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Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke as Laura and Rob Petrie, who slept in separate beds, on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

, CBS

A separate sleep keeps the peace

  • Article by: BILL WARD
  • Star Tribune
  • May 19, 2012 - 2:21 PM

Tim and Shannon Zach share just about everything: great vacations, a love for fishing and happy times with their families.

What they don't share, at least most of the time, is a bed.

They are among the 25 percent of U.S. couples who sleep in different beds or rooms, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We're not as far removed as we think from the era when Rob and Laura Petrie had their own single beds on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

Destiny Gervais, 29, of Brookston, Minn., wishes she were among those with separate beds. Her dream house, she said, "would consist of two master beds." She and husband Tom have many of the nocturnal incompatibilities that prompt such scenarios: different notions of bedtime and the desired amount of light, a lack of space in the bed and, of course, the modern-day Shakespearean quandary: TV or not TV?

Throw in snoring and apnea, kids and pets, illness and work schedules, and maybe it's a wonder that three-quarters of Americans still sack up together. Or so we say.

Many of us might not own up to separate quarters out of some sense of shame, said Dr. Don Townsend, the St. Paul Lung Clinic's resident sleep medicine expert.

"I definitely think there's still a stigma there," said Townsend, a clinical psychologist. "Some research shows that most people prefer to sleep together, but the quality of sleep is better when they sleep alone. I know I sleep a heck of a lot better when my wife's away [laughs]."

But what about that whole, um, intimacy thing?

"I don't think that sleeping in the same bed has anything to do with sex lives," said Renee Segal, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

'Limbs akimbo' a problem

Segal added that the separate-bed scenario "is more common than people realize," although some of those are temporary, attributable to work (doctors on call) or family ("a mom with a newborn might sleep in the room with the baby to nurse").

But three isn't necessarily a crowd for some, Townsend said. "I have patients that have two or three big dogs and all of them sleep in the same bed. I don't know why you'd do that, but I've heard that, and not infrequently."

For others, two is more than enough. Shannon Zach, of Blaine, is disabled (Evans syndrome) and "not really a great sleeper," she said. "So I started sleeping on our living-room sofa on days Tim has to work. I worry a lot about moving too much because the poor guy's got to get up in the morning.

"It seems to be working well, and we sleep in the same bed when Tim doesn't have to work, but then we still have to deal with pets. We have a little dog and a big dog, and the little dog thinks he owns the middle of the bed."

Stuart Loecker and partner Brad Jacobson, of Minneapolis, don't have pet or illness issues, but in their nine years together they never have shared a bedroom. Among myriad factors: Loecker is an early-to-bed type, a heavy sleeper, a "limbs akimbo" sprawler at 6 feet 4 and "an oven at night"; Jacobson, 5 feet 10, prefers a cool sleeping space and is and a light sleeper, so his bedroom has both a fan and a white-noise machine.

Having their own boudoirs allows the couple, who married in Canada in 2010, to carve out their own spaces. "We are very independent from one another, and we have different decorating styles," Loecker said.

All things considered, he added, having separate bedrooms "probably has prevented a divorce."

Seeking out sensitivity

The view from outside can be markedly different. Loecker said friends' reactions range from "saying it's cool and makes sense to some thinking it's awful, that our relationship is doomed."

Townsend said that for some outsiders, a two-bed arrangement "implies that you've got some big problem going on with at least one of you." And among his patients, most want to get back to sleeping together. The solution goes beyond pinpointing the cause.

"If it's snoring or insomnia, my job is to figure out who's the sensitive one, and then whether it is their problem or the other person's problem," he said. "It can go both ways."

Townsend said that some patients encounter intimacy issues when slumbering in separate boudoirs, but he's dealing exclusively with people who have deemed their overall nocturnal lives unsatisfactory.

Gervais said that a separate-room arrangement "could be fun, because you're not always being intimate in the same room, the same bed"; Zach said her illness is their only sexual impediment, and Loecker said his and Jacobson's setup "makes everything a little more impromptu and exciting for us."

Segal, owner of Segal Psychotherapy in Minnetonka, said that "having kids in the house has a greater effect on [couples'] sex lives than where they sleep."

Besides, she pointed out, "our grandparents never slept in the same bed, and we're all here."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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