“Jagged toenails.” Those words alone should be enough to strike fear into the hearts and ankles of anyone considering sharing a bed with someone else.
Yet throughout western culture, this is the norm: married couples and reasonable facsimiles sleeping together in the same bed, a nightly negotiation of mattress space, a nocturnal clash of sleep patterns and blankets.
Indeed, not sleeping together is considered code for marital discord. “Did you hear? Jane and Barry are sleeping in separate beds!” Separate beds mean trouble. Either that or the couple has broken the double bed, which is another strain of gossip altogether.
It may be the cultural norm, but if you’ve ever gotten out of bed and watched your spouse sleepily sprawl into the vacated space with a long satisfied sigh, you have to admit that there’s something not quite right about this arrangement.
Why do couples sleep together? Evolution is probably the answer, as it is with most human behaviour (with the exception of professional lawn care).
In our early existence, the preoccupying concerns were procreation and preservation. Sleeping together clearly took care of the former. As for preservation, two adults sleeping in the same location provided additional security for themselves as well as their offspring should there be an attack in the night by terrible beasts.
Today, procreation isn’t determined by nocturnal proximity but by science as well as that extra glass of Cabernet Zazoo and the kids spending the night at their grandmother’s.
As for preservation, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be set upon in the night by terrible beasts, unless you count a two-year-old with a full diaper.
From an evolutionary point of view, sleeping together also ensured that one’s mate wasn’t sleeping elsewhere (and by “one’s mate” I mean “the male”). Once again, in modern times, we don’t need to sleep together to determine fidelity because we have Internet browser history.
In short, the reasons to sleep together are out of date and no longer necessary, much like my favourite eighties pick-up line, “Honey, it’s a good thing I’m wearing parachute pants because I’m about to fall for you.”
Just as there are few solid reasons to sleep together, there are plenty reasons not to.
For example, I’m not a chronic snorer but I do sometimes make this haucky-clicky sound in my throat when I lie on my back, like I’m trying to speak Gaelic in my sleep. It wakes Deb up. She lies there for a while trying to ignore it. Eventually she can’t take it anymore. “Ross!” she whispers with an exclamation mark. “You’re clicking.” I stop. Then we’re both awake. But ultimately, she’s awake longer, so I win.
That’s just the tip of the nightberg. Cold feet. Jumpy legs. Night terrors. Sleep talking. Face breathing. Unwelcome elbow encroachment. Clashes over open windows and bedside lamps. Unsolicited answers to the crossword puzzle one is working on. And that was just last night.
And who knows how much cumulative damage has been done to marital romance due to pillow drool.
There’s no logic to sleeping together, but then there are many aspects of domestic life that make no sense at all, like chopping down Christmas trees, tent camping or giving a child an all-terrain vehicle. We do these things because they speak to us at some deeper level and because it’s fun to be obnoxious in the woods.
The bottom line is that sleeping together as a couple is lovely, intimate and reassuring. Plus, it’s far more comfortable than sleeping on the sofa, which, if I don’t stop writing about this, is where I’m going to end up.