Healthy Sleeping Habits

Sleep Divorce in the Pandemic May Be on the Rise—But Is That a Bad Thing?

Harriet Prior

Photo: Getty Images/PeopleImages
Let’s set the scene: It’s been a long day, so you fall into bed exhausted, ready to get a great night’s sleep. As you’re about to drift off, though, a snore from your bedmate suddenly jolts you back into consciousness. An hour later, your mind is racing through your list of tasks for the next day, and dozing off seems impossible. So, you decide to give in, pick up your pillow, and head for the sofa or spare room. When your well-rested partner asks “How did you sleep?" the next morning, you're not sure whether you should laugh or cry.

Sound familiar? If so, it may be time to think about joining the one in six couples who participated in a UK-based survey and decided that separate beds are best for them or the nearly 35 percent of American adults who, in a May 2020 survey, noted the pandemic itself has led them to consider buying a separate bed. Widely considered the norm until the 1950s, with Victorian doctors warning that sharing a bed may drain the energy of the "weaker" sleeper, nowadays opting to sleep separately, or getting a "sleep divorce," is often associated with less intimacy, lost love, and a relationship in tatters. But that definition could use a serious rebrand.

“Sleeping alone is associated with less movement during the night and fewer awakenings,” says sleep specialist Sophie Bostock, PhD. While it may seem counterintuitive to strengthen your relationship by spending less time together, Dr. Bostock  believes sleep divorce holds the power to benefit your bond. “The quality of sleep and relationships are closely linked. Couples who sleep well are less likely to argue, whereas sleep deprivation makes you more likely to have conflict” she says. So, perhaps sleeping apart can actually bring people closer together.

How sleep divorce can be especially helpful in a pandemic landscape

During the pandemic, many couples who live together have been spending more time together than ever—some would even say too much time. In that respect, sleep divorce can prove to be a compelling strategy for preserving some intrigue and personal space that's beneficial to a relationship, even if sleep-related issues themselves like snoring aren't a problem. For Sophie*, sleeping apart has helped to keep her relationship feeling fun and fresh during the pandemic because it allows her the opportunity to enjoy some alone time and miss her partner. “It’s exciting when we see each other in the morning,” she says.

Sleep divorce can prove to be a compelling strategy for preserving some intrigue and personal space that's beneficial to a relationship, even if sleep-related issues themselves like snoring aren't a problem.

Healthy boundaries aside, another reason the pandemic has nudged some couples to consider sleep divorce as a longer-term arrangement is the coronavirus itself. “In March, Hannah* got the coronavirus, so I moved into the guest bedroom so she could isolate," says Sam*. "It was kind of forced on us, but since then, we’ve relied on sleeping apart occasionally to get really good sleep, which for various reasons this year has become critically important for our souls and sanity.”

What to do when sleep divorce isn't a unanimous decision

If your partner loves to snuggle and you prefer having personal space while you sleep, first try Ross Geller’s hug-and-roll technique. If that doesn't work, a combination of open communication and compromise are likely your best next steps. Perhaps you come to an arrangement where on weekends you sleep in the same bed, or if it's getting past a certain time of evening, then you can sleep in separate beds. Do whatever works for you as a couple; there are no rules for what is right or wrong.

In fact, consider the potential sleep divorce has for improving intimacy by bringing some new-relationship energy back to your partnership. “We make sure to spend more time cuddling or being physically affectionate since we don’t get that time in bed anymore. It’s been great all round,” says Charlie*. Jessica* echoes that sentiment, sharing “the benefits of sleeping separately have made a noticeable difference in our marriage. Neither of us keeps the other up, which makes for less irritation and frustration. And because we sleep separately, we make more of an effort to spend quality quiet time together in the evenings.”

And if the thoughts other folks have regarding your arrangement are what's holding you back from considering a sleep divorce, remember: You only have to lie in the bed you make. Don't you want it to give you the best possible?

*Names have been changed.

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