Every evening, my fiancée summons me to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight. It’s a ritual that I’ve come to expect and cherish. She goes to bed much earlier than me. It usually takes me at least another hour to begin to get ready for bed, by which time she’s already fast asleep under the covers. She’s also in a completely different bedroom. I sleep down the hall, about 75 feet away from her. We won’t see each other again until morning. We sleep in separate beds. I guess it’s known as a “sleep divorce.” Whatever the case, it’s allowed us to sleep better — and helped our relationship tremendously.
We didn’t start sleeping apart. When we first began dating, passion was raw and wild. It wasn’t uncommon to exhaust ourselves and then pass out in a warm, loving embrace. By the morning, though, we’d often find our positions tectonically shifted. I’d be on the floor. She’d have rolled into the dead zone between the wall and the bedside. Usually her dog wound up with most of the real estate. So, when we decided to move in together, we explored the possibilities of separate rooms.
The house was big enough. We each had our own special trinkets and trappings from former lives for decoration. And we both liked to sleep. Why would separate rooms be such a radical suggestion?
According to Ellen Wertmer, board-certified family nurse practitioner and spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, it isn’t. “Sleep divorces” are, in fact, the preferred arrangement among many couples, and can improve everything from relationship satisfaction to overall mood because they promote quality sleep. “There are loads of proven benefits to [sleeping alone],” she says before listing all the dangers associated with lack of sleep. Her main point: If it works, what do you have to lose?
That’s why we tried it. My fiancée and I are night and day when it comes to sleep schedules — literally. I’m up until all hours of the night, and she’s awake bright and early talking her way through her morning routine. The few hours we each spend awake — but apart — give us a chance to relax, decompress, and miss each other. It also gives us a chance to avoid the pitfalls that come with bed-sharing. She can’t hear my snores and farts, and I’m not pummeled by her flailing arms and legs.
“Sleeping separately means you won’t be able to roll over and be together immediately,” adds Wertmer. “It means you’ll have to actively seek each other out when one of you wakes up, which can help the relationship.” Physical and verbal communication requires effort — this can be a hug, a kiss, a squeeze, or a “good morning.” “What matters isn’t the content, but making those connecting situations a priority,” Wertmer says.
And this is what we do. Some mornings are better than others, admittedly, because nighttime isolation doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good night’s sleep. I’ll wake up cranky, or she’ll be rushing to get ready, and we’ll miss opportunities to connect. So, we make a point to have “sleepovers” at least once a month. Usually on a Friday or Saturday, we’ll pick a movie, order food, and pitch camp in the living room — her on the couch, me in a blanket nest on the floor. Sometimes we’ll cross boundaries and spoon or make out but, even when we’re not physically touching, we’re together, enjoying each other’s company in what feels like a special occasion. We laugh, we snuggle, we quote Michael Scott. We don’t fight over blankets, clumsily hurdle each other on the way to the bathroom, or argue about who snores worse.
“Sleeping apart will often cause couples to have more intention in their relationship,” says Wertmer. “Instead of simply following a routine, there is more thought involved in providing for each other’s needs. Sometimes that little bit of time apart builds a longing to be together again. If one partner felt the other was responsible for their poor sleep, there’s often built-up resentment. The separate bed solution can break that cycle and make couples feel like a team again.”
If a “sleep divorce” sounds like bliss to you, it’s likely because of snoring or different sleep schedules. Those are the top two sleep disturbances that make couples want to sleep in separate beds, , according to a recent OnePoll survey. Other reasons include overheating, blanket hogging, hair in the face, and lack of room to stretch. The same poll revealed that more than 12 percent of couples surveyed have already undergone “sleep divorces,” and 30 percent have openly discussed the idea. In addition, only 31 percent of Americans think a successful relationship requires a shared bed, and 24 percent agree that sleeping separately can even improve a strained relationship.
My fiancée and I came to a mutual agreement from the start. That’s rare, I know. But if a sleep divorce sounds like something you want to try, Wertmer has some suggestions.
“Lay out your reasons honestly,” she says. “But temper them with some positives.” Try, for instance: “I really love cuddling with you before we turn the lights out at night, but we always interrupt each other’s sleep. Neither of us are getting the quality rest we need.” A trial period of sleep separation could be just what you need to recharge and release some of your subconscious resentment, while examining whether the tradition of sharing a bed is worth the potential exhaustion.
If you do try it, you might receive more than a few eye rolls. My fiancée and I don’t boast about our sleeping arrangements, but the topic does come up. And, unsurprisingly, most people sour at the idea of separate beds, let alone separate rooms.
That comes with the territory. Where we see a chance to revitalize, critics question a lack of intimacy and connection in our relationship. Fair enough. A lot of couples do sleep together. But we’re not like a lot of couples. Our arrangement works for us because we know what we need to function as an effective team. It wouldn’t work if it was a one-sided deal, just like any meaningful compromise.
That said, it’s 1:31 a.m., and I’m about to head to my bed. My fiancée has been in hers for hours.