How a Sleep Divorce Could Make Your Relationship Stronger
You’re not alone if the pandemic has unearthed small (or large) relationship irritations. Your partner’s chewing might send you spiraling. Snoring might induce rage. Or, after spending every waking moment together for nearly a year, you might have come to terms with a regrettable truth: You love your live-in partner, but you want a sleep divorce.
What is a sleep divorce, you ask? It’s an arrangement whereby couples decide that they need individual sleeping arrangements (think: separate beds, different sleep times, or entirely different rooms). There are lots of reasons you might need a sleep separation. If one of you works late nights, then sleeping together could involve 3 a.m. disruptions. One of you might have a sleep disorder that makes sleeping in the same bed unpleasant or even unsafe. It’s also possible that you and your partner started sleeping separately for some reason during this pandemic and you discovered that you enjoy the extra bed space.
If you want concrete proof that sleep divorces are useful overall, there hasn’t been much research on the matter (sorry). But it’s clear that some of the issues that might prompt a sleep divorce can definitely be harmful to your rest. For instance, a literature review published in 2016 in Chronobiology International found some evidence that sleeping with someone who snores can have a negative impact on your own sleep quality. The bottom line: There’s more research needed to examine how sleeping together (and separately) impacts overall mental and physical health—but you should do what’s best for you sleep-wise if you can.
We know that proper sleep fuels your overall well-being. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), sleep can help you consolidate memories and rebuild muscle, among a host of other benefits. On the flip side, over time, insufficient sleep can increase the chances of conditions like high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes, according to the NINDS.
Still—even with a good night’s sleep on the line—it can be hard to tell someone that you want to spend every single night away from them. So if you think you want to break up every night (but stay together), we asked a relationship expert for some tips.
1. Remind yourself that sleeping apart doesn’t mean your relationship is terrible.
If you’ve discovered solo sleeping and never want to go back, or you’re just curious about it, remember that it’s not a statement on your overall relationship. It’s true that sleeping together is one of those things that our society generally views as inherent to a committed romantic relationship. In the aforementioned literature review, the researchers found that for many couples, sleeping next to each other is a binding ritual. But people in relationships get to infuse their interactions with meaning. It’s okay if you’d like to snooze with a little space between you because you know the rest you get separately is much better than the rest you get together.
2. Be gentle in your approach.
If you’re at the point where you’re ready to sleep in separate places, your partner probably knows about your sleep issues. Even so, it can be hard to tell someone you love that you want a sleep divorce, and the truth is you might have feelings about it too. “In most cases, it’s going to be painful for both people that, for whatever reason, you can’t share a bed at night,” says Emily Jamea, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist. She suggests being honest about any sadness you feel. “When we communicate a change in behavior with empathy … that softens the blow,” she explains.
3. Consider some sleep compromises.
If you’re bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, different beds might seem like the best solution. But is there room for compromise? Could you sleep apart on weeknights and spend weekends together? Just as couples can define relationships on their own terms, you’re allowed to bring creativity to your sleep routine. “Look for areas of compromise where you can,” Jamea says.
4. Spend time cuddling before bed.
Sleeping with your partner might not be amazing right now, but it probably has hidden benefits for both of you. If the two of you typically chat before bed or cuddle in the morning, then you should try to keep those rituals alive. “If I have couples who don’t typically sleep in the same bed, I encourage them to spend some time snuggling in one of the beds, so they have that intimate moment before splitting off,” Jamea says. Even if you’re not a snuggler, creating a nighttime ritual—like watching TV in a bed an hour before you go to sleep—that makes sleeping separately a little less foreign could be helpful.
5. Be intentional about other forms of physical closeness.
“Ramp up physical affection throughout the day,” Jamea says. It doesn’t have to result in sex (unless you want), but Dr. Jamea says anything from taking a shower together to hanging on the same couch during a Netflix binge goes a long way. “Those kinds of things create physical intimacy … and will help you feel close with your partner,” she explains. If you’re concerned that sleeping apart might interfere with your sex life, then you should talk about that as well. You can schedule sex to keep the momentum going or find other creative workarounds.
Finally, we have to note that maybe your heart wants a sleep divorce, but your tiny apartment tells a different story. If space is an issue, take a look at why you’d like to sleep separately and see if there are compromises you can make. For instance, a white noise machine might drown out snoring, and separate blankets could eliminate any comforter hogging during the night. Additionally, if you or your partner has a disruptive sleep disorder, a chat with a primary care provider or sleep specialist might be in order.