but it’s scientifically sound: “Physical touch that feels safe and relaxing can slow your breathing and heart rate, leading people to feel calmer, more connected and more likely to get restful sleep.” Cuddling and physical touch releases oxytocin, the “feel-good” chemical into your brain, which relieves your stress and helps you conk out.
Two Blankets Are the Perfect Middle Ground
Since sleeping in two separate beds would take any and all intimacy out of the relationship equation, consider my solution. Two blankets is the perfect middle ground — and more couples are catching on. It’s for this reason that one furniture retailer recently ran a short-lived campaign in Europe to persuade couples to adopt the Scandinavian practice of couples sleeping with separate duvets, “an established sleeping method known to ensure Swedes win at sleeping when sharing a bed.” This site called it a “one-way ticket to a sexless relationship.” Let me assure you it is not!
“When we are sleeping, we are not unconscious; our brain is still processing a lot of things,” Hansen explains. So if someone is moving around, or suddenly you’re too cold because your blanket’s been stolen, all that information gets processed by your brain and “can definitely keep you awake,” she says. “Having two blankets can help with people who move around a lot, and help keep body temperature constant, since you can use [your own blanket] the way you want to.”
When asked if two blankets seemed like a reasonable solution for sleepless couples, Ogilvie says she actually just spoke to a couple about this very topic. “The pros and cons depend on the couple,” she says, but in general, more sleep means an easier relationship. With “no fighting for the blankets and possibly less tossing and turning, we get sleep better, and when we sleep better, we’re less likely to feel stressed. When we’re less stressed, we’re all a lot more likely to want to engage intimately with our partners.”
I admit this may not work well for frequent sleep cuddlers. “For some people, more restful sleep means falling asleep touching or being physically connected to your partner,” she says, adding that “if couples need or want that physical touch when they go to sleep, I could see there being logistical challenges with an extra comforter involved.” It “depends on the couple,” she says.
As with literally everything, there is no catch-all solution to better sleep. But at least before you move into another bedroom or drop a grand on a fancy new memory-foam mattress you can’t even have sex on, give separate blankets a try. For once you might not wake up frozen next to a perfectly wrapped partner burrito.