Will Getting a Sleep Divorce Save or Hurt Your Relationship?
Are you and your partner having difficulties sharing a bed? A sleep divorce can offer a quick fix for sleep troubles, but it might not be the best choice for your relationship.
Mar 25th, 2021 •
The cultural norm most Americans perceive is that partners should share a bed in the same bedroom, but this hasn’t always been the case.
In fact, there was a time when it was commonplace for couples to sleep in separate bedrooms or even separate beds in a shared room. In recent decades, it’s become expected that couples should sleep together in the same bed.
But the idea of sleeping separately has returned, and this time with a catchy nickname: sleep divorce. We’ll review what a sleep divorce entails, the benefits, the downsides, and how you can decide with your partner if a sleep divorce is right for you.
What is a Sleep Divorce?
A “sleep divorce” is when a couple chooses to sleep separately. This could mean the couples sleep in individual beds in the same room, or even in separate rooms altogether. Couples usually enter a sleep divorce to avoid snoring, schedule disruptions, or compromising on personal comfort preferences.
When most of us envision a scenario that would lead to sleeping in a separate bed from our significant other, we tend to imagine a fight or disagreement. Yet, couples are increasingly sleeping in different rooms or beds not because of a rocky relationship, but in the hopes of improving individual sleep health.
If you’re struggling to sleep well throughout the night and wondering if sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms might help, you’re not alone. More and more couples around the world are beginning to sleep in separate beds in the hopes of better sleep.
History of Couples Sleeping in Separate Beds
Sleeping arrangements for couples have evolved over time. Starting in 1850, couples were advised to sleep separately to avoid spreading germs. These ideals were reinforced by television programs showing couples sleeping separately.
By 1950, fears of germ-sharing subsided and pop culture showcased the ideal couple as one that shares a bed at night. But now, couples may be considering sleeping separately again to protect their sleep quality. We’ll go more in-depth into how these shifts have taken place below.
1850-1950: The Move to Sleep Separately
From the 1850s until the 1950s, there was a strong movement for couples to sleep in separate twin beds to maintain their health and avoid spreading germs. Doctors began telling couples to sleep in separate beds and to also put their children in separate beds.
Sleeping separately in twin beds became the standard way to sleep for most couples through the turn of the century and peaked in the 1930’s. Sleeping separately in twin beds was supported by the country’s values and reflected in media and pop culture.
Hollywood influenced separate beds with images in movies and television, and the Hays Code (rules of censorship for television 1930’s through the 1960’s) dictated couples could only be shown sleeping in separate beds.
Separate beds were the fashion with shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957) that staged iconic bedrooms scenes of fully pajama clad husband and wife in individual twin beds with the large night stand between them.
1950-2000s: A Paradigm Shift Towards Couples Sharing a Bed
In the 1950’s things began changing behind the scenes in society and, consequently, in Hollywood.
First, people were growing taller and manufacturers were responding to the need for bigger beds. They began introducing larger sizes from 1941-1965, when both the queen and king sized beds entered the market.
The next factor that influenced a change in sleep habits was the end of the Hays Code in 1952. After censorship ended in Hollywood, couples were soon portrayed sleeping in one bed with far more amorous attentions lavished on each other. This change was taken up by the public as well. They saw couples in bed together happily cuddling and sleeping and they followed suit.
Around 1950, we also saw a cultural shift towards a more psycho-social view of the marriage bed. Sleeping separately became seen as a sign of a cold marriage, perhaps even one with some sexual dysfunction. A happy couple was now expected to sleep in the same bed.
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And last but not least, the fear of health risk that precipitated the separate twin bed movement in the 1850’s gave way to advances in medicine and hygiene that made it far less of a risk to sleep close to your partner.
Additionally most homes, no matter the socioeconomic level, had multiple beds or sofas that allowed one partner to easily sleep in another location when someone was sick.
2010-Present: A Return to Sleeping Separately?
The reasons we once slept separately are no longer necessary, but a whole new movement of couples sleeping apart to improve their sleep quality is on the rise. A 2015 study by the National Sleep Foundation found 25% of couples are sleeping apart.
The Benefits of a Sleep Divorce
We’ve been so culturally ingrained to believe that sharing a bed is key to a healthy relationship. We’ve been taught to “never go to bed angry” and that sleeping together connects with relationship satisfaction.
But sleeping separately can actually be good for your sleep health, and it may be worth breaking some stereotypes to reap the benefits of better sleep. Some of the main benefits of a sleep divorce include:
- No coping with a partner’s sleep disorder (i.e. snoring, RLS, sleep apnea)
- No compromise on different sleep schedules
- No disturbances from a partner’s bedtime routine (i.e. watching TV, using phone or other devices)
- No sacrifices on bedroom preferences (i.e. fan on/off, blankets on/off, mattress comfort level)
We’ll go into each of these benefits and more.
Separating from a Partner’s Sleep Disorder
One of the common reasons for sleeping apart is because one person has a condition that’s keeping the other awake at night, such as snoring.
When one partner snores, it can be a nightmare for the other to try and get enough sleep that night, especially if they’re a light sleeper. After a few too many sleepless nights, the tired partner may leave the bedroom in the hopes of a good night’s sleep.
There are other conditions, too, that can make sharing a bed difficult. Restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea can hinder sleep for both partners because of things like increased tossing and turning or the noise of a CPAP machine.
Different Sleep Schedules
Whether due to work or just general preference, it’s not uncommon to have one night owl and one early riser in a couple. This can lead to interruptions in sleep for both partners if a middle ground isn’t met.
Harmful Bedtime Routines
Do you or your spouse enjoy watching TV or scrolling through a social media app on your smartphone in bed? The excess noise, light, and stimulation can make sleep challenging. Plus, some television shows and news stories can increase the chances of nightmares and trouble sleeping.
Many of us are entering into relationships after spending years sleeping alone…sometimes even every year of our lives up to that point. If you’re accustomed to sleeping in your own space for the past 20, 30, or 40 years, it can be quite the adjustment to simply sleep in the same bed with another partner.
Even if you manage to do so and sleep well together, it’s normal to desire that time alone in your own private space that you’re so accustomed to.
Do you and your partner have different preferences in mattress firmness? Does one of you prefer to sleep with a thick comforter and the other just a thin sheet? Differences in bedroom preferences must be overcome to achieve a good night’s rest.
Sleeping with Pets and Kids
Some people prefer to sleep with their dogs, cats, or co-sleeping with kids in the bed or the bedroom, while others would prefer to only share their space with one other person. These different parenting routes can lead to one parent sharing their bedroom with a baby, dog, or cat and the other not wanting to do so.
The Downsides of a Sleep Divorce
After reading all of this, you might be thinking to yourself, “A sleep divorce doesn’t sound so bad after all!” Before you run to your partner and tell them that you need to adjust your sleeping arrangement, it’s important to examine the downsides of sleeping separately.
Just because sleep divorce is becoming more common doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice for everyone. The downsides of a sleep divorce include:
- Sex life and intimacy may suffer
- Relationship satisfaction may suffer
- You could be ignoring an underlying health concern
- You could be ignoring an underlying relationship problem
Your Sex Life and Intimacy Might Suffer
One worry when it comes to sleeping separately is sex and romance. With most sexual rendezvous happening between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., spontaneous sex is likely to slow once you stop sleeping together.
Plus, for those couples who spend 40 hours or more apart each week, time in bed is often the only substantial one-on-one time that they experience. Unless you pay close attention to make up for this intimacy elsewhere, your relationship could suffer.
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You Might Be Ignoring an Underlying Health Concern
With many people experiencing a lack of sleep due to a health condition of their partner, simply leaving the room will only fix the sleep problem for one of you. Snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, and other conditions that lead to disordered sleep need to be addressed, not ignored.
Researchers have found that patients with sleep apnea are more likely to use their CPAP machines when they sleep with their partners than when they sleep alone, demonstrating that sharing a bed might be beneficial when it comes to addressing sleep conditions.
By sleeping apart, some couples might be choosing to ignore an underlying illness rather than treat it directly, leading to other problems in the future.
Is a Sleep Divorce Worth It?
No one enjoys the feeling of not getting enough sleep the night before. It’s tough to go through a whole day using only your willpower and caffeine to get you by. And when disordered sleep continues for long stretches of time, it can impact overall health and longevity.
Adequate sleep of around 7-9 hours each night is important for optimal mental and physical health. Poor sleep, whether due to frequent waking or not sleeping for long enough, is tied to the pathogenesis of conditions like metabolic syndrome, depression, and cardiovascular disease.
Because it is so important to get enough sleep each night, sleep divorce may be the best option for certain couples. In fact, we surveyed over 1,500 adults to learn how much sleep you could save by entering a sleep divorce. Some of our main findings:
- 4 in 5 people who sleep with a partner are making sacrifices when it comes to their sleep environment
- People who sleep with their partner get less sleep and have worse sleep quality than those in a sleep divorce
- People who sleep alone get 100 more hours of sleep each year as compared to those who make sacrifices while sleeping with a partner
Yet, just because sleeping separately helps in the short term doesn’t mean that there aren’t downsides or alternatives that you should consider.
Should You Get a Sleep Divorce?
If you’re wondering whether or not you should get a sleep divorce, it’s important to realize that the answer varies from one couple to another. Before you decide to go your separate ways, as far as sleeping is concerned, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you talked to a doctor? If you or your partner has a condition that’s keeping the other awake, it’s not only the partner that’s being kept awake whose sleep is suffering. A sleep specialist or other doctor might be able to help both of you get a better night’s sleep.
- Could you meet in the middle? When it is preferences that are getting in your way, like when to go to sleep or what kind of bed to have, would you be able to find a compromise that you could each eventually become accustomed to?
- Is it the sleep environment? Sometimes it’s the room, not the people in it, that needs to be addressed. For example, a small bed or hot bedroom can make sleeping with someone else tough. Maybe all you need to do is get a larger bed and a window AC unit to allow you both to get a good night’s rest.
- How will you maintain a good sexual connection? Just because you sleep in separate beds doesn’t mean that your sex life and one-on-one time is destined to fade away, but you will have to make more of an effort to be sure that it doesn’t. Maybe one of you tucks the other into bed each night and you cuddle first, of you have one night each week that you sleep together after date nights to keep your sex life alive.
However, if you and your partner discuss it and feel like separate rooms will help you fix a lack of sleep without disrupting your love life, it might be a good option. Just be sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons, and not because you haven’t addressed an underlying problem.
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