Yes, it can be nice having someone warm to sleep next to. But what happens if that warm body starts snoring like an engine at full blast?
Your experience could make you question whether sleeping alone would be better.
As we age, our sleep patterns alter to make it harder to fall asleep and lessen our time in deep REM sleep, making waking easier. Women in menopause report difficulty sleeping due to achy joints, hot flashes, night sweats and bathroom visits that disturb them; additionally snoring partners often keep them up!
Melissa Brand, Psy D. is well aware of the damage a lack of sleep can do to a marriage. “Sleep was already an issue for my husband before we married; his insomnia required cave-like conditions in his bedroom while I could rest easier,” Brand stated.
Sleep deprivation was an ongoing source of frustration between Brand and her husband. “His snoring kept me awake while I tossed and turned in the dark feeling angry and resentful,” Brand explained.
Read: “She’s Sweating, He’s Freezing — and Nobody Sleeps”
Sleep Is Essential
Not getting enough rest can have dire repercussions for both our physical and mental wellbeing, leading to health risks and hampering recovery from illness or injury.
Smita Patel, D.O. is an integrative neurologist and sleep medicine physician and member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council (WHAC). According to her, sleep helps the body flush out toxins in our brains that contribute to memory loss and dementia while at the same time strengthening our immune systems so as not to increase our risk for diabetes and heart disease. Without sufficient restful slumber our immune systems become compromised increasing risk factors associated with these conditions.”
Deborah Winters, LCSW and member of HealthyWomen’s WHAC noted the negative consequences of poor sleep on relationships: “Sleep is essential. Without enough restful restorative sleep, people become easily agitated and find it more difficult to regulate emotions properly. This makes relationships harder.”
Read: Coping With Bad Night Sleep
Sleep is essential to healthy communication, and couples must collaborate to find solutions together. Georgina Vass, a relationship and sex therapist stated: “Research shows partners experience more conflict within their romantic relationships when sleeping poorly while being more capable of problem-solving when fully rested.”
Brand expressed her frustration that sleeping together had an adverse impact on their relationship. Sleeping together caused constant irritation throughout the day and ultimately threatened it altogether.
What Is Sleep Divorce? For Brand and her husband, a “sleep divorce,” where each partner sleeps separately in separate beds or bedrooms is the answer. “After trying for one year to sleep together, we split up; I took the master room while he took over my study.”
Brand initially felt they had failed as a couple, yet she began getting enough rest, getting eight-hours a night and missing being held by him less and less.
Recent years saw sleep divorce make headlines in The New York Times. Interviewees suggested having their own bedroom would help their relationship flourish. With more people working remotely and spending more time under one roof than ever before, couples have less alone time combined with chronic disruptions to sleep that can cause unhappiness between each other and cause couples to divorce sooner than anticipated.
While sleeping in separate bedrooms may provide a restful night’s rest, it can also bring its own set of challenges. According to Vass’ experience, people tend to feel more at ease with sleeping separately when it is happening due to outside factors (getting home late, feeling poorly, co-sleeping with kids etc). Formalized arrangements may be more difficult for couples to manage.
Are we ready for separate bedrooms?
Patel suggested before considering separate quarters that we try earplugs, eye masks and light-blocking window coverings in the bedroom as possible solutions. Also if money allows, investing in adjustable beds so each partner can achieve maximum comfort and temperature control would be another possibility.
Vass stressed the importance of ruling out medical conditions like sleep disorders before making changes to sleeping habits. “To begin the change process, find solutions tailored specifically for the difficulties you are having sleeping while discussing this openly with your partner.
By creating a pros and cons list and creating an action plan together, partners can feel valued. Vass suggested making time to assess if their plan was effective: “Talk with each other and avoid unhelpful thinking styles such as mind reading, making assumptions or catastrophizing.”
Brand and her husband had tried everything before deciding to seek a sleep divorce: “We used ear plugs, white noise machines, blackout curtains hung differently – even sleeping at different times – yet nothing helped,” Brand reveals.
Couples considering sleep divorce fear it will destroy intimacy or harm their relationship. According to Brand, “if we didn’t sleep together it meant there was something very wrong between us; like we weren’t fully vulnerable with each other.”
Sleep experts and couples therapists alike agree that exhaustion and low energy levels aren’t good for sexual intimacy. If both partners are getting quality restful nights’ rest in separate bedrooms, it could help enhance intimacy between them.
Vass cited research which indicates that women who got one extra hour of sleep each night reported greater levels of sexual desire, and recommended scheduling micro-dates to deepen intimacy: finding 10 minutes for coffee, walks or cuddling up on the sofa together are ideal ways to enhance intimacy.
Winters stressed the importance of making time for just each other. Couples can share sleep when possible or take time for cuddling before bed, she advised.
Brand advises couples considering a sleep divorce to listen carefully to each partner’s concerns and to explain that sleeping separately does not represent rejection of either partner, but is simply about needing different things from them as partners.
Brand credits the sleep divorce with deepening communication between her and her husband and has helped to maintain two decades of marriage. “I credit it with contributing significantly towards keeping us together.
Bottom Line: Do what works for your relationship. A sleep divorce could save you from actual divorce proceedings; but if staying together is what makes sense to you, invest in good earplugs as an extra precaution.