A Short History of Bed Sharing
One of the novelties of fifteenth-century care in the great Hospital of Rhodes was the provision of a separate, curtained bed for each sick patient. Perhaps the Crusaders learned from the more medically advanced Arabs. Most European hospitals assigned at least two to a bed, while homes and taverns crowded sleepers more closely.
Communal sleeping cut across social classes in medieval Europe. While servants and poor folk huddled on rags or straw on the floor, entire families of means—or guests at an inn—shared mattresses, sheets, and blankets on raised platforms. Women, men, and children slept together. Nights were cold, beds were expensive, and notions of privacy didn’t exist.
Only gradually did the bedroom become a private space for sleep, sex, and childbirth. Well into the 1700s, monarchs received visitors in their bedchambers. Ben Franklin and John Adams shared a bed at an inn and quarreled about the window.
The Victorians ended most bed sharing with an appeal to health and morals. Though married couples eventually rebelled against mandatory twin beds, the old practice of communal sleeping is nearly extinct except for romantic/sexual pairs. Judgmentalism persists. Eyebrows rise over who’s sleeping with whom, why so-and-so sleep in separate rooms, or whether babies should sleep with a parent. Just a few centuries ago, nobody cared.
2/11/2019 09:47:36 am
They all had bedbugs anyway. And babies should NEVER sleep with their parents!
Bedbugs, yes, alas. Even today in the occasional motel room bed, alas - don't put your suitcase on it to pack or unpack. As for babies sleeping with a parent, it's common in many cultures. Risk of SIDS is higher for preemies and low-birth-weight babies but pretty low for healthy babies so long as parents don't smoke, drink, or do drugs. No matter what parents decide to do, someone will shame them for it.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.