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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007 01:01 am

When two beds are better than one

Sometimes, a good night’s sleep is the best guarantee of romance

Untitled Document Love means never having to say you’re sorry — that you’re sleeping apart. Although many older couples remain young valentines at heart, experts say, the increase in snoring, sleep disorders, and stirring in bed often spurs partners to consider separate bedrooms. “I don’t think that most couples sleep apart; I think that most of them sleep together and complain,” says sleep researcher Gila Hertz. “What often happens is they start sleeping together — and either the wife or husband moves to another bed in the middle of the night.”
Hertz recommends separate beds or bedrooms for some patients but stresses the need to take gradual steps to determine a solution. If the sleep disorder is just movement, as in restless-legs syndrome, separate beds in the same room will work, she says. But if the disorder is a noise issue such as snoring, separate rooms may be needed. “You should not feel guilty,” Hertz says. “A lot of people say, ‘I would sleep downstairs, but I feel so guilty that I wouldn’t do it.’ ”
In addition to sleep disorders, different schedules may cause disruption when early risers cohabitate with night owls: One gets chores done before dawn and the other enjoys late-night TV. Furthermore, sleep becomes much lighter as we get older, experts say.
But even though these factors may cause the members of couples to sleep apart, they don’t have to drift apart. Alvin Paullay of Tappan, N.Y. and his wife, Roberta, both in their seventies, sleep in separate beds. Alvin has obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes the sleeper to stop breathing, gasp, and partially awaken multiple times throughout the night. He sleeps with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to normalize his breathing.
His wife, meanwhile, has restless-legs syndrome. But the decision to go to twin beds wasn’t predicated on any sleep disorder; it was their schedules that determined the arrangement. “When we got married, we bought twin beds with a single headboard. I was studying for my Ph.D., up late and getting into bed late, and didn’t want to disturb her,” Paullay says, “and through the years we found my sleep became very tenuous and we could not make them up as one bed, so we made them up as two beds with one cover. Just recently we started separating the twin beds about an inch or two. We can still reach across and touch each other.”
His advice for keeping connected? “You still have to be affectionate; you still have to be loving and do what you did when you were younger,” Paullay says. “If it weren’t for the sleep disorders, we’d still snuggle and cuddle; we just don’t sleep that way.”
“You’d be amazed at how many couples are sleeping in separate bedrooms,” says Dr. Michael J. Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s much more common than people realize. And the most common reason is due to snoring.”
It’s a nationwide trend, and it appears to affect women and men alike.
For years, Liz Johns, of Anadarko, Okla., was snoring her husband, Wilbur Johns, out of bed. She was in denial until one night she thought she heard a pig snort in the room. “Then I had to realize it was me,” she says. Countless doctors had attributed her nighttime snoring and daytime fatigue to everything from allergies to hormones. “I finally learned the symptoms of sleep apnea on the Internet, and the first time I read the list of symptoms I knew immediately that this was me,” says Liz. Tested and found to have a severe case, she began undergoing treatment, like Alvin Paullay, with a CPAP machine. So what about romance? “Make time for it,” Wilbur says. “You’ve got to communicate with one another. You may not be able to have the spontaneity you once had, but just learn to work through it to make everybody happy.”
As for sleeping apart or sleeping with a CPAP machine, Liz says, “A well-rested person is a lot more romantic than a groggy person.”
Some patients’ initial sleep experience with the CPAP machine is so quiet in contrast to their years of snoring, snorting, and waking that their spouses often check to see whether they’re breathing. Still, not everyone can tolerate the CPAP machine. When Charlie Hawkins, 64, of Bay Shore, N.Y., could not adapt to the bulky equipment, he was referred to Don Pantino, a dentist who specializes in treating patients with sleep-disordered breathing using oral appliance therapy. Unlike the CPAP machine, with its mask and hose, the dental appliance “looks like false teeth backwards,” says Elizabeth Hawkins, 64, who was taking a prescription pill to sleep through Charlie’s snoring, though for years she slept in a different room. But sleeping apart didn’t drive them apart. “We’ve been together for 50 years, since ninth grade,” Elizabeth says. She acknowledged missing the communication and closeness, the time “before you close your eyes and go to sleep, sharing your thoughts,” she says, “but you just tolerate it. Hey, at least he was cooperative and went for treatment.”
Former snorer Richard Samperisi, of East Islip, N.Y., advises others to schedule a sleep study for their health and consideration for their partners. “My wife is a light sleeper. How can a light sleeper possibly fall asleep when someone’s making that racket?” says Samperisi, who was found to have sleep apnea and tried the CPAP machine. “He looked like Hannibal Lecter,” says his wife, Charlene, referring the villainous character in The Silence of the Lambs who is forced to wear a mask. Instead, Richard was fitted for a dental device, and his sleep, breathing, and energy were restored. “What affected the relationship was that he didn’t have the energy to do anything,” says Charlene, 50, who worried about her husband’s condition. “Find out the problem instead of waiting,” she advises. “Be patient. If they have this problem, it’s not their fault.”

Paula Ganzi Licata writes for New York’s Newsday.
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