It might be time for divorce—a sleep divorce, that is.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself, what is a sleep divorce? You may even be thinking it sounds like the end of a romantic relationship. Yet, a sleep divorce is increasingly popular of late, and in some instances may even save a marriage or romantic partnership.

What is a Sleep Divorce?

A sleep divorce is an arrangement where a couple sleeps separately from each other. They either sleep in separate beds, separate rooms, or at separate times. While this may sound extreme or perhaps not ideal for your sex life, for many it can help save a relationship. It may even save your life.

The Growing Sleep Divorce Trend

Although too often people express embarrassment or shame around sleeping apart from their partner, the sleep divorce trend is growing.

Curious what percentage of couples sleep separately?

According to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation, one in 10 couples sleep in separate rooms and close to one in four married couples sleep in separate beds.

Even more telling is the increasing number of custom homes built with separate master bedrooms. According to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, potential homebuyers looking for two full master bedroom suites grew from 25 to 40 percent in the 15 years leading up to 2018.

So, is sleeping in separate beds bad for marriage? Does it signal the end of your relationship? Are sleep separations even necessary, or in some cases, healthy?

The answers to those questions, however, aren’t so simple. There’s little research on the subject of bed sharing and its effect on bed partners. The research that does exist often contradicts.

Why Would I Need a Sleep Divorce?

Recently, researchers from the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in Germany studied 12 young, healthy couples in a sleep lab for four nights. Their goal — to investigate how one partner’s presence affects the other partner’s sleep neurophysiology. The study found that rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep is increased when co-sleeping, and was less disrupted when the couples slept together.

As discussed in our article How to Use Your Sleep Cycle for Your Best Sleep, REM sleep is believed to aid in memory, mood, learning and emotional processing. Improved REM sleep leading to improved mood and emotional processing is potentially important for sustaining emotionally healthy and loving relationships.

The study’s findings suggest a sleep divorce could be potentially detrimental for couples. However, although the study points to reasons couples may benefit from co-sleeping, it doesn’t include other populations such as the elderly, shift workers, or people suffering from sleep disorders.

Many of these populations, especially those suffering from sleep disorders (or their partners), experience fragmented and disrupted sleep.

Sleep Deprivation, Mental and Physical Health

As we’ve written before, restorative sleep is crucial to both your mental and physical well-being.

Lack of quality sleep is directly linked to life-threatening disorders such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction, and an increased risk of stroke.

Poor-quality sleep also is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders, as well as poor performance at work and an increased likelihood of accidents.

In addition to these more serious health issues associated with a lack of quality sleep, it may also be jeopardizing your marriage or romantic relationship. Sleep deprivation and erectile dysfunction are related, and there’s a strong correlation between increased aggression, anger, and sleep deprivation.

If co-sleeping is responsible for one or both partners experiencing sleep deprivation, choosing to sleep in separate beds or separate rooms may be exactly what your relationship needs.

Your Partner’s Sleep Disorders or Sleep Habits May Harm You

You love your partner and most likely want to share a bed, and snuggle or cuddle with them. You may look forward to crawling into bed with your special someone at the end of a long day. Regardless of whatever sexual intimacy you may or may not share, you still want to enjoy the closeness of sleeping next to one another.

The problem is that your partner’s sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, or their sleep habits may be detrimental to the quantity and quality of your own sleep, or vice versa.

If you’ve ever had to deal with a bed partner’s snoring, you already know how difficult it can be for you to get quality sleep. Research by The Sleep Disorders Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago showed that, among couples in which one partner snores, there is a higher incidence of arguing and disagreements.  As one may expect, they also experience a higher divorce rate.

You might even feel how your partner sleeps is specifically designed to keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep—that its sole purpose is to make your life a living hell. 

If your partner has a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking, or night terrors—they’re all treatable but definitely challenge your healthy sleep routine.

It may not be as serious as a sleep disorder. Perhaps your partner simply gives off too much body heat, habitually steals the covers, or has a concept of personal space that greatly differs from your own.

And let’s not forget that one of you may be addicted to late-night TV or checking social media, emails, or any other matters conveniently delivered via your blue-light emitting smartphone.

Whether it is a bona fide sleep disorder, like sleep apnea with loud snoring, or just one of many other innocent-but annoying habits, you might feel your partner’s sleep is designed to keep you awake. Perhaps even, its sole purpose is to make your life a living hell. And if it’s not your partner, it just might be you.

Any of these situations can create stress between you and your partner—even a growing sense of resentment that finds its way out of the bedroom and into the rest of your waking life.

As mentioned earlier, lack of quality, restorative sleep can adversely affect your hormones—including your sex hormones—leading to lowered sexual health and sexual desire.

Sleep deprivation also can put you physically into “survival mode,” causing partners to be less emotionally empathetic.

None of these outcomes are conducive to your health or to the health of your relationship.

Once you look at the harm that your partner’s sleeping patterns can do to your own sleep—and to your relationship—it’s easy to understand why more and more couples are making the conscious decision to sleep separately.

Is Sleeping in Separate Beds Bad for Marriage or Relationships?

We’ve just covered several ways sleeping together can be harmful to a marriage or relationship, but what about the flip side of the coin? Certainly sleeping apart, as demonstrated in the recent study reporting improved REM sleep, has its downsides.

Cuddling and sleeping next to your romantic partner is widely known to have its benefits, including causing the release of oxytocin (aka “the cuddle chemical” or “the love hormone”). Oxytocin is a key component in the science of pair bonding between mother and baby, and between romantic partners. Oxytocin creates trust, according to Psychology Today.

Indeed, sleeping together is a very intimate act. It can also be very beneficial unless those benefits are outweighed by the challenges caused by sleep deprivation. So the bottom line is that you and your partner should communicate openly about your sleeping arrangements and make an informed decision about what might be best for the two of you.

If you do decide to sleep separately, try to find a balance. Even if sexual intimacy isn’t on the night’s agenda, consider spending 10 or 15 minutes cuddling in the same bed before one of you moves to separate accommodations. Or at least schedule some together-time before you turn in.

Be sure to schedule date nights and make time for sexual intimacy. Above all, do your best to keep an open line of communication about your sleeping arrangements.

Seek Help if Sleep Disorders are to Blame for Your Sleep Divorce

If you or your partner has a sleep disorder or suspects a sleep disorder is creating the need for a sleep divorce, reach out for a consultation and potential treatment. Many sleep disorders are treatable. We are here to help you.

References

“Bed-Sharing in Couples Is Associated With Increased and Stabilized REM Sleep and Sleep-Stage Synchronization”. by Henning Johannes Drews, et al. Frontiers in Psychiatry doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00583