In the 1950s, it was common for couples to sleep in twin beds.

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author. This is his column for Esquire.

I have always had a problem sleeping next to another person. Part of this is down to my temperament; I am a light snoozer and anything from sounds to movement to changes in temperature can rouse me in the middle of the night. It also takes me far longer to get back to sleep than most people, so if I’m woken by something any time after 3 a.m, that’s basically it for me. But it’s not all bad. This witching hour is where many of my best column ideas come from, but it’s far from ideal for anyone that has to have a meeting with me the following afternoon. 

The worst period was my late teens and early twenties, in which I dated prolifically but slept fitfully. At first I could justify this by virtue of still living with my parents and not having a large enough bed, but this excuse wore thin pretty quick, especially once I moved into a place of my own with a queen mattress. The older I got, the worse my ability to enter REM sleep while in the presence of another got and soon, I became remarkably adept at making excuses for leaving quite quickly after sex (terrible) or leaving a partner’s in the middle of the night (even more terrible) just to return home and guarantee a few hours of shut-eye.

I also sent partners home from my own house, pleading an early start to work, as if that mattered in the slightest when I was 25 and working in youth media. Back then, it was a real disaster being in my orbit. How I held down a relationship—let alone a few—during this period is still beyond me. I must have exclusively dated saints.  

Perhaps Johan and Marianne in Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ would have benefitted from some sleep divorce. ALAMY

This issue thankfully eased around the time I met my wife, though certainly not immediately. The prevailing wisdom of various health professionals I consulted on this issue was that sleep is all about security, and that we only let our guard down around people we truly love. In reality, I think it’s more about the fact that my wife allowed me to set certain ground rules around sleep given that unlike myself, she could pass out in a room with Slayer playing Reign In Blood next door whereas I am often rudely awoken by the dustmen. We have blackout blinds in our room. I tend to run hot, so we have a ceiling fan. Separate alarm clocks. Simple stuff, but having this conversation at all was a first for me. It’s weird when you think about it, but actually fits into a long line of things men would rather suffer through than discuss, including their prostate, erections, receding hairlines and weight.  

It was interesting, then, to see perennial millennial fixation Cameron Diaz make headlines last year when she came out in favour of not just separate beds, but separate rooms. It launched a thousand hot takes on ‘sleep divorce’, where the larger issue around who can afford an extra bedroom for their spouse was put to one side in favour of a larger collective hand-wringing about whether separating in the evenings is the key to longer-lasting relationships.

In her defence, Diaz has managed to remain married to a founding member of Good Charlotte for this long, so they are clearly doing something right. She and Mr Madden are also not the only ones; other famous sleep divorcees include Donald Trump and his wife Melania, the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and even Posh and Becks

I’m too young to remember my grandparents at my parents’ age, but I do know that as long as they’ve been married, they’ve slept in two single beds side-by-side. Part of this is European; go to any hotel that isn’t a chain on the Continent and ask for a double room and this is what you’ll get. But more than that, it’s probably just something they worked out many decades ago, which is that to preserve their marriage (having recently crested 70 years) they should set clear boundaries when trying to get some sleep. This is something I tried to do when I was younger by nudging my feet or pulling back blankets, passive-aggressive stuff that likely just made me annoying, instead of just coming clean about my issues with sleep.

I should ask my wife about that. But as usual, she’s fast asleep.

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer, father and nu-metal apologist. He is the author of a memoir called It’s A Shame About Ray and a novel titled All the Beautiful Things You Love, to be published in April 2024. Jonno has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health, problematic faves and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire. You can see all of Jonno’s previous columns here.