I’ve watched a lot of TV since the pandemic. I binged all four seasons of The Crown in, like, three days. It’s fun to watch British royal families embroiled in petty drama. But if Netflix has taught me anything during quarantine it’s that if Bridgerton’s Duke and Dutchess of Hastings need to sleep in separate bedchambers to power through a day of needlepoint and parlor games, maybe there’s something to it for the rest of us common folk.
It’s called sleep divorce, and by all accounts, it’s gone mainstream.
What is sleep divorce?
Sleeping apart might have been considered a sign of marital trouble in ages past, but mainstream media is indicating that more couples are jumping on the sleeping-solo bandwagon.
Maybe you and your partner have mismatched sleep habits. One might be a snorer, while the other is a lite sleeper. One might be a heavy breather, wake up frequently to use the bathroom, or suffer from sleep apnea. One likes a hot room, the other cold. All these sleep disruptions can spell misery when it comes to getting a good night sleep.
In her book and blog, Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart, Jennifer Adams espouses the benefits of sleeping in separate beds. Indeed, many experts proclaim that feeling rested is such an integral part of life, health and relationships that it outweighs the accepted norm of sleeping together.
It’s hard to know how common the practice of sleep divorce is. Surveys and polls conducted by a wide range of organizations from mattress companies to the Better Sleep Council suggest that anywhere from 12% to 63% of couples sleep apart.
Is sleeping apart healthy for a relationship?
With all the research on sleep over the last few decades, there’s surprisingly little attention paid to the basic question of how sharing a bed with a partner shapes our sleep experience. As these German researchers put it, “Although there is plenty of psychological and medical literature on human sleep and sleep problems, sleep is mostly viewed as an individual phenomenon and couple sleep is still a neglected topic.”
Sleeping together may have evolutionary roots. It can enhance our sense of physical and emotional security when we’re asleep and most vulnerable, which in turn, can lead to better sleep and health.
But if you’re losing sleep because of your partner’s snoring, your health can be negatively impacted. Experts say that those little annoyances in the night—from snoring to hogging blankets—can spill over into marriage or relationship problems during the day, and vice versa.
Men and women also tend to have different reactions to disruptions, which can exacerbate sleep for heterosexual couples. Men are more likely to have sleep problems such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, while women are more likely to suffer from insomnia.
Is sleep divorce right for me?
Sleep divorce has become a hot topic at my work. One colleague, who’s a particularly lite sleeper, seized on the idea with gusto. She says sleeping in separate rooms has saved both her sanity and relationship.
Others have come up with compromises. One or two nights a week, they sleep in a separate room, making it more of a sleep vacation than full-fledged divorce.
If you’re considering a separate sleep space from your partner, I caution you to proceed delicately.
While researching this article, I gleefully proposed the idea of a sleep divorce to my husband. We were watching Downtown Abbey at the time, so it seemed like a good segue. He was quite taken aback. Maybe it was the casual way the word “divorce” had slipped into a conversation. The more we talked about it, the more we came to realize that we like sleeping together. We value the feeling of intimacy and assurance of having our partner lying next to us.
More research is needed on the topic of sleeping apart. In the meantime, no one knows your relationship better than you and your partner. Talk it out to find a solution that works for both of you.