Living Together and Sleeping Apart: Is It For You?

Photography by Gregory Papas via Unsplash.

Sleeping in the same bed doesn’t define your relationship. You could be getting a better night’s rest separately.

Words by Krystina Wales. Photography by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

When it comes down to preferences for an ideal sleeping environment, my partner and I could not be on more opposite ends of the spectrum. Varying sleep schedules, snoring, abnormal movements during the night, physical pain that causes discomfort, preferences in room temperature and bedding type, and whether a TV was kept on throughout the night all come into play. These are all indicators of misalignment and, consequently, poor sleep. 

In a romantic relationship, there are some sacrifices to be made, but good sleep should not be one of them. Sleep is one of the most important predictors of good physical, mental and emotional health and is critical for the body’s functioning. Poor sleep can lead to chronic health conditions as well as breakdowns in concentration, cognition, immune function and mood. 

Society teaches one way to be a couple and that includes sharing a bed. We never considered ourselves a typical couple, so we gave divorce a try—a sleep divorce. 

Why Might Couples Consider Sleeping Separately?

“Ultimately, it comes down to establishing a comfortable sleeping environment,” Kimberly Kreitinger, MD, a Florida sleep physician, said. “If small adjustments work to achieve this goal, that’s great. Given the importance of sleep, it is reasonable to consider separate sleeping spaces if the change leads to better sleep.”

When it comes time for bed, Rachel Weinstock’s husband of eight years, Sam Weinstock, immediately falls into a deep sleep and snores, which made it difficult for Rachel as a light sleeper. She found herself moving to the couch frequently during the night, which caused tension when Sam found her missing from their bed in the morning. 

Now, Sam sleeps in their spare bedroom in the finished  basement so Rachel can handle nighttime wakeups with their two children on the second floor. Establishing that boundary has led to a stronger partnership and mutual understanding overall. 

“Sleeping apart has changed our relationship in a good way,” Rachel said. “When he would wake up and I would be on the couch, he would be frustrated by the situation and that has been alleviated because we just made the decision together. The longer we have been together, the more obvious it became that these preconceived notions or social norms of what a marriage should look like is not what ends up being best.”

Ruth Ward, a marriage and family counselor based in Pennsylvania, said that in addition to the aforementioned environmental factors, couples might also part ways in bed because their temperaments are different. For example, introverts prefer quiet and privacy while extroverts might still want to talk after getting into bed. Or one might be able to fall asleep right away, while the other can’t quiet their mind from solving the world’s problems before lights out. 

It’s so important for each person to know who they are. Respect who you are and who you aren’t. And the other person isn’t necessarily worse or inferior to how you are.

Ruth Ward

“It’s so important for each person to know who they are. Respect who you are and who you aren’t. And the other person isn’t necessarily worse or inferior to how you are,” Ward, who specializes in communication and has 10 books on marriage and blending temperaments, said. 

With her clients, she stresses that sleeping separately could be important for achieving good rest and avoid holding resentment against their partners. She calls this “cancer of the heart” and said unmet expectations lead to resentment and can be more toxic than non-traditional sleeping arrangements. 

Does Sleeping Separately Cut Back On Intimacy?

Rachel misses the intentional time before falling asleep when she and Sam would chat. With no kids around or logistics to work out, this time was just for them. 

Ward agrees good sleep is as necessary as good intimacy, and couples who choose to sleep apart will sacrifice that closeness and special time. “It is pushing us to find those moments and carve out time to spend together,” Rachel said. For my partner and I, intentional “visits” are a priority and can even bring us back to the days when we were dating. 

It also helps when the decision doesn’t feel so provocative. Rachel’s best friend, sister-in-law and in-laws all sleep separately from their partners for varying reasons. 

According to Dr. Kreitinger, “Sleeping in separate spaces is fairly common. Often, people find that it works for both their sleep and relationships and have done it for years by the time I see them in a clinical setting.”

The fact that others in Rachel’s immediate orbit also sleep apart helped her to accept it as a viable option. Ward agreed mirroring can help couples feel more comfortable making the decision, but it can also work the opposite way. 

Every marriage is creative. You can’t pattern your marriage after your parents.

Ruth Ward

“Every marriage is creative. You can’t pattern your marriage after your parents,” Ward said. “People need to know that it is important enough to do something. Adequate sleep is absolutely necessary. To save your marriage, you have to do what’s best to get sleep.”

If a sleep divorce is something you want to consider with your partner, having that conversation can be hard. Be clear and honest. Know and respect the other person’s temperament and take that into consideration when opening the conversation. Ward suggests positioning their welfare first and gives an example. 

“Let’s say the woman likes to stay up late,” she said. “She could say, ‘Hunny, I like to read for a while before I go to bed, and I don’t want to disturb you. I thought it would be kinder of me to sleep in the guest room.’”

It’s also important to divorce yourself from any preconceived ideas of what a partnership is “supposed” to look like. Burying your relationship in exterior pressures and expectations can cause more harm than good. Make the commitment to put each other’s health first and that might mean a conscious uncoupling between the sheets for the sake of a good night’s rest. 

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