In a perfect world, we’re able to easily catch some Zs by eliminating distractions, closing the blinds to create a dark cocoon, turning down the temperature, and following a consistent sleep and wake schedule. We logically know that sleep is vital for our body; it allows us to process information, create and store memories, replenish our tissues, and eliminate toxins. But, as most of us know, feeling refreshed upon waking is much easier said than done. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans report feeling sleep deprived or sleepy during the day as a result of inadequate length of rest or poor sleep quality. Unfortunately, women are even more affected: we’re more likely than men to have excessive daytime sleepiness, more severe symptoms of depression, and a higher degree of difficulty concentrating on things due to lack of sleep or tiredness. Add in a partner blissfully sleeping next to us while we toss and turn all night can make a lot of us feel perpetually exhausted and frustrated, leading us to (accidentally) blow up at our partner when we look in the mirror, see our dark undereye bags, and realize we’ll need an extra cup of coffee to make it through the day.
Sometimes, whether we’re away on a solo vacation or our partner is out of town, having the whole bed to ourselves feels like a treat and allows us to get the best sleep we’ve had in a while. Studies show that physically sleeping next to a partner leads to poorer quality of total sleep, more disruptions during sleep, and less REM sleep, which all result in us feeling like pressing snooze one (or three) more times. This research has led to a solution: a sleep divorce.
We know, the “D word" might sound threatening and scary, but its intention is to create more good in a relationship, not drive us further apart from our partner. A sleep divorce is simple: it’s the practice of sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms with the goal of optimizing the sleep of both individuals. Sounds good, right? Let’s get into reasons why this practice might be necessary, why a sleep divorce may be our relationships’ next best thing, and how to effectively and appropriately approach the topic in a gentle and mindful way.
Why Might We Need a Sleep Divorce?
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different. There undeniably is feelings of safety and comfort in physically sleeping next to a partner. But, if we find ourselves unable to catch atleast a minimum of 7 hours of good, restful sleep, it might be time to reevaluate the sleeping situation.
Different Sleep Patterns and Schedules
There are few things worse than the default Apple alarm sound, especially when you’re not hearing your own alarm. Having early mornings or late nights isn’t problematic, unless we’re with someone whose schedule is opposite ours. A sleep divorce allows us to sleep in or go to bed late without the worry of waking up our partner. Bonus: having adult sleepovers just became way more fun; planning date nights like this ensures that sleeping together (in more ways than one) continues to be an option.
Light Sleeper vs Heavy Sleeper
They say opposites attract, right? Well, this tends to reign true, even during sleep. It’s often that we find ourselves with a partner who either wakes up with every soundorsleeps like a bear in the middle of hibernation. Some of us like to read or be on our phones at night, and light, sound, and reactions might trigger our partner (or we may be the one bothered). Sleeping separately allows one person to drift off in a quiet space while the other may still be catching up on work or reading with a night light. It’s difficult to choose whether we’re a heavy or light sleeper, but one thing is for certain: no one likes to be woken up during what would have been a good sleep.
Movement and/or Snoring
No one likes an elbow to the back or an accidental arm over our face. And fewer enjoy the sounds of snoring, no matter how loud. Unless we’re awake and aware that we’re tossing and turning, most of us would like to believe that we’re ‘sleeping like a rock’. Well, not to be the bearers of bad news, but our bodies need to move around while we sleep in order to reposition, allow blood flow to all parts of the body, and protect our tissues from too much pressure, which can cause pressure injuries. Snoring is a result of our mouth and throat muscles relaxing, partially blocking our airway and creating loud vibrations when we breathe. However, movement and sounds can be major deterrents in getting quality shut-eye, and if one partner moves around, steals the covers, or snores, it might be time for our own bed.
Opposing Sleep Preferences
Some light it hot, some like it cold, some like blackout curtains, and others like to be woken up to morning sunlight. We all tend to be pretty picky when it comes to our sleep preferences, and with good reason! Studies show that sleeping in a dark, cold environment helps our sleep cycle; but, some of us like to wake up with the sun, letting sunlight signify that it’s time to rise. In this scenario, there isn’t really a compromise, so our best bet might be to say goodnight to our partner before walking into our separate rooms.
Suggesting a Sleep Divorce
A sleep divorce is much less intense than the real thing, and it actually shows that both parties care about the health and wellbeing of the other. Most of us are familiar with the irritability, inability to concentrate, and higher running emotions we feel after not sleeping well. Sleep is a delicate and crucial necessity, and whether a bad sleep is due to anxiety and stress or ourselves or our partner moving around or snoring, waking up and going through the day after is never enjoyable.
Problem-solving is a key component in suggesting we take some physical space from our partner. Bringing up a sleep divorce can bring up a lot of unintentional emotions, so being mindful of each other’s feelings is necessary to avoid any negative feelings. Make sure each person has a comfortable space that feels like their own, and be sure to highlight that physical separation during sleep does not mean that intimacy should suffer.
It’s said that the bedroom is for two things: sleep and sex. A sleep divorce may sound like we’ll never see our partner in the same bed again, but this is far from true! Picking a space to be intimate before heading to separate bedrooms ensures that the special time with our partners still remains. Check back for our next blog post to learn more!
Overall, a sleep divorce is done with the best intentions for both parties in mind. It’s impossible to show up as our best selves on inadequate sleep; this includes in our romantic relationships. Try sleeping apart for one or two nights a week, then reevaluate. Maybe one night is better than seven (this will of course vary between relationships). Ultimately, sleep is key in feeling our best, whether it’s with our partner next to us or in a separate room. Sweet dreams!
Disclaimer: This blog post is purely informational and does not imply any evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration. This blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases, nor should it substitute for advice from a healthcare professional.
Ferriss, Tim. “Dr. Matthew Walker, All Things Sleep Continued - the Hidden Dangers of Melatonin, Tools for Insomnia, Enhancing Learning and Sleep Spindles, the Upsides of Sleep Divorce, How Sleep Impacts Sex (and Vice Versa), Adventures in Lucid Dreaming, the One Clock to Rule Them All, the IP Addresses of Your Memories, and More (#654).” The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss, 11 Feb. 2023, https://tim.blog/2023/02/08/dr-matthew-walker/.