Bedst of friends?

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Sleeping with a partner is bad for your health, says one doctor.

Sharing a bed is bad for your health, according to an article on the BBC site today.

Although most married couples share a bed, says one doctor, couples should more readily consider sleeping separately for the good of their health. Although most married people take it as read that you share a bed, the practice is quite modern, he says. 

Well, it depends how far back you go, I suppose. The rich have always had their own rooms, and since marriages were generally about land and title rather than love, couples did not generally share a room until the Victorian era. But the idea of a ‘bed’ at all is something relatively new outside the coteries of the rich. For most of history, most people bedded down on straw mattresses slung down on the floor of a ‘great room’ that combined living, cooking and eating. During the day, the mattresses were stacked out of the way or kept in storage furniture, much like futons in a traditional Japanese home. Bedrooms were makeshift at best, sometimes nothing more than a platform above the living area. 

The practice of not having a bed continued for many years for servants and apprentices. Oliver Twist, you may recall, had no bed of his own, but slept under the undertaker’s desk after the shop was closed. 

However, wherever people could sleep together, they usually did, throughout history, for reasons of warmth if nothing else. In medieval times, the whole household would get into ‘bed’ together – master and mistress of the household, chlldren and servants alike, and snuggle down under the covers. The idea of privacy is also, clearly, a modern conceit.

By Tudor times, English beds were proper wooden structures with heavy drapes to close against the cold, while in countries like Sweden, and areas such as Brittany, they were built into cupboards in the walls. Having lived in a draughty old pile for years now, I can see why. For many years, my husband and I had a sleigh bed built into a set of wardrobes. These are very popular in France, and often take up one whole wall of a bedroom, with cupboards, bedhead and above-bed mirror all built-in – no draughts around your neck, and fabulous sound insulation. 

This winter, however, I envisage a problem coming up when it comes to sleeping. I still have a chronic cough and wheezing (bronchitis? asthma? who knows?) and chances are, the pulmonologist, when I see him, is going to tell me to keep our bedroom temperature up and the windows closed this winter. This will present a big problem for my husband, who likes a cool room and can’t sleep without the windows open. Our new bedroom, although beautifully light and airy, is freezing cold. 

In consequence, I’m getting the sewing room ready as a backup and will set up our daybed in there, with a sleeping bag for me, for really cold nights. It’s a lovely room, and much warmer than our bedroom as it’s directly over the fire, but the DH finds it too stuffy to use as a bedroom full time and it also has the disadvantage of facing west, so you don’t wake up without a thousand alarm clocks. However, for me, it will be better than waking up coughing, even if it means sleeping separately this winter.  

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