According to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation, it has been revealed that around 25% of American couples choose to sleep in separate beds from their partner.
Chances are if you’re in a long-term relationship, you’re sleeping in the same bed as your partner on a regular basis…or are you? According to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation, it has been revealed that around 25% of American couples choose to sleep in separate beds from their partner. While sleeping in the same bed has long been the accepted social norm for most domestic partnerships, is it actually beneficial for your relationship and your health? Or is it time to start considering a “sleep divorce”?
What is a sleep divorce?
A sleep divorce refers to the act of consciously uncoupling your sleep environment from that of your romantic partner, aka choosing to sleep in a different bed or even a completely different room. Don’t let the word “divorce” scare you, however – despite the societal stigma around sleeping in separate beds, a sleep divorce could actually be good for your relationship.
What is the history behind couples sleeping in the same bed?
Before we get into the pros and cons of sleeping separately from your partner, we should first examine how and why couples have historically chosen to sleep with their partner.
Humans have slept together at night for as long as humans have been around, largely due to instinctual and evolutionary behaviors, as sleeping with a partner offered protection from predators or other threats. Besides the safety in numbers aspect, however, the answer to why people enjoy sleeping with others is simple: we are social creatures who crave connection, comfort, and affection.
Between the 1850s and 1950s, the tide began to turn. In fact, separate beds were touted as a “healthier, more modern option for couples than the double, with Victorian doctors warning that sharing a bed would allow the weaker sleeper to drain the vitality of the stronger.” In her book A Cultural History of Twin Beds, Hilary Hinds writes about how by the 1930s, twin beds were nothing to bat an eye at, and in fact, were a normal occurrence in many middle-class households. However, by the 1940s and into the 1950s, writes Hinds, seeing married couples sleeping in separate beds could result in “an unmistakable curl of the lip” and was seen as a sign of a “distant or failing marriage”.
From the 1950s onward, that couples would sleep together at night has been not only accepted but the assumed norm. Regardless, in the last 10 years or so, there has been a small resurgence of “sleep divorcees”, which could in part be due to the changing attitudes surrounding societal expectations.
What are the benefits of sleeping separately?
Sleeping together can be troublesome if your partner has disruptive sleep habits; for example, snoring (and/or sleep apnea), using a phone or watching tv in bed, or excessive movements. Many partners have different bedtimes/wake times, or perhaps your partner prefers sleeping in a warm room while you need it to be cool in order to drift off. All of the above can lead to poorer sleep quality for you or your bedmate and could be mitigated by a sleep divorce.
Sleep has a significant impact on your mental health and mood. In one clinical trial, partners in relationships reported “feeling more negatively toward one another during conflict discussion…[their] conflict-resolution skills and ability to accurately gauge their partners’ emotions also suffered after a bad night’s sleep.” Therefore, eliminating the sleep disruptions that come with sharing a bed could very well have a positive impact on your romantic relationship.
Not sharing a room regularly could, subjectively, contribute to keeping things interesting in your relationship. Not falling into regular routines or resentments, having your own space to relax and decompress, as well as making a more concentrated effort to spend time with each other welcomes added opportunities for intimacy and excitement.
What are the benefits of sleeping with a partner?
Even though it may contribute to sleep deficiency, sleeping in the same bed has a marked effect on sleep satisfaction between romantic couples (psychologically, at least!). In one research study, it was found that although sleeping alone “leads to a significant increase in stage 3 sleep and a decrease in REM sleep compared to nights when sleeping with a partner, participants report being less satisfied with their sleep in nights spent alone.” In fact, in some cases, it was found that “sleeping alone can actually hinder sleep, with partner absence and the emptiness of the bed disturbing the “ambiance and the ritual” associated with sleeping together”. This finding shows that societal expectations, as well as the feeling of “closeness” that sleeping in the same bed provides, may be enough to override potential sleep disruptions.
In addition, many couples could feel abandoned or distant without the guaranteed built-in nightly intimacy that comes from pillow talk, sleeping next to each other, or crawling into bed together.
There’s no black-or-white answer as to whether you should have a “sleep divorce”, as it’s highly dependent on your individual relationship and will look different for every couple. Be sure to consult and communicate with your partner, as well as doctors or therapists, if you feel that your sleep is regularly suffering due to the presence of your partner. There could be different steps and treatments to look into, or you might decide that sleep divorce is the right decision for you.
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