Why do Danes use separate duvets for sleeping?

Why do Danes use separate duvets for sleeping?
Photo: Hotel Mayfair
There’s a surprising amount of history, science and culture bound up in the different approaches to co-sleeping, both in Denmark and around the world.

When I told people I was moving to Denmark, many mentioned hygge, the weather, and pickled herring.

They didn’t mention… the duvets.

As a British guy moving in with my Danish girlfriend in Copenhagen I was shocked to see that on our bed were two separate duvets.

To her, this was totally normal, but to me it made me question the strength of our relationship: Why wouldn’t we have the intimacy of sharing the same duvet together?

Other non-Danes I spoke with thought it was peculiar (or weren’t aware) and most Danes (and internationals from northern Europe) said they’d never really thought about it: “Of course it makes sense to have separate duvets”.

This perplexed me, and thus began an investigation into these different approaches to co-sleeping, which ultimately led to starting the What The Denmark podcast with my co-host, Danish TV journalist Josefine Volqvartz.

Sharing beds through the ages 

For most of human history (in cold climates), whole families would share the same bed to preserve warmth and save on space. It was totally normal for multiple generations (and sometimes servants or strangers) to snuggle up together.

In a fascinating conversation with Dr Hilary Hinds, author of A Cultural History of Twin Beds, I learnt that around the 1900s in the UK there became a health scare that said sharing the same bed was unhygienic.

As such, modern, well-to-do couples started having separate (twin) beds – it was seen as vogue.

After World War Two the role of women changed (in the UK at least) to focus more on being the homemaker. This meant creating an environment that conveyed warmth, cosiness and stability when the man returned home from work.

Separate beds were seen as prudish and signaled that the sexual dimension of the relationship was failing. 

This made large, shared duvets for the couple the norm that proliferated through society and popular culture.

Photo: David Dolyak

Separate duvets = a failed marriage?

For reasons still unclear, the concept of having two duvets on one large bed never caught on in the UK.

This sounds crazy once you see it in practice, but I can’t overstate enough that before I stepped into my Danish girlfriend’s apartment, I had never even considered it was possible that people could have two separate duvets on one double bed.

It was like part of my brain had learnt from growing up in the UK that the universal law is one duvet per bed and so when you have a single bed, you have a single duvet and when you have a double bed, you have a double duvet. The end.

Upon seeing two separate duvets on my girlfriend’s bed, the only thing my brain could compute was that this meant separate beds, and therefore we had become a loveless couple who don’t sleep together!

For people who have grown up seeing couples have multiple duvets on one bed, it’s a completely different framing.

Which approach is best?

With my bedroom paradigm shifted, this then led to the question of which is the best style for sleeping together?

Well, it turns out that there’s a lot to consider.

Sleep quality

From a scientific perspective, sharing a duvet is bad news for your sleep quality. 

I spoke with sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, who has been researching the topic for years, and his summary is that couples sharing a bed who want to get the best night’s sleep possible should have separate duvets.

The majority of sleep disturbance comes from being at an uncomfortable temperature, or having a duvet pulled away (aka duvet wars) and so each person having their own duvet is by far the best route.

Intimacy

The shocked reaction of most people who have only encountered shared duvets is that it feels… unromantic.

You might not get the best night’s sleep, but you are unequivocally in union with your sleep partner. 

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has never heard of shared duvets thinks it means it will signal that they love their partner less, and so they instinctively shy away from the idea.

Aesthetics

Admittedly it was my podcast co-host Josefine who brought this up, but the look of a duvet is a consideration. Many people believe that one large double duvet over a bed looks much better than two singles. 

As such, they may be willing to have a double duvet (or covering) so that the bedroom looks much nicer.

Others have said there’s more flexibility in sleeping positions with a large duvet and so enjoy it for that.

Availability

In researching the topic I travelled to Denmark’s largest bedding company Jysk to understand the options available to customers.

Over 90 percent of the duvets on offer (and, importantly, duvet covers) are for single duvets, which means it’s much tougher to get the double duvet you want.

File photo: Kurt Nielsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Contrast this to the UK and it is almost impossible to buy adult single duvets. Sleep expert Dr Neil had to travel from the UK to Amsterdam to get his own (single) duvets.

Danes and non-Danes who have made the switch

Through the multiple interviews done during this research I spoke with a variety of people who have turned their back on historical precedence, overcome the availability issue and now use the separate/shared approach. 

People seem to favour shared duvets for the aesthetics or freedom it affords, whereas others have switched to separate for sleep quality purposes. Interestingly, most people who try separate duvets don’t feel that it compromises the intimacy.

Around the world it seems that other northern European countries (Switzerland, The Netherlands, Sweden etc.) typically have the separate duvet approach, especially elder generations.

Why do Danish couples sleep with separate duvets?

All this leads us to answering the question of why. No definitive answer exists (that I can find), however from the hours of research we’ve invested in the topic we can speculate on the following:

  • “That’s the way it’s always been”: as with a lot of things in life, we rarely question things that seem so normal to us.
  • There’s not as much “prestige” in having a large bed: unlike, for example, in the UK, which was much more class based and so those who were rich had the means and motivation to display their wealth through their large personal bed (which would have one duvet).
  • It’s cold in the north: Denmark, and other northern European countries where the practice is common are typically colder. As such, the stakes are higher if someone isn’t covered by a duvet.
  • Danes (and other countries) are more practical in their approach to co-sleeping – ensuring each person has enough duvet to sleep comfortably.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this topic or want to hear the final studio-produced podcast episode then you can listen (for free) by finding What The Denmark on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred podcast platform.

Sam Floy runs a professional podcast agency in Copenhagen called Cofruition. He is the co-host of What The Denmark: a podcast that explains things that seem peculiar as an outsider in Denmark. The show launches on Thursday April 8th and is available to listen to free on all podcast platforms.


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