To sleep and wake up beside someone is undoubtedly an intimate act. There you are side-by-side during that nocturnal journey. But it can also be one of extreme frustration, as sharing a bed with another body can confront you with a host of relationship-damaging, sleep-disrupting scenarios that only grow more maddening as the years progress. Ear-shredding snores. Differences in temperature or sound preference. Middle-of-the-night rib kicks. Early risers who rumble the bed and when they exit. The list goes on. Given the extreme importance of getting a good night’s sleep and all the restorative benefits rest provides, it’s unsurprising that, according The National Sleep Foundation, roughly 12 percent of married couples have agreed to enforce what’s known as a “sleep divorce” and retreat to separate beds at night.
While the idea of a sleep divorce carries with it an undeniable stigma — after all, we’ve all been led to believe that sharing a bed is an absolute must in a loving relationship — sleeping in separate beds or rooms is often a logical remedy for dealing with mismatched sleep schedules or the resentment that can stem from sleep-deprivation. It can also make sure couples wake up on the right side of the bed more often.
“Sleep is foundational to our overall health and wellness, and sharing a bed with someone who moves a lot, snores, or is otherwise disruptive to your sleep is detrimental to that critical time where your brain and body are restoring themselves,” says Licensed marriage and family therapist Laurel Roberts-Meese. “If you insist on sleeping in the same bed because you believe doing otherwise means your relationship is in trouble, and the result is both of you are more tired and irritable, you might actually cause more conflict and disconnect.”
Of course, the assumed issues inherent with sleeping separately are understandable. For couples who rely on the eight hours of physical proximity that sleeping in the same bed provides, a valid concern might be: how will we stay close?
“There’s no evidence that sleeping in the same bed creates closeness and intimacy that can’t otherwise be cultivated,” adds Roberts-Meese. “The bottom line is that you need to do what is best for your sleep hygiene and not worry that it means more than valuing your sleep.”
Couples who sleep in separate beds do so for their own personal reasons and often create rituals to ensure that intimacy is not ignored. We spoke to seven people who have all embraced the benefits of sleeping in separate beds. Each have their reasons, and all spoke to the pros and cons of their arrangements. Here are some ways they made it work, some problems they’ve faced, and plenty of thoughts to sleep on if your marriage is a little sleep-deprived.
1. We Didn’t Want To Be Exhausted And Resentful Of Each Other Anymore
“My husband and I both love our personal space. We learned this early on in our relationship, and have made a point to keep it a priority throughout our marriage. That’s led us to sleeping in separate beds. When we first got married, we tried to sleep in the same bed, and we did get discouraged when it seemed like it was going to be an issue. We didn’t want to be that ‘weird’ couple who slept in separate beds. Then we realized, we’d much rather not be that weird couple who argued because they were exhausted or resentful toward each other for sleeping unpredictably. So we just said, ‘screw it’, and got separate beds. We love it. Personally, I love knowing I have my own bed to melt into at the end of a long day. We look forward to kissing each other goodnight, and kissing each other good morning. And we’re able to enjoy all of those things because we’ve gotten to genuinely recharge in our own personal beds.” — Amanda, 42, Ohio
2. We Were Sleeping So Poorly That We Thought: What Do We Have To Lose?
“As I’ve gotten older, my back has betrayed me. I used to wake up every morning in pain, and barely able to move. That went on for almost a year until I spoke with my doctor who suggested getting an adjustable orthopedic mattress. So, we did, and then my wife was miserable. It was actually that same doctor who suggested separate beds as a way for both of us to be comfortable while we slept. Initially, we weren’t fans of the idea. We wondered how it would affect our marriage. But we realized that sleeping so poorly was already doing that. So, what did we have to lose? Luckily, neither of us snores or keeps the other one awake, so we can still be in the same room, stay comfortable, and both sleep pretty soundly. Sometimes it feels a little strange, I’ll admit, but I think it also makes us miss being close to each other. We try to make up for that during the day, and our marriage has never been better.” — Jack, 56, Florida
3. It Was Like This Hard Reset of Our Sleep Schedules.
“During the pandemic, my husband got COVID and we all had to quarantine. The second or third morning after he woke up, even though he was sick, he said he felt great. Well-rested, after sleeping like he hadn’t in a million years. Something like that. I felt the same way. It was like this hard reset of our sleep schedules that was so undeniable we had to acknowledge it. Eventually, that led to us getting separate beds. No pun intended, but the difference is night and day. I’m less irritable. He’s become a lot more active overall. And we’ve still maintained physical and emotional closeness by spending time together, doing things with our kids, and using the bedroom when we’re not sleeping. I would recommend it to any couple, just to give it a try. We probably never would’ve considered it had COVID not forced us, but it turned out to be a really good thing.” — Callie, 41, Arizona
4. We Have Different Nighttime Routines, And We Both Snore
“My husband snores like a boar. He says that I also snore too, mainly because of my incredibly sexy mouth guard. If I do not fall asleep before he does, I won’t fall asleep at all. If I want a good night's rest, I need to fall asleep first, which sometimes is problematic based on how tired we both are. I actually now get very anxious if he falls asleep before me in the same bed because I am worried about how little rest I will get.
We also have different nighttime routines. I like to read before bed. My husband winds down by watching TV. We also have twins, and they wake up throughout the night. All of us sleeping in one bed just won’t work. Honestly, sleeping separately definitely takes its toll. I feel like we don’t have the love that we used to. I want to get that connection back, and I hope that we do. We have a lot on our plates. It’s not that we don’t love each other, it’s just that we have different needs right now. Sometimes, it just feels like sleeping separately is the best choice for both of us.” — Ellen, 37, Colorado
5. It Was a Big, Life Changing Secret.
“We’ve been married for almost 25 years, and I love my husband dearly. But the CPAP machine he uses, even though it’s supposed to be quiet, started interfering with my sleep — our sleep — almost immediately. At first, I tried to get used to it, but it wasn’t happening. There was one time when I woke up in the middle of the night, saw him wearing the mask, and screamed because I thought it was a nightmare.
It sounds silly, I know. Something had to change. We know another couple who sleep in separate rooms, so we asked them about it. Their eyes lit up. It was like they were immediately excited to share this big, life-changing secret. And for us, that’s what it turned out to be. We haven’t graduated to separate rooms just yet, but our bedroom is big enough — and my hearing is bad enough — that the CPAP doesn’t bother me anymore. Luckily, my husband usually wakes up before I do so he can take it off. And we joke about it when he puts it on at night. Sleeping separately genuinely turned a negative into a positive for us.” — Nancy, 68, Tennessee
6. It Just Makes Sense For Us. Our Sleep Schedules Are Just Too Different.
“My wife is a nurse, and she regularly works nights. So, when I’m going to bed, she’s usually getting ready to leave. When she comes home, I’m going through my routine of getting ready for work. When we got married, we were fortunate enough to inherit a pretty large house and we realized that we had the option to try sleeping separately. We have two beds set up in our bedroom, and during the week, instead of the master bathroom, we’ll use one of the hall bathrooms to shower, shave, put on makeup, and stuff like that. All while the other is sleeping in their own bed. In terms of sleeping and being well-rested, it works! And, the best part about it is that those times when we do see each other — even if they’re few and far between for now — are spent happy, healthy, present, and together.” — Will, 30, North Carolina
7. We Knew That Sleeping In The Same Bed Might End Our Marriage
“My husband and I sleep separately and have been in two different rooms for 22 years. He snores like a chainsaw, and he likes loud fans and below-zero temps. Like sleeping in a fridge. I like a quiet room, heavy blankets, and normal temperatures. I like to snuggle. He likes zero skin contact during sleep. We realized that it just doesn't work for us to sleep together and stay married. When we're grumpy from no sleep, we argue. So, we happily sleep separately. This does not change our intimate time, because he rubs my back for an hour before he goes to his room at night. In fact, it all increases our sex life during the day. Also, our teens are around at night, but not during the day, which makes being intimate much easier. Healthy sleep is important, more important than sleeping in the same room.” — Ruth, 53, New Mexico