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The Home Guru: With More Couples Sleeping Apart, Do We Need More Bedrooms?

When the National Sleep Institute revealed that as many as one in four married couples now sleep in separate bedrooms or beds, it made architects, realtors ....and psychologists wonder.

There was a lot of fuss on broadcast and online a short while back about the revelation by the National Sleep Institute that as many as one in four married couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds. It came as a surprise to many who posted comments online, some not believing the findings and others saying, so what’s new?  

At the same time, the National Association of Home Builders, perhaps riding on the coattails of the report, projected that 60 percent of custom homes will feature dual master bedrooms by the year 2015, according to a joint report by The New York Times and the Today Show.

Michael Piccirillo, an architect who works in the region, found the report incredulous.

"In all my years of designing homes, not one family ever asked me for two separate master bedrooms," he said. "If anything, people today want to downsize space, not increase it. If you add 200 square feet for an extra master bedroom, it’s going to add $40,000 to $50,000 to the cost of the house. And think about septic! Many of us in this area are on septic systems, and the requirements for fields are based on the number of bedrooms in a house. It would screw up the whole works."

Still the statistics are there to observe, ponder and question how these findings will affect the design of new homes in the next decade. 

In our own lifetimes, we’ve already experienced the design modifications that accompanied our lifestyle changes. These include the diminution of the formal living room, the creation of the family room and the den, the development of the large granite-laden, brushed steel gourmet kitchen, the adoption of the home office and home gym, and the evolution from the Cape to the Colonial as the preferred home style, all of which dictated the need for additional square footage. But, now, separate master bedrooms for husband and wife?

Another consideration is the interior design of master bedrooms for male and female. Joanne Palumbo of Homestyling101 says, “Maintaining separate bedrooms is fine for living, if it suits you,  but once you put the home on the market, the homeowners really should distinguish one of the bedrooms as a gender neutral master bedroom and the other as a secondary bedroom. Showing a home with two gender specific master bedrooms conveys a feeling of discord in the home and will inevitably confuse the buyer.”

Most couples are loathe to talk about their personal lives to friends and families, particularly sleeping arrangements, even if it has nothing to do with intimacy, but they are more likely to share more honestly in an anonymous survey, as with this current report.

Personally, I wondered whether this is a reflection of the condition of the economy and the housing market. Greater anxiety might produce more volatile sleep patterns, or, it might indeed be an issue with intimacy caused by financial problems, the main reason that married couples quarrel. You know the old saying that when poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window.

In the Times, the reasons for separate sleeping arrangements seemed to be other than intimacy issues, but more weighted toward physical problems that were disturbing to bed partners, such as nervous leg syndrome and snoring, and to the practical accommodation of different schedules, like morning and night shifts between spouses. 

And, realtors have been noticing more cases where couples who list their homes for sale are planning to divorce but are still living under the same roof, probably in separate bedrooms, because neither party can afford to move until the house sells.

According to the Institute’s findings, the trend toward sleeping separately has doubled in the past few decades, and perhaps we were conditioned to this practice by the moral codes of the times before sexual liberation. 

When I was a kid, the Hayes Code dominated the movies in Hollywood and it demanded that on-screen couples not sleep in the same bed. I always knew that this did not reflect real life because, unlike movie couples, my parents always wrapped themselves around each other in the same bed. I know this because my mother would complain that my father’s muscular legs and arms weighted her down like a vice, but obviously she liked it because they slept together intertwined like a pretzel every night.

Before the adoption of the Hayes Code was the Great Depression when couples were lucky to afford a bed, much less two bedrooms. 

And if you want to go way back to Colonial times, there was little chance of sleeping separately for most folks, coupled or not. Beds were a luxury item at the time and many siblings and adults were forced to share beds, especially when traveling. Male travelers often had to share a bed with three or four other men in overcrowded inns. Sometimes even mixed sexes shared the same bed in an ingenious way, separated by a “bundling board” between them, but that was more a courting custom, to determine whether couples could be compatible all day and night, without being intimate before marriage.

In more recent times that more of us would remember, “I Love Lucy” featured Lucy and Ricky in separate beds (and how we wonder did she have that famous pregnancy under such conditions?), and we never questioned the propriety of these sleeping arrangements. In fact, I think we were all  surprised when on-screen couples finally did slip into the same bed, with the proviso that one of them have one foot on the floor (imagine?), a position that would certainly be a deterrent to achieving intimacy, save for the athletically gifted.

Of course, if we were to judge by what goes down on screen today, our younger generation would think that the bed is primarily for coupling and only incidentally for a good night’s sleep. 

While statistics may sometimes be skewed, they don’t totally lie, and if more of us need to sleep separately for whatever reason and can’t afford the space required, what is one to do? Mike Piccirillo offers a simple solution: “Get a great couch.”

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. He can be emailed at bill@PrimaveraHomes.com or, for information about the sale or purchase of a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Laura Rose May 28, 2012 at 12:27 PM
This topic has come up alot in my mothering group here in Rockland county. SO MANY of us new moms/ pregnant moms, play the bed game. It's when you kick the husband out of the bed, he goes to the guest room/couch OR mom and baby take the big bed, dad goes elsewhere until the kids turn 5 years old. OR mom/dad puts kids to bed in the child's own room and ends of sleeping next to kid most of the night. What alot of couples do is simplly say hay lets have our own rooms- a very smart choice during pregnancy when mom tosses and turns, uses the bathroom every few hours, then when baby arrives she can nurse him at night, so daddy can get a full nights rest so he can do his day job well and support the new mom on maternity leave/SAHM emotionally when he gets home. Since most of Americans are not getting the needed 7-9 hours of sleep daily- where we sleep should be talked about and questioned!! As for the article- what an awesome idea!!!!
Laura Rose May 28, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I think the resale value issue proposed is mute especially here in rockland county where husband and wife/ or partners both work and dual master suites would be appreciated. Also it would help a stay at home mom immensely, allowing her to nurse her baby till at least the recommended 1 year old stage if not longer. After that her bed becomes the "family bed". Dad's bed becomes the "marital bed".
Laura Rose May 28, 2012 at 12:36 PM
what a lovely comment below from Think4urself
Donna Anderson May 28, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Thank you Think4urself for the lovely response. Also, one of the issues that came up in Laura Rose's comments was resale value. When my children grew up and flew the coup.... I just took over one of the spare bedrooms and made it my own. So, we still have one master bedroom and two smaller ones. Everybody gets a good nights sleep and we did not have to build an addition on the house!
Aidan June 03, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I wouldn't have it any other way. Ever.

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