Sleeping Single
"Great news, honey! Our nightstand is expecting!"

"I don't mind telling you, we pushed our beds together that night! And that was no mean feat; her room, as you know, is across the hall."
Niles Crane, Frasier

Once upon a time, back in The Thirties and The '40s, there was a thing called The Hays Code. Created in 1930 and strictly enforced after 1934, it had a lot of censorship rules foisted on American filmmakers by the Moral Guardians (the Hayes Office was actually created by the studios themselves, in part, because they feared that actual government censorship would be the result of failing to rein things in). One of the "don'ts" that weren't to be shown in films under any circumstances was "Any licentious or suggestive nudity." Further down, in what was described as the "be careful" section, was "Man and woman in bed together."

The result was this trope. Although as noted above it wasn't strictly forbidden to show men and women in bed together, in practice it almost never happened, at least not after 1934. Couples of any type were never shown in bed together, even if they were married, even if the work in question featured them having children. If couples were shown in a bedroom, they were consigned to a pair of twin beds, usually with a nightstand in between so you didn't imagine them ever pushing the beds together when we weren't watching. Exactly where all those onscreen kids came from was not a question you were supposed to ask.

This trope carried over to television in the 1950s and remained in effect until censorship standards loosened and The Hays Code became a dead letter in the 1960s, replaced by the MPAA ratings system for films and FCC censorship for television. The first live-action TV couple to share a bed on television, who were not already married in real life, were Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched. By the early '70s, the trope had been discarded entirely on such series as The Brady Bunch and The Bob Newhart Show.

While mostly a Dead Horse Trope now, it might crop up from time to time in parody. It might also be used as a shorthand indicator that a married couple's relationship is in trouble. Nowadays, if a couple is depicted as doing this, it represents that they have a very distant or antagonistic relationship. A reversal of this trope occurs when the characters aren't in a romantic relationship but There Is Only One Bed. Not related to Exiled to the Couch.


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  • The couple in this Sleep Number commercial.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Serial Experiments Lain: While we never see them sleeping, Lain's parents have separate beds. This comes off as rather strange given how oddly physical they seem together around the house. It serves as one of the first clues that something is wrong with Lain's family structure.
  • Rare modern (2009) example: In CLANNAD After Story, Nagisa and Tomoya sleep on different futons. After getting married. Because placing two futons together is really hard to do. Though maybe this isn't as surprising considering they have a literal No Hugging, No Kissing Chaste Relationship, where they never go beyond holding hands at least onscreen, anyway. Obviously they go farther than that, since Nagisa eventually gets pregnant. In fact it's outright mentioned in conversation that they've slept together. But other than that Nagisa and Tomoya's relationship is distinctly portrayed as physically chaste.
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka, one of the girls that Onizuka helps is upset that her family has become distant since acquiring money. She compares the distance to the wall that exists between her two parents rooms (and beds). Onizuka takes the literal approach at solving the problem and puts a gigantic hole in said wall with a hammer.
  • Seen in the epilogue of CLAMP's Man of Many Faces, in spite of some previous knot-tying. This is likely related to the manga's "All Ages" rating (in the US).
  • Fight! Iczer-One, an anime from the late 1980s, provides an extremely unusual example. Nagase's parents seem to have separate beds. This is a pretty hardcore yuri anime we are talking about.
  • In Eureka Seven, the first time we see Holland's room, Talho is sleeping naked in his bed...while he sleeps on his couch. She's pregnant about thirty episodes later, so clearly they worked it out at some point.
  • In Victorian Romance Emma, the aristocratic couples the maids serve usually have separate bedrooms. Truth In Manga, sleeping together every night was not considered proper behavior for a well-bred couple in that era, even if they were Happily Married.

    Fairy Tales 
  • This is implied in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" — how else could Papa Bear's bed be too hard, but Mama Bear's too soft? (Of course, nowadays there are beds with adjustable hardnesses on each side, but still.) Also justified, as the fact that they need different mattress firmnesses is probably why they have separate beds.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Examined and parodied in Alien Trespass, where one couple does have separate beds, but share one for a romantic interlude.
  • Used to contrast the protagonist's two marriages in The Captains Paradise.
  • A Christmas Story shows Ralphie's parents with the twin bed setup as he cleverly hides the BB gun advert in his mother's magazine.
  • A strange example in Giant. Bick and Leslie do this later in their marriage, even though they started by sleeping in the same bed and are still Happily Married.
  • A Guide For The Married Man depicted married couples in twin beds while husbands and their girlfriends used double beds.
  • The movie Pleasantville, largely set inside the world of a fictional '50s sitcom, makes explicit reference to this trope. One of the signs that the show's world is changing is that larger beds are for sale.
    • And later, beds being restricted to a maximum width to try protecting the Status Quo.
  • The Thin Man, which is from the 30s, though they get much crap past the radar in dialogue anyway. And there was that time on the train.
  • Classic 1955 Alfred Hitchcock movie The Trouble with Harry included a then-racy comment that a couple would need a double bed, which caused the heroine (played by Shirley MacLaine) to have a major blush-attack.
    • Averted in Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith, where the couple's bedroom shows only one bed.
  • Played for laughs in Little Shop of Horrors where it crops up in Audrey's sitcom-inspired fantasies about married life.
  • The father Lalit and his wife start Monsoon Wedding like this, but eventually they wind up curled up together in one of the twin beds just holding one another.
  • Single beds silliness from the 1952 film, The Marrying Kind.
  • The couple in Seconds is having single beds which underpins their loveless marriage.
  • In Wild Orchids, a 1929 silent film made before the Sleeping Single trope was enforced, this is a plot point. John Sterling is aghast when presented with a double bed, and is relieved to find out that he and his wife will be sleeping in separate rooms. This underscores the lack of any sex in the Sterling marriage, which is driving his wife into the arms of another man.
  • Gregory and Paula from Gaslight are newlyweds however sleep in separate rooms, which is unusual even by Victorian standards. Considering Gregory's ulterior measures it makes more sense he'd keep her distant.
  • This was never mandatory in French cinema, so in The Earrings of Madame de... it obviously emphasizes that while Andre and Louise remain friendly, their marriage is now completely sexless and passionless.
  • In H.M. Pulham, Esq. poor Harry is doing this on his honeymoon. While this is an Enforced Trope, of course, it helps reinforce how Harry has chosen safe, rather dull Kay over his exciting girlfriend Marvin.
  • Soundly averted in My Reputation with Ginna and Cary.

    Live-Action TV 
  • I Love Lucy:
    • The series is infamous for this, although the twin beds were actually pushed together throughout the entire first season. After Ricky and Lucy had a child, the network had a nightstand put between them to "diminish the impact of the suggested sexual history".
    • It was actually averted a couple of times. In one strange instance, Fred says that Ethel woke him by not being there "because there was no one poking him in the ribs and telling him to roll over" which pretty much means they needed to be in the same bed. While shortly afterwards in the same episode they are shown sleeping in twin beds.
    • In another episode, both Fred and Ethel and Lucy and Ricky are briefly depicted as sharing a double bed in a motel that they stop at on their way to Hollywood. However, neither couple actually gets to sleep because a train keeps going by and moving the bed across the floor.
  • While technically holding to this trope, Rob and Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show were arguably the first TV couple to be shown having an obviously dynamic and energetic romantic relationship, due to the fantastic chemistry between stars Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
    • This also goes for Gomez and Morticia Addams of The Addams Family ("Tish! That's French!"), who subverted the trope constantly.
    • Likewise Herman and Lilly of The Munsters, who were actually shown in bed together a few weeks after the Bewitched episode mentioned in the page intro. This may or may not have been hand waved by them being 'weird'.
    • However, this trope was completely averted by the very first sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny, which aired from 1947 to 1950. It showed the featured couple sharing a bed, and even depicted Mary Kay's real-life pregnancy. It should be noted that the stars were real-life married couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns.
  • In the Chained Heat episode of Hey Dude!, the handcuffed Ted and Brad spend an uncomfortable night in bunk beds when you would think a double-bed would be the best choice. The best choice anywhere but TV land.
  • On Fawlty Towers, Basil and Sybil did this, although by then they could have easily shared a bed. They just hate each other.
  • Ned and Chuck from Pushing Daisies have to sleep in twin beds, as Chuck would die by touching Ned, but it also helps with the general retro feel of the show. Later on they put the beds together separated by a plastic sheet, with an inserted arm-glove for hugging.
  • Lampooned in the Roseanne episode "The Fifties Show", which satirizes various old sitcoms.
    Dan: What do you say tonight we push our twin beds together and...?
    Roseanne: Stop, the kids will hear you!
  • One episode of Keeping Up Appearances had Hyacinth get a flat in a former big country house as a holiday home. Although they slept in the same bed at home, in the flat they had twin beds; Hyacinth implied they're now too old to be getting up to anything which would require a double.
  • In a Married... with Children episode Al makes separate beds, because he hates sharing the bed with Peggy.
  • In perhaps a parody of this trope, Bree and Orson are shown in a hotel room with twin beds in one episode of Desperate Housewives, despite the fact that they're there on their honeymoon.
  • On Seinfeld, Frank and Estelle Costanza have separate beds. But as Frank explains, it's because Estelle has the "jimmy arms" and this was the only way either of them would get any sleep.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Lily tried this. It didn't last.
  • Done as a throwaway gag on Scrubs. Eliot's WASP-ish, emotionally distant father comes to visit, and says that her mother is having the bedroom redecorated... but he's keeping his the same.
  • In Doctor Who Rory and Amy have been unwillingly doing this, as after the TARDIS shenanigans result in their bedroom being deleted, they tell the Doctor that when he has the TARDIS create a new one, leave out the bunk bed.
    The Doctor: But bunk beds are cool! It's a bed with a ladder!
    • They may have just been using one of the beds together, and wanted a single large bed for greater comfort. After all, Amy and Rory still managed to conceive a child while in the TARDIS. (When fans asked how and when, Steven Moffat and Neil Gaiman both tweeted — accidentally at the same time, and completely by coincidence — "on the ladder".)
  • Francis and Elizabeth Urquhart in the House of Cards (UK) trilogy. They seemed to have a very open marriage.
  • Frank and Claire Underwood in the American version of House of Cards (US) are like this too.
  • For a single episode of The King of Queens the couple sleep in separate twin beds. A delivery mistake brought them twin beds instead of a new king-size and they are told it will take time to fix and ship out the replacement bed. They grow to like the separate beds (she can read late and he can eat in bed without disturbing each other) and consider keeping them while their friends and family become increasingly worried that their marriage is in trouble. In the end, they decide they miss sleeping in the same bed and send for the replacement bed.
  • Averted on The Morecambe And Wise Show where the two protagonists, for no reason which was ever explained other than Rule of Funny, shared a bed. Ernie Wise took inspiration from Laurel and Hardy in their short Early to Bed.
  • Played with on Father Ted Ted and Dougal have twin beds in the same room, again for no evident reason other than Rule of Funny.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) has an episode where a grandmother dies and convinces her grandson to commit suicide to join her in the afterlife... what's really important though is that the parents sleep in single beds.
  • Niles and Maris on Frasier.
    Niles: I don't mind telling you we pushed our beds together that night! And that's no small task, her bed, as you know, is across the hall.
  • Inverted on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. When Jemma is stranded on an alien planet and meets an American astronaut who had been there awhile, they work together for several weeks before falling in love, and we get a Sexy Discretion Shot of them making out before the commercial break. After the break, we see their two cots pushed together, clearly implying that they had sex.
  • Arrested Development. Tobias and Lindsey are shown sleeping in two different beds in season 4 after getting a new, oversized house. The trope is used here to show their failed marriage.
  • Zig-zagged in Green Acres The Douglases had no furniture when they first moved into Green Acres and for a short time temporarily rented Mr. Haney's single cots. A little later, Lisa brings over their lavish double bed.
  • The Howells slept single on Gilligan's Island.

  • In A Brother's Price this is normal ... mainly because it would get very crowded with ten to thirty wives per husband. The women take turns visiting their husband.
  • In Dragon Bones, this is standard for noble families. The queen and king have an arranged marriage, and may not even have consummated the marriage, as king Jakoven prefers young men. He encourages other men to start affairs with queen Tehedra ... only to then assassinate the nice young men, and leave the queen heartbroken. He's ... not a nice person.
  • In the Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt Jr, all married imagers are required to have separate quarters from their spouses. This is because Imagers sometimes Image in their sleep, which could be dangerous for anyone else in the room. This rule only applies to the literal act of sleeping, as several married Imagers (including the main characters in both subseries) are shown to have children.
  • The Twits, and it isn't hard to see why.
  • The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov takes place on Solaria, a planet with a population so small that every individual gets their own estate of several hundred to thousand square miles. They communicate only through holographic communicators and see physical presence as disgusting. Even spouses rarely come into physical contact with one another, each having their own half of a huge mansion. This is quite common with Spacers, humans that don't live on Earth, as the Spacer buildings near New York City in The Caves of Steel are expansive domes that house small buildings inside in contrast to the City domes that Earth has.


    Video Games 
  • Strangely enough, this shows up in a few Harvest Moon games. Almost all the games require you to get a "Big Bed" to get married. For you and your spouse, right? No — for your spouse and your child. You still sleep in your own tiny bed. While it's pressed close the others, it's still separate. Where does the kid come from, then? (Other games avert this, however.) In at least one, you need a new bed which is a crib for the child, and you and your wife just share the single bed you start with. Guess you're both pretty sedate sleepers.
  • In X-Men Legends, Cyclops and Jean Grey have separate bedrooms in the mansion, though in the standalone universe of the Marvel RPG's, it's unknown how long they've been a couple.
  • Mars' grandparents in Shining Wisdom sleep in separate beds, more importantly however is that they sleep in the kitchen to allow Mars the whole upstairs as his bedroom.

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • Natsuhi and Krauss sleep in separate bedrooms, and it's heavily implied they have a Sexless Marriage.
    • George and Shannon slept in separate rooms during a date before the events of the series, to Jessica's disappointment. If they had slept in the same room, most of the series would most likely not have happened since Shannon/Sayo Yasuda's secret would have gotten out because George would have seen Shannon/Sayo's mutilated sexual organs (as well as the strong implication that Sayo was designated male at birth).

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Deconstructed in this article, which argues that couples who sleep separately tend to be happier.

    Western Animation 
  • One of the latest straight playings (in the puritan way) is the 90's Mickey Mouse cartoon Hansel and Gretel, where Mickey and Minnie don't sleep in the same bed, even though there's only one bed and this means Mickey must sleep in an armchair.
  • The Critic: Jay's adoptive parents sleep this way. In one episode, when Franklin Sherman is feeling a bit frisky, his wife says, all right, as long as he goes to her. When the light kicks on, we see a no-man's-land with barbed wire and doberman pinschers between the beds.
  • Family Guy: When Peter is lost at sea, and Brian marries Lois to keep the family together, they sleep in separate twin beds, despite Brian's nightly effort to convince Lois to have sex with him. (Keep in mind, Brian is the dog.)
    • In another episode, Peter and Lois start sleeping in separate beds (Peter calls them "Lucy and Ricky beds") after Peter rolls over and suffocates her one times too many. However, Peter asks Quagmire to sleep with him just so he wouldn't feel lonely, which is totally not gay by the way.
  • One of the first clues that Luann and Kirk Van Houten on The Simpsons might have a troubled marriage was Kirk's proposal to "push the twin beds together" after he procured a sex tonic. Later seasons saw them get divorced, though as of present they're back together.
  • The Flintstones are generally acknowledged to be the first animated couple to share a bed, but earlier seasons did have Fred and Wilma in separate beds.
    • One episode has Fred and Barney sharing a double bed. Barney mentions that he is having trouble sleeping because he and Betty sleep in twin beds. A giant ax later splits the bed, making Barney much happier.
  • In Moral Orel, not only do Orel's parents have separate beds, but there is a privacy screen between them.
    • Doughy's parents have separate rooms, though this is more because they're mentally still teenagers — Kim's bedroom, which we do see, is still decorated like a high school girl's. It should also be noted, this has no bearing on their sex lives.
  • In one episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold's grandparents are shown to have separate beds.
  • On Ed, Edd n Eddy, Edd's parents' bedroom ("please leave or I'll have to call an attorney!") is arranged like this. No wonder the kid's so uptight.
  • In King of the Hill Dale and Nancy sleep in separate beds while she was having an affair.
    • Hank and Peggy's bed is actually two beds pushed together. Hank pulls his away in one episode because he can't stand the smell of Peggy's hair.
      • Hank later explains to Bobby that they have it that way because Peggy likes her mattress firm and he likes his extra firm.
      Hank: I guess it's true, opposites attract.
  • The The Fairly OddParents! episode "Hassle in the Castle" shows that Cosmo and Wanda sleep in separate beds.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie Pie's somewhat... old-fashioned parents are shown to sleep like this. The fact that they have four kids (and strongly suggest theirs was a Perfectly Arranged Marriage) means this can't have damaged their relationship any.
  • The Fantastic Four (1967) depicted Reed and Sue sleeping in separate beds in the episode "The Terrible Tribunal" in spite of them being married.

    Real Life 
  • Averted in more old-fashioned and/or religious traditions in which the "marital bed" has a sacred significance.
  • It's not unheard of for happily married couples to sleep in separate beds or even separate rooms if their sleep habits aren't compatible or if there are medical circumstances (back problems, allergies or breathing problems, for example.) This doesn't mean they don't enjoy "together time" when the mood strikes.
  • Heck, in some places, the husband and the wife don't even share a room! (Most commonly with kings, who had to worry about things like assassination attempts. The Emperor of China eventually took to having his concubines stripped naked and wrapped up in a blanket to be delivered to his chambers for pleasure.)
    • Many upper-class homes, given their large amount of space, do often have separate bedrooms for Him and for Her.
  • Also, studies show that those who have certain sleeping habits (like snoring) or health problems are better off sleeping in different beds, and this shows that accommodating those needs improve a relationship. These studies are usually the reason for married pairs to sleep in different beds; before, different beds were considered to be wholesome and chaste, and the idea of "snuggling" was considered to be vulgar.
  • This couple decided to live in separate houses while happily married due to already having two places that sufficiently contains all their stuff but they'd have to get a bigger, more expensive place if they didn't keep both homes. Appears to work pretty well for them, and the 2006 U.S. census data reports 3.8 million couples doing the same thing.
  • When they were a couple, Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton had adjoining HOUSES.
  • Medical orthodoxy in the late 19th century was that sharing beds was unhygienic (because one lay in another person's sweat and exhaled water vapour), meaning it was highly probable that many happily married couples slept like this (of course many families couldn't afford more than one bed for the whole family, so it wasn't universal).
  • Certain Jewish traditions surrounding the Niddah, or a woman's menstrual cycle, stipulate that she sleep in a separate bed from her husband during and for several days after her cycle until she can be ritually cleansed in a bath called a mikvah. Many modern Orthodox couples set this up either this way or by giving her a separate bedroom (often a guest room) for this time.