When two beds are better than one

When Mark Nash, a real estate agent in Chicago and author of five books on real estate, included “snoring rooms” as one of the 15 housing trends Americans didn’t see coming in 2006, he scored a bull’s eye—and gave a trend a name.

We dwell in a land of sleep deprivation. Snoring, restless leg syndrome, menopausal sleep disturbances and sleep apnea—in ourselves and in our partners—all contribute to sleep deficits. And with our population aging and weighing more, sleep difficulties are only expected to rise. The biggest question might be: Why haven’t there been snoring rooms before?

Separate spaces

As defined by Nash, snoring rooms are smaller, second bedrooms usually located adjacent to master bedrooms. As the name suggests, the rooms offer relief from a partner’s snoring (or other sleep problem) and are a comfortable alternative to the sofa or guest room. Simply furnished with a double or queen–size bed, and maybe a table and chair, these rooms provide relief and a sound night’s sleep for both people.

The website of Chicago–based interior design firm Van Tullis (www.vantullis.com) features a photograph of a stylish snoring room. But snoring rooms can be as individual as the need. There’s no “typical.” Homeowners, builders and architects are taking the concept and personalizing it. For people with partners who snore very loudly, a standard snoring room in close proximity to the master suite may not solve the sound problem.

Though their newly constructed home in Beaufort, N.C., boasts a spacious master suite of 6oo square feet, the owners opted for separate sleeping rooms. Both rooms are heavily insulated and sound–proofed—and the suites are at opposite ends of the home’s second floor.

“Now I’ve got a quiet space away from the TV, and if my partner wants to read The New York Times online in the middle of the night, it’s not a problem,” says the female half of the duo, who occupies the original 600 square foot space.

For this couple, separate rooms were logical and necessary.

“We did this for our health and for our sanity,” she explains. “We can’t really sleep together in the same room. He says I snore, which I don’t hear at all, and he snores really loudly, which I do hear. For us, separate rooms were crucial.” The man’s sleeping suite, which measures an ample 575 square feet, has its own bathroom and a queen–size antique brass bed.

Some luxury home builders are taking solutions to the sublime. Steve Parker, owner of Parker/Sanders, a custom home builder in Hilton Head, S.C., recently incorporated a secret snoring solution into one of his offerings. The home, which sold for $7.58 million, boasts a passage from the master bedroom to an adjoining library. Hidden inside the custom paneling, the sleep deprived can find a cushy, built–in Murphy bed ready for occupancy.

What’s feeding the trend

The National Sleep Foundation reported in 2005 that 31% of couples are changing their sleep habits because of a partner’s sleep problems, and 23% sleep in separate beds or bedrooms or one person ends up on the sofa.

Given those numbers, it’s surprising that consumers didn’t demand snoring rooms and that enterprising architects and builders didn’t start offering them sooner.

The desire for separate sleeping quarters may continue to rise. Age and obesity both contribute to sleep problems—and our population continues to grow both older and larger.

Still, even if partners would be more comfortable in separate beds, there is a strong cultural norm encouraging couples to sleep together. We’re conditioned to believe we’ll find bliss—and sleep—in the same bed.

Changing habits

“There’s nothing wrong with a couple sleeping apart even when they’re devoted to one another,” says George H. Williams, a psychologist and martial therapist in Atlanta. “It is culturally ingrained in us that we’re supposed to sleep in the same bed. But just about every couple I’ve seen has different sleeping habits and patterns. We need to get the message across that health is more important than cultural expectations.”

As Williams observes, communication is key in altering behavior. And the bedding industry can build on the idea of snoring rooms, which are just now beginning to get widespread attention. For instance, manufacturers could team with local home builders and outfit the snoring room of a model home with its beds.

Another method would be to increase awareness of sleep–deficit problems and solutions. Both the Better Sleep Council and the NSF have a wealth of research pointing to problems that result from a lack of a good night’s sleep. (Check www.bettersleep.org or www.sleepfoundation.org.) Manufacturers and their retail partners can use such research to reach out to consumers. New BSC research on sleep will be out this spring in time for May Is Better Sleep Month consumer campaigns.

Showing people who have solved their sleeping problems is a starting point for discussion. A simple brochure used at the store level could help open lines of communication. Bullet points describing sleep disorders can help people recognize that they’re not alone or unusual in their sleep challenges.

“It’s important that couples not feel abandoned,” Williams says. “Couples need to discuss the issue at length—and frequently.”

Understanding that sleep problems are common—and that different sleeping arrangements may provide a health benefit—is a first step toward change. This straightforward approach can help alter cultural expectations and gives people permission to take positive action. Health benefits can begin to outweigh habits. That’s why for many sleep–deprived people, two beds are proving better than one.


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