Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Is your partner disturbing your sleep? Maybe they steal all the covers, or perhaps their loud snores resemble a high-powered chainsaw.
What is a Sleep Divorce?
A sleep divorce is simply an agreement between two partners to sleep separately. Whether in two different rooms or separate beds, the objective is to ensure both parties get a restorative night’s sleep.
Signs You May Need a Sleep Divorce
There are many ways a partner can disturb your sleep. Loud and persistent snoring can disturb the sleep of those within your household; however, there are sleep disorders that can disrupt sleep, including:
- Restless legs syndrome, characterized by the urge to move legs while resting to alleviate unpleasant sensations
- Insomnia, which may cause aggressive tossing and turning due to disrupted sleep
- Obstructive sleep apnea, characterized by loud snoring, snorts, and gasps for air
- Shift work, which may cause an incompatible work-sleep schedule for a couple
- Parasomnias, characterized by sleep talking, sleepwalking, confusional arousals, sleep terrors, or REM sleep disorder, which is characterized by loud vocal and physical outbursts during sleep
Is Sleeping Apart Healthy for a Relationship?
Sharing a bed with a partner enhances our sense of emotional and physical security and can contribute to better sleep. It’s an inherent part of a healthy relationship and deciding to sleep separately may seem counterintuitive.
However, if your partner unknowingly disrupts your sleep, this can negatively affect your emotional and physical wellbeing, and your relationship. Research shows that good sleep is vital for feeling happier, more empathic, and more content within a relationship.
Insufficient sleep can lead to irritability. Sleep disturbance due to your partner’s nocturnal noises may also cause feelings of anger, even resentment.
Treating the medical cause that’s interfering with sleep is essential, but diagnosis and management of a sleep disorder can be a process. A sleep divorce can be an effective temporary or long-term fix for the problem.
A survey conducted by The Better Sleep Council shows that up to 26 percent of people report they sleep better alone.
How to Plan a Sleep Divorce
- Communicate Clearly
You may have already discussed sleeping separately due to your partner’s sleep issues. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to introduce the idea gently and honestly about your true objective – sleep.
- Get Creative and Compromise
A sleep divorce arrangement can mean sleeping in separate rooms or separate beds within the same room.
Your sleep schedules may be different during the weekdays, but perhaps you’re able to sleep together on the weekends.
Try to find what works best for both of you. Check in periodically to ensure both of you are comfortable with the arrangement.
- Prioritize Intimacy
Sleeping together allows for intimacy by default. Sleeping separately requires you to make efforts to make sure physical and emotional intimacy stays alive.
Plan activities together before going to sleep or after the two of you wake up: watch a movie together, cuddle, or have breakfast in bed when you can.
- Trust Your Relationship
It’s important to remember that sleeping together or separately does not define a relationship. Restorative sleep is vital to ensure both of you feel comfortable around each other rather than annoyed.
Don’t let societal norms dictate your relationship. Instead, define what works for you. If you fear outside judgment, mutually decide to keep your sleeping arrangement private.
Restorative sleep is one of the three pillars of wellness that falls alongside exercise and nutrition.
A logical first step is to talk to your doctor about sleep health if a good night’s sleep continues to elude you or your partner.
Your partner’s disruptive sleep behavior may be a symptom of a serious sleep disorder that may also be affecting their sleep and health.
Sleep divorce is a sensible approach for managing sleep quality; however, it shouldn’t take the place of diagnosis or be used as a band aid approach for better sleep.
- Drews, H. J., Wallot, S., Brysch, P., Berger-Johannsen, H., Weinhold, S. L., Mitkidis, P., Baier, P. C., Lechinger, J., Roepstorff, A., & Göder, R. (2020). Bed-Sharing in Couples Is Associated With Increased and Stabilized REM Sleep and Sleep-Stage Synchronization. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00583
- Troxel, W. M., Robles, T. F., Hall, M., & Buysse, D. J. (2007). Marital quality and the marital bed: Examining the covariation between relationship quality and sleep. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(5), 389–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2007.05.002
- Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2013). The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(2), 168–175. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613488952
- Better Sleep Council (2021, February 24). Survey: American Couples Have Trouble in Bed. Better Sleep Council | Start Every Day with a Good Night’s Sleep. https://bettersleep.org/research/survey-american-couples-have-trouble-in-bed/