Collage image of woman sleeping in bed and man sleeping in bed

Could a Sleep Divorce Save Your Relationship? Here’s What to Know

Whether it’s snoring that keeps you up all night, an accidental elbow to the face that jolts you out of a blissful dream or the insistence to keep the television on when you’re just about ready to turn out the light, you might be heading towards a sleep divorce. But as drastic as that sounds, all it entails is sleeping in separate beds, which is something couples have been doing for a long time now as a signifier of the relationship going south. The difference here? People are realizing that it could actually improve their intimacy rather than destroy it.

According to the Better Sleep Council, more than 25% of couples are opting for a sleep divorce, and it’s an arrangement that’s on the rise. In a 2020 survey, 35% of adults even admitted that the pandemic has led them to consider buying a separate bed. That’s no surprise when you consider that studies have shown people are less likely to wake up during the night and more likely to get almost 30 additional minutes in the deeper stages of sleep when they weren’t in the same room as their partners.

Sleep, as most already know, plays a pretty important role in your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. When you don’t get enough of it, you might find yourself feeling cranky, leaving you to take out your frustrations on the person you caused it all: your significant other.

“Poor sleep can easily disrupt our moods and alter our behaviors,” explains Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles. “This is why therapists and physicians will often ask their patients how they are sleeping as this can be a major contributor to a persons’ well-being.”

In other words, if separate beds translate to better rest, it could also mean fewer fights with and resentments toward your loved one. That said, before you go and give a sleep divorce a shot, here’s what experts want you to know.

What Is a Sleep Divorce?

The term “sleep divorce” has been making the rounds online for more than a year now, but it’s just a dramatic way of describing the decision to not sleep in the same bed as your long standing partner anymore.

There are many ways to have a sleep divorce, though. For some couples, it may mean having individual beds in the same room so that both partners can sleep through the night undisturbed by each other’s tossing and turning. For others, it may mean sleeping in different rooms entirely due to noise issues. Ultimately, it’s all about finding what arrangement addresses the specific problem you and your partner are struggling with.

As for Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, she prefers the term “independent sleep.”

“Any couple who is not getting enough sleep with their partner nearby might benefit from sleeping apart,” says Cocharo. “This can include people bothered by snoring, differences in heat regulation, restlessness, illness, even blanket hogging.”

What are the Benefits of a Sleep Divorce?

Being in separate beds allows you more physical space to roll around, which may help you to get higher quality sleep.

“Unless you are sleeping in a king-size bed — and even if you are — there actually may not be enough room to accommodate a wide range of sleep movements during the evening,” explains Brown. “Sleeping in separate beds allows both partners to have enough physical space to sleep in their own natural positions and to move about freely without interrupting their partner.”

Not only that, but if you and your partner have mismatched circadian rhythms, a sleep divorce can allow you both to accommodate your own needs. For example, if your partner is a morning person, they’ll be able to start their day at the crack of dawn without worrying about disturbing you.

If your main fear is that your sex life will take a dip by being in separate beds, think again. In reality, A good night’s rest can have the opposite effect, helping to stoke your sexual desire.

“Being sleep-deprived leads to stress that, in turn, inhibits your libido,” says Brown. “The quality and frequency of sex can actually improve if both of you are enjoying the many benefits of a good night’s sleep.”

While personal space is important in any relationship, this is particularly true once the pandemic forced couples to spend more time than ever together. Cocharo says that if you think your relationship could benefit from a little separation (and that’s been hard to achieve), a sleep divorce may be just the breather you both need. Again, there’s no reason why this has to take a toll on your intimacy — in fact, it can add some intrigue back into the relationship.

“Scheduling time to cuddle and make love can be more mindful and exciting,” explains Cocharo. “Planning when to have intimate time harkens back to the early stages of the relationship before we just put on our jammies and collapsed exhausted.”

If you suspect the spats between you and your partner may have something to do with inadequate sleep, Cocharo also notes that sleeping apart may actually reduce your arguing.

“When people are sleep deprived, they are more irritable,” she tells AskMen. “This can lead to bickering and quicker frustration and anger. When we are well-rested, we tend to have more patience and can approach our partners with understanding and compassion.”

Should I Try a Sleep Divorce?

Israel and Cathie Helfand, a husband and wife counseling team for couples, don’t recommend a sleep divorce if your relationship is already on the rocks. On the other hand, if your generally happy relationship is taking a hit due to irritable sleepless nights in bed, it might be worth a shot.

Fun fact: men have a 12% higher chance of snoring, and according to Brown, those noses are one of the most common reasons why couples choose a sleep divorce.

“Couples that have good reasons are those with health issues or in surgery recovery,” note the Helfands. “Another common issue is sleep apnea machines and different schedules, which can be a logistical nightmare. And sometimes it’s a result of past habits or trauma. Some examples are PTSD from active duty, childhood abuse, or simply being used to sleeping alone.”

Another legitimate reason why you might decide to try a sleep divorce? If you and your partner require very different sleep environments. For example, one of you needs total darkness and a cool temperature, while the other prefers a night light, a warmer room, and a white noise machine.

How Do I Go About Having a Sleep Divorce?

The first step is to have the sleep divorce discussion with your partner. Are they happy with the conditions and quality of their sleep? What would they change if they could? How would they feel about separate beds (or being in entirely separate rooms)?

“A lot of what we do is encourage couples to start a dialogue, and often separate sleeping arrangements will be a catalyst for starting bigger conversations about comfort and needs,” the Helfands tell AskMen. “Opening up the conversation about what each person needs from the relationship is a huge step for couples, and one that will benefit most relationships.”

As is the case with any major changes in your relationship, both people need to be on board with a sleep divorce. If you’re on the same page, Brown recommends doing a test run to ease into this arrangement. Try sleeping in separate beds or rooms for just one week, and then circle back to share how you felt about it. Once you’ve re-evaluated, you’ll be able to tell whether or not this approach is going to benefit you both in the long run. You’ll also have an opportunity to discuss whether any adjustments are needed.

“For example, if one or both of your love languages is physical touch, perhaps try making sure that you cuddle before you go to bed, and then repeat this in the morning by having one partner climb into their partner’s bed in the morning,” explains Brown. “Remember that you always want to find ways to both feel your love, express your love, and expand your love for each other. This gives you a chance to miss each other… and that can help you get in touch with wanting to spend more waking time together.”

Bottom line? Creating some distance when it comes to sleep could actually bring you closer together — but only if you’re doing it for the right reasons while making a conscious effort to stay connected in other ways.

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