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U of M professor explores spooning, snoring and sheet stealing

Snoring, spooning, stealing the sheets and sleeping in the nude -- for the millions of people who share a bed with a partner, University of Minnesota family social science professor Paul Rosenblatt's new book explores the challenges and benefits of "sleeping together."

In his newly-released book, "Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing," Rosenblatt examines the dynamic of couples sharing their sleeping space. "Two in a Bed" is a groundbreaking book in the field of sleep and relationships. While a plethora of writing exists about adults sleeping as an individual phenomenon, until now there was no book about sharing a bed, even though it's a part of millions of couples' lives.

"Sharing a bed is a complicated, changing and often a challenging experience and no one had written about it," Rosenblatt said. In his study for the book, Rosenblatt interviewed 42 bed-sharing couples. He examines what it means to share a bed with someone else, how it affects the couple's relationship, how the relationship affects the bed sharing and how couples dealt with the complexities of sharing a bed.

For most couples, their time chatting in bed is the most time they have to talk with each other on a daily basis and that talk can be crucially important to their relationship, Rosenblatt said.

"Lots of couples say that if they can both stay awake, they talk for a few minutes each night," Rosenblatt said.

Many couples told Rosenblatt about how important sleeping in the same bed is to them, because it's a time for intimacy, pleasure and feeling comfortable together. During the time before drifting off to sleep, couples catch up on what's going on with one another, plan, make decisions, deal with disagreements and solve problems.

"If couples don't have this time in bed, then they're in trouble," Rosenblatt said.

"Many of the couples interviewed said they would get a better night's sleep apart, but they don't want to sleep apart because of the intimacy of sharing a bed, the security and the sense of belonging together," Rosenblatt said.

Many books on sleep offer advice to individuals on how to sleep well, but those books do not delve into the connections between individual sleep and couple bed sharing, Rosenblatt said. One partner's health problems, snoring, or work tensions can impact the other's sleeping. Two people differ in hundreds of ways, and those differences can create trouble when people share a bed -- deep sleepers versus light sleepers, night-owls versus early birds and people who need the covers tucked in versus people who need them untucked. Those differences can be issues for a couple and how the differences are addressed can affect both partner's sleep. And, one partner's sleep problem can be a problem for the other. "For example," Rosenblatt said, " his insomnia can wreck her sleep."

Snoring is a common issue for couples and each couple finds their own ways to resolve the difficulty. For some, it involves a simple nudge and for others, it was more extreme like the couple sleeping on separate floors, he said.

People who have never shared a bed together have to learn how to do it. "Some people have spent years sprawled out across the bed or wrapped up in a blanket and suddenly they have to adjust to sleeping with someone," Rosenblatt said.

"As life changes, people have to learn how to sleep together and not just once, but again and again," Rosenblatt said.

If one partner has an injury or chronic illness or when the couples have kids, the couple needs to adjust to the new circumstances. An interesting finding in Rosenblatt's study involved life and death. "Some couples feel that their sleeping together has meant that one of them saved the life of the other," he said.

In fact, while some couples don't touch while they sleep, it was fortunate that one couple spoons all night.

"One couple was spooning as they slept when the woman had a seizure with minor movement and the husband woke up immediately and called 9-1-1," Rosenblatt said. "This couple felt like the woman might have died had they not been spooning."

At least two of the couples interviewed by Rosenblatt dealt with suicidal possibilities. "To keep the other partner alive, one man tied his wife's wrist to his wrist, so then he would know if she moved or got out of bed," Rosenblatt said.

Some people, especially women, felt a sense of security with their partner sleeping next to them.

"They feel that their partner will be an ally for them in facing an intruder," Rosenblatt said. "Some men joke they they don't think they would be any help, just another victim, but others feel protective, tough, and up to the job."

David Ruth | EurekAlert!
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