WHAT GOES BUMP in the night—hogging the covers, snoring to peel the paint off walls? You, probably. And Paul Rosenblatt knows it. Rosenblatt, a professor in the department of family social-science at the University of Minnesota, interviewed 42 couples about their sleep habits for his new book, Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing. What he learned is something you may have long suspected: for most people, sleeping together is no bed of roses.
The book tells of a couple who had watched a slasher movie before falling asleep. They awoke when the woman realized she was being strangled by her bedmate—who was unconsciously acting out a dream. An elderly woman began sleeping separately from her septuagenarian husband because she was tired of his demands for sex. (Asked whether he missed sharing a bed with his wife, the man replied, “No, I just want the nookie.”) Other stories in the book are more tender than traumatic, such as that of a suicidal woman; for her own safety, she allowed her husband to tie their wrists together so he would know if she tried to slip out of bed.
Most people sleep better alone. So why do we subject ourselves to someone else’s icy feet, restless legs, and arms that are, well, armed and dangerous? Some women Rosenblatt interviewed cited safety (having someone nearby to protect them from intruders); many couples said bedtime was a rare opportunity for private discussions. And, of course, there’s the desire for physical intimacy. But many couples simply hadn’t considered sleeping apart, telling Rosenblatt, “We’re a couple, and couples just sleep together.”
Rosenblatt, a psychologist by training who has researched and taught at the U since 1969, doesn’t have any specific advice to offer bedmates—his book isn’t a self-help tome. He was simply curious about the nature and importance of bed-sharing, and noticed that very little had been published on the subject (apart from romance novels, anyway). Bedtime has been burdened with sexual taboos, too. Not so long ago, television shows refused to depict couples inhabiting the same bed, and the first TV couple to do so weren’t even live actors—they were Fred and Wilma Flintstone. And now we know: they were more likely to be discussing Pebbles’s potty-training than getting frisky.
This isn’t to accuse researchers, much less TV moguls, of prudishness. Many facets of everyday life, Rosenblatt says, have been neglected by social scientists and psychologists. Family life, in particular, has been overlooked in favor of individual disorders, such as schizophrenia. But Rosenblatt sees drama in the mundane. His next book will focus on obliviousness within families—that is, the reasons why family members can remain ignorant (or are kept ignorant by other family members) of obvious problems, such as drug usage. And he’s curious about the kind of conversations most of us forget as soon as they’re over. What do people talk about in cars, for instance? What do they discuss while watching television? At least one inquiring mind wants to know.
Tim Gihring is senior writer for Minnesota Monthly.