There are sleepytime practices that can make sharing a bed with someone unbearable, no matter how much you love them. Maybe your partner snores like a freight train or is constantly tossing and turning — whatever the habit is, it’s messing with your ZZZs. While you and your S.O. might gasp in horror at the thought of not cuddling up together all night long, many couples have found sleeping apart from one another brings even more love and appreciation into their relationship.
This nighttime separation is commonly referred to as “sleep divorce,” and it’s something many couples have started introducing — for the better — into their relationships, according to Dr. Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis. This doesn’t involve going to court or anything drastic — rather, couples who follow this practice simply choose to snooze in different rooms or beds in order to get more quality rest.
There are a number of reasons why nesting partners may choose to sleep separately, and the major benefits that can often come from this decision just might surprise you. Read on for everything to know about the practice that’s certainly not as negative as the “D” word might make it sound.
What Is Sleep Divorce?
“A sleep divorce is when a couple decides to sleep in separate beds or separate rooms due to differences in sleep patterns, habits, and preferences that are disrupting the quality of their sleep,” Harris tells Bustle. And there are more couples than you might think who choose this sleeping arrangement, says licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist Shadeen Francis. “Survey data suggests that it’s pretty common, with estimates being at least a quarter of couples sleeping separately a few times a month,” she tells Bustle. She also says, however, that because of the stigma around non-traditional sleeping arrangements, many couples aren’t exactly public about their sleep divorce — even the use of the word “divorce” in the term itself can cause feelings of shame or embarrassment.
That said, if you scroll through the hashtag #sleepdivorce on TikTok — which has over 121,600 views — you’ll find that some couples are loving the lifestyle change. A few even opt to keep separate bedrooms, choosing to spend time cuddling and getting frisky together in one bed and then getting some solo shut-eye in the other.
Why Some Partners Choose Sleep Divorce
While the reasons that some couples choose sleep divorce are often personal, there are other motivations behind the arrangement that can be straightforward and practical. “Oftentimes, couples choose a sleep divorce as a result of one or both partners’ sleep quality suffering,” Harris says. “This choice is most commonly made due to differences in sleep patterns, habits, and preferences or disruptive snoring from one or both partners.” It may seem far-fetched, but even your and your partner’s sleep habits can contribute to tension in the home. If one partner is a night owl and the other a total morning person, those incompatible sleeping schedules can potentially cause issues over time.
“We need rest to survive and live well, and our relationships do not need to be a barrier to that,” Francis says. “Rather than holding yourself to an arbitrary standard or model for how your relationship ‘should be’, honor your and your partner’s actual needs and make decisions based on what works well for you.” She says to put it this way: Wouldn’t it be better to sleep apart and be happy than sleep together and be miserable?
Beyond the functional motivation of a sleep divorce, licensed clinical social worker Laura J. Brito says that the arrangement can also have long-term emotional perks as well. “Many couples have cited sleeping in separate beds as an effective way to accommodate health issues such as sleep apnea, which contributes to snoring, to cope with different work schedules and sleep cycles, or to nurture a sense of independence in a long-term relationship,” she tells Bustle. If you or your partner (or both) have struggled with codependent tendencies or even an anxious attachment style, taking even a few nights a month to sleep apart might prove a worthwhile practice as a way to try and heal those issues.
The Effects Sleep Divorce Can Have On Relationships
As with any major change in a relationship, choosing to sleep in a separate location from a partner can come with pros and cons. Take time to really get to the root of why you’re considering it and what you both want out of the decision, suggests Brito — this can help ensure it’s right for you. “Sleep divorce can actually have a positive impact on a relationship if the couple discusses the specifics of how it can help, how long they intend to maintain this arrangement, and alternate ways of establishing connection and intimacy outside of sharing a bed,” she says. If you make an effort to have sex regularly or cuddle in bed to watch TV, it’ll help prevent a feeling of disconnection between you and your partner.
On the other hand, it’s also important to make sure your intentions behind trying this new arrangement are to help your relationship, and not to punish or hurt one another. “Sleep divorce may amplify distance already present in a relationship,” says Brito. “For example, couples may retreat to separate spaces to avoid confrontation or to punish their partner after an argument.” When this happens, Francis explains that — rather than serving as a way to benefit both partners, their sleep health, and the relationship as a whole — sleeping apart can really begin to look like a “divorce.”
“It is really important that the couple makes the decision together, not with one person reacting to another’s snoring, for example,” says Harris. “I also like to stress that the ideal way to do this is to make sure that both partners have comfortable sleep environments when they decide to sleep separately — otherwise poor sleep and resentment can take over.” If you’re in separate bedrooms or parts of your home, setting up those spaces to each of your likings can create more feelings of positivity and peace around the agreement.
Above all, Francis says that sleep divorce tends to work out well for couples who really take the time and thought required to make it a positive arrangement — especially when the intention is to enhance the love and contentment in your partnership. “Getting poor quality sleep is linked to more frustration and irritability, less patience, lower attentiveness, more aggression — aka the perfect recipe for conflict,” she says. “Choosing intentionally to reimagine your sleeping arrangements can not only protect your physical and emotional well-being, but your relationship as well.” And there’s nothing better than not being woken up to lawnmower-level snoring at two in the morning.
Shadeen Francis, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist
Laura J. Brito, licensed clinical social worker