What Is Sleep Divorce & Is It Bad for Marriage?

Inspiring Stories

We live in an age of great change. Conventional structures, rituals, and beliefs seem to be dissolving everywhere you look, replaced with new paradigms and approaches. 

This is most obvious in relationships; younger generations have an almost entirely different view on marriage, love, and what makes a healthy relationship compared to their parents or grandparents.

There are explorations around monogamy, gender roles, and healthy communication. Many habits or behaviors once normalized as “just the way it is,” are questioned. The positive side of this curiosity is that it allows people to find what works for them. It gives couples a blank slate to build a relationship from the ground up.

Sleep divorces are one particular rising trend in relationships. Despite the word “divorce” bringing to mind break-ups, this revolutionized approach to sleep habits could be a savior for many relationships. Is a sleep divorce what your relationship needs? Read on to find out everything you need to know about sleep disorders like sleep apnea, sleeping in separate rooms, and how to get a good night’s sleep while still staying in love.

Sleeping in separate beds? 

Put simply, a sleep divorce is the decision between a couple to stop sleeping in the same bed. That might mean having a separate bed in the same room, or sleeping in a different room altogether. 

In years gone by, the idea of a married couple sleeping separately was unheard of — yet a survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that a quarter of couples already choose to sleep apart. And, in a recent survey of 3,000 Americans, a third said they’re considering trying to sleep separately.

There are a number of reasons to consider a sleep separation. Whether it’s loud snoring (sleep apnea), a craving for personal space, or conflicting schedules, whatever results in insufficient sleep is a potential recipe for disaster. My partner and I have already agreed that, should we move in together, we’d make sure to have a spare room. There’s something liberating in accepting that, as nice as a cozy snuggle can be, sometimes an option to sleep alone is best.

(Prostock-Studio / Getty)

According to the experts

Wendy M. Troxel Ph.D., a sleep specialist, explained the conflict between social conditioning and sleeping with a partner. Although many couples much prefer sleeping together, is it always optimal for sleep hygiene?

“When sleep is measured objectively, people actually sleep worse with a partner. In fact, if you sleep with someone who snores, you can blame them for up to 50 percent of your sleep disruptions. But when you ask those disrupted sleepers ‘Do you prefer to sleep with your partner or do you prefer to sleep alone?’ Most say that they prefer to sleep with their partner. This suggests that our social brain is prioritizing our need for closeness and security at night — even when it comes at a cost to our sleep.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are benefits of sleeping together or choosing a sleep divorce. The decision to try a sleep divorce depends on considering the pros and cons and assessing whether it’s the right decision for your relationship, away from expectations or social conditioning.

The downsides: cons of a sleep divorce

There are different approaches to sleep issues in a relationship. A couple who end up sleeping separately due to an increased lack of connection, or building resentment, for example, will differ from a couple who share a deep loving connection and choose to have separate spaces to feel fully rested and retain individuality. 

For a sleep divorce to be healthy and beneficial, there has to be a desire to maintain intimacy. As the day winds down, or before competing demands of schedules and obligations begin, there’s an opportunity to connect with your partner. That can be difficult with a sleep divorce as often the time before falling asleep, and the time spent cuddling when waking up, is crucial for a sense of togetherness. 

A potential drawback of a sleep divorce is that those moments become less frequent. But creative solutions can always be found. “If you’re an owl and your partner’s a lark, you could share some time together in bed before he falls asleep; when he does, you can quietly leave the room and then return at your natural bedtime,” Troxel writes. “Or, when your partner wakes up before you, he could start his early-bird day and return to you later to wish you good morning — ideally, with coffee in hand.

It’s vital you and your partner are on the same page if considering a sleep divorce. What will the arrangement look like? Will it be every night? Be aware that a sleep divorce has the potential of being an excuse to avoid deeper relationship problems. Honesty around your motivations in suggesting a sleep divorce is crucial.

The pros of sleeping separately

As science suggests, it could be that most of us would get a better night’s sleep if alone. Sleep is crucial in maintaining mood and for overall well-being. And, when it comes to relationship quality, sleep deprivation can lead to a reduced sex drive and actually create more of a division in the relationship — especially if one person blames poor sleep on their partner.

sleeping in separate beds bad for marriage
(NonChanon / Getty)

There’s no need to suffer through snoring or attempt to match sleep schedules if it doesn’t feel right. The extra space in bed, along with a good night’s rest, could have a significant positive impact on the relationship. 

The biggest benefit of a sleep divorce is having the freedom and creativity to find a solution that works best for everyone involved. 

Does your marriage need a sleep divorce?

Discerning if your marriage needs a sleep divorce is unique to every couple. It takes a level of honesty and openness in discussing the possibility, and making sure you’re both doing it for the right reasons. 

Like everything in relationships, it’s also not always the case that you’ll both be on the same page. Maybe one of you sleeps better than the other. 

Finding a middle ground

The main thing is to find a compromise, and be clear that the desire is to improve the relationship. Are you regularly struggling to sleep well? Do you or your partner snore, to the extent it disrupts sleep? Is it practical to look into options of sleeping apart? Are there other issues around intimacy or connection that have to be addressed?

An element of maturity is required to navigate any conversations around a sleep divorce. It can be easy to take things personally or to jump to conclusions.

what is sleep divorce
(SDI Productions / Getty)

When having conversations around the possibility of sleeping in separate beds, keep in mind it’s natural for anxiety or concerns that this means there’s something wrong with the relationship. Understanding that a sleep divorce is often a positive decision can help mitigate those initial fears.

How to stay connected through a sleep divorce?

Creativity is key to staying connected through a sleep divorce. 

Knowing the emotional and physical intimacy are vital in healthy relationships, it pays to think of creative solutions to maintain that connection, even if sleeping apart. Can you make time earlier in the evening for physical closeness? As Troxel suggests, if your sleep schedules are different, can you pay a visit either before sleep or in the morning?

Different strokes for different folks

My partner and I have experimented with different approaches. Although we don’t live together we sleep together frequently. I’m more of a morning person than she is, so occasionally she’ll stay up reading or watching TV, as I fall asleep. Then, in the morning, I’ll wake up earlier, write, and join her for coffee.

In other words, these decisions can be based on love and togetherness. I’ve had to learn that, though — initially I was concerned our lack of sleep compatibility was a problem. But there are always solutions.

Ultimately, a loving relationship transcends sleeping habits. Although it’s tempting to indulge in the romantic idea that true love means sleeping peacefully and contently in the arms of your lover… that’s not always the case!

Having the courage to consider making a decision that goes against convention, in order to better serve both people, and the relationship, is a sign of consideration and love. This should be one of the most important goals in a relationship!

And a sleep divorce doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice snuggles, either. 

sleeping in separate bedrooms divorce
(Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty)

Like what you’re reading, but need some different sleep advice? Check out our article on how to go to sleep quickly.

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