Around the world, millions of adults share a bed with a partner. In the Western part of the globe, sleeping in the same bed is so common that couples rarely even consider alternatives.
For some couples, bed-sharing works out just fine. In fact, research suggests there are several benefits of sleeping with a partner, including better sleep and stronger relationships.
Yet for other couples, sharing a bed doesn’t exactly promote sound sleep. Snoring, blanket hogging and even different sleep schedules can lead one or both partners to have worsened sleep. That’s why many partners find they’re not on the same page (or under the same blanket) when it comes to sleep.
Luckily, plenty of strategies can help partners sleep more soundly. We’ll take a close look at the potential benefits and downsides of sleeping with a partner, in addition to when a “sleep divorce” might be helpful and how it works. We’ll also explore tips for how partners can enjoy better sleep together.
Keep reading for everything there is to know about sleeping as a couple.
Benefits of Sleeping with a Partner
Sleeping with a partner comes with plenty of benefits. From morning cuddles, to a sense of closeness and intimacy, having your loved one next to you can be reassuring and pleasant. It can also help create a feeling of safety should there be an emergency in the middle of the night.
As it turns out, science backs up these and other potential benefits. Dr. Kent Smith, President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, says, “A growing amount of evidence shows that couples who sleep together not only remain together, but actually extend their lives.”
Smith lists three reasons why this is the case:
- Stronger relationships. “Sleeping with a significant other increases oxytocin, a chemical that is produced in the same part of the brain that controls your sleep-wake cycle,” Smith says. “Sharing a bed can also help one to feel more connected in their relationship, lowering the risk for developing depression or other mood disorders.”
- Safety in numbers. “Sleeping next to the one you love produces feelings of protection, safety and security,” Smith says. “These feelings and emotions decrease our anxiety level and lower the body’s level of cortisol, the stress hormone, to allow for more peaceful and restorative sleep.”
- Good health. “People with healthy and consistent sleep habits are less likely to become sleep deprived,” Smith says. “Over the long term, sleep deprivation can lead to serious conditions including heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea and insulin resistance—not to mention fatigue, slower reaction times, a compromised immune system and irritability.”
Other studies back up the many potential upsides of sleeping with a partner:
- Increased REM sleep. A 2020 study found that (heterosexual) couples who sleep together enjoyed about 10% more REM sleep plus less fragmented REM sleep compared to people who sleep solo. REM sleep is essential for memory formation, which is why the study concluded that “sleeping with a partner might actually give you an extra boost regarding your mental health, your memory and creative problem-solving skills.”
- More sleep overall. A 2015 study found couples who sleep together can not only get more REM sleep, but might enjoy more sleep overall. Couples in the study also demonstrated fewer sleep disruptions and were more likely to fall asleep faster compared to single sleepers.
- Better perceptions of sleep. Even if you don’t sleep well, sharing a bed can improve your perception of sleep. A 2021 study found that bed-sharers reported good sleep quality despite not actually sleeping so well.
- Lower blood pressure. A 2017 study found couples who demonstrate high levels of “sleep-wake concordance” (i.e. couples who are awake and asleep at approximately the same times throughout the night) may experience lower blood pressure and reduced inflammation. This could have tremendous benefits for your heart, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Greater chance of diagnosis. It’s very common for someone to have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea without even realizing it. Oftentimes, a sleep partner notices the symptoms first, which can prompt the person with those symptoms to seek treatment.
- Healthier routines. Healthy couples may encourage healthy sleep habits, such as going to bed at a reasonable hour, exercising regularly (which is linked with better sleep) and keeping up with treatment for any sleep disorders in one or both partners. This can have a positive impact on both sleep quality and quantity.
Common Sleep Problems and Preferences
Sleeping together may boost intimacy, but it’s ultimately not the best arrangement for all couples. Various sleep problems and preferences could put a strain on one or both people’s sleep (and even the relationship).
Here are some common culprits of sleep problems that couples may face.
Snoring and Other Sleep Issues
While it may come as a surprise, a sleep disorder in one partner could actually increase the risk of the other person developing a sleep disorder as well.
There are a few things you can do to alleviate snoring. Sleeping in an inclined position or on your side may reduce snoring, so if your partner is the one who snores, gently encourage them to sleep on an extra pillow or facing the side.
Nasal strips, oral appliances, fans and white noise machines can also minimize snoring or noise. Ear plugs can also be helpful if you don’t mind wearing them.
Still, if snoring is severe, or if you notice your partner stops breathing for short periods while snoring, it’s a good idea to talk to a health professional to rule out potentially serious conditions like sleep apnea. Oftentimes, people have no idea they snore or if they have breathing issues as a result of sleep apnea.
A proper diagnosis could get the right treatment for you or your partner, such as a CPAP machine or oral appliance to keep your airway clear as you sleep. Therapy can also be helpful for people with insomnia.
Some people have a sleep disorder called restless leg syndrome (RLS) that makes it hard to get comfortable and causes them to move around a lot on the mattress (often to relieve a “tingling sensation” in their legs or arms).
Other folks are simply prone to tossing and turning in their sleep. No matter the cause of someone’s movements, they can be highly disturbing to their bed partner.
If you or your partner could have RLS, it’s important to seek medical help. An underlying condition could provoke RLS, and managing that condition might offer some much-needed relief for both parties. A doctor might also prescribe medication for RLS symptoms.
Other useful strategies for managing RLS include regular exercise, leg massages, hot or cold packs, and limiting tobacco and caffeine use.
When it comes to plain-old restlessness, one of the best solutions couples can try is investing in a bed that minimizes motion transfer, like a memory foam mattress. On such a bed, the restless partner is less likely to jostle the person who’s trying to sleep.
Different Temperature Preferences
Some couples are lucky enough to have the same temperature preferences, while others are night and day as to what temperature they prefer for sleep.
It’s a common source of tension in a relationship: One person wants to sleep under a pile of blankets or with the thermostat cranked up, while the other prefers a single sheet or an icy-cold thermostat.
Experts generally agree that a cooler room (between approximately 60 and 67 degrees) promotes better sleep. But that doesn’t mean one person has to suffer.
Partners who have different tastes in temperature can use separate bedding so each partner can meet their respective preferences. Another strategy is to aim a fan at the person who sleeps hotter (and try to keep the breeze away from the other person).
One person could also sleep in warmer pajamas, such as flannel, while the other sticks to a thin, breathable t-shirt. Smith says cotton pajamas are ideal, “as they are breathable and can help prevent overheating.”
Noise and Tech Use
Many people like falling asleep watching TV or listening to music. Others require silence to drift off to sleep. A 2021 study of 289 cohabitating adults found people often feel frustrated when their partner wants to spend time alone with the TV rather than engaging in physical or emotional intimacy.
On the other hand, the study found partners who watch TV or use other tech together before bed feel more satisfied with their sleeping arrangement.
If you and your partner aren’t on the same page with noise, the person who prefers to use tech before bed could invest in wireless TV headphones or headband sleep headphones. A TV with a built-in sleep timer can also help, but be sure to turn down the brightness just before bed since the blue light emitted by TVs and other electronics can negatively impact your sleep.
Light is another common preference that couples disagree on when it comes to sleep. Some people prefer sleeping in the pitch-black, while others need a nightlight or some other light source to sleep comfortably.
People with insomnia might turn on a light so they can read or engage in another activity in the middle of the night, but this can disrupt their partner.
An eye mask can be a great way to alleviate light discomfort if one partner prefers some light during sleep (and studies back up the benefits of wearing an eye mask for sleep). Bookworms who enjoy reading late at night could also use a smaller, dimmer book light rather than an overhead light or a lamp.
Opposing Bedtime and Wake Times
You and your partner could have different bedtime and wake times for many reasons, such as job shifts, children, pets and preferences—one partner might be a night owl, for example, while the other is a morning person.
The 2016 review cited above found that a difference in sleep-wake cycles can cause one or both partners to suffer from poor or insufficient sleep. In particular, women seem to have a preference for partners who share a similar sleep-wake pattern.
Life circumstances may not make it possible to sync up your sleep schedules, but it’s worth moving toward it if and when you can. Research suggests partners with mismatched sleep patterns have less marital satisfaction than couples who head to bed around the same time.
Still, if it simply doesn’t work to sleep and rise at the same time, it’s important to respect your partner’s sleep patterns so both parties can get enough sleep.
Early risers should avoid turning on bright lights or making noise in the bedroom before their partner is up. They could also stash a vibrating alarm clock in their pillow so a loud alarm doesn’t wake up the other person.
Night owls, meanwhile, can be respectful by dimming the lights and silencing electronics (or using headphones) when their partner turns in for bed.
Most of us have been ill at some point in our lives. Whether short-term or chronic, illness can make it more challenging for either or both partners to sleep soundly through the night (this is especially true for colds or viruses).
The 2016 review cited above found the early stages of an illness can be particularly disruptive as partners adjust to their new circumstances.
One simple solution to short-term illness is to have the partner who isn’t ill sleep on the couch or in a guest bedroom (this can also prevent the non-sick partner from getting sick if the illness is contagious).
In the case of chronic illness, both partners could potentially continue sharing a bed with a few tweaks. This could include thing like using an adjustable bed that allows each person to change the bed’s firmness depending on how they’re feeling. Or they could keep their current mattress and try modifications like putting pillows under sore areas or choosing breathable sheets.
In some cases, partners might choose to sleep in separate beds or rooms permanently. For more on this, check out the “Sleep Divorce” section below.
The 2009 and 2016 reviews cited above found the quality of a relationship—or lack thereof—can have a big impact on each partner’s ability to sleep.
According to the review, people in “distressed” relationships are more likely to experience sleep disturbances and more likely to develop sleep disorders.
This could be due to anxiety and/or depression that can arise from conflict, which are both linked with poorer sleep quality. In a vicious cycle, poor sleep can increase the chance of conflict within a relationship.
If you and your partner have been fighting a lot, it’s probably worth going to couples therapy. You could also try a good pair of earplugs if noise from a TV or snoring are keeping you up at night, and therefore causing tension.
No improvements may mean it’s time to reconsider the relationship. After all, your mental wellbeing and sleep health are critical for you to maintain.
Establishing a Sleep Routine with Your Partner
Some couples have the same sleep habits, but if you and your partner differ on your sleep schedules or preferences, it’s important to establish a sleep routine that’s fair to both parties. This can also benefit your relationship. It is also important for couples with differing sleep schedules to carve out time in their evening routine to connect prior to the first partner going to sleep.
Balance is key when it comes to creating a sleep routine for couples. If one partner likes to watch TV before bed, for example, and the other person is strictly in favor of lights out, the partner who is a TV-watcher can invest in wireless headphones to block out noise, while the partner who prefers total silence and darkness can choose to wear an eye mask while sleeping.
Sleep Tips for Couples
Here are a few other strategies to try before considering a sleep divorce.
- Identify and manage underlying health conditions. If one or both partners suffer from snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome or other sleep issues, it’s a good idea to seek the input of a health professional. Sleeping elevated on a high-quality pillow can also help minimize snoring.
- Practice proper sleep hygiene. Whether you sleep with a partner or alone, good sleep hygiene significantly increases your chances of sleeping well. This includes things like keeping the bedroom cool, dark and quiet, keeping electronics out of the bedroom, changing the sheets on a regular basis, adopting a relaxing bedtime routine and sticking to a regular bedtime.
- Use separate bedding. Many couples have different preferences when it comes to the type and amount of bedding they use. If you have a queen or king mattress, there’s a very easy fix for this: use different bedding on each side of the bed. Smith recommends choosing bedding that is “made of a natural material like cotton, which can help prevent overheating.” If one partner hogs the covers, consider using a Big Blanket. This enormous blanket should give both partners plenty of coverage.
- Modify the temperature. If one person sleeps cold and the other person is prone to sleeping hot, here’s an easy solution: Place a fan only on the hot sleeper’s side of the room. If both partners are prone to sleeping hot, try using copper-infused sheets, which could create a cooler sleep surface.
- Invest in the right mattress. Having the best mattress for your needs can make a world of difference in your sleep and your relationship. If your partner is prone to tossing and turning during the night, it could be worth investing in a low motion transfer mattress. This helps minimize movement across the surface of the bed so partners are less likely to disturb each other. A mattress for combination sleepers is another option for partners who switch sleep positions often throughout the night (and therefore toss and turn). Regardless, be sure to keep intimacy a priority whether you sleep together or alone, which a good mattress for sex can help with.
- Use sleep aids. Plenty of products can help partners obtain better shut-eye, from blackout curtains (which minimize light pollution in the bedroom) to sleep masks (which allow one partner to sleep in a darker environment). Earplugs and white noise machines can also block out noise from electronics. There’s no need to split up when a $15 fix could make a world of difference in your sleep.
- Consider sleeping naked. Smith says sleeping in the buff “has many potential benefits,” including temperature regulation, increased intimacy, higher sperm count, lower risk of yeast infections and more restful sleep. What’s more, “skin-to-skin contact increases the hormone oxytocin, which can bond couples, drawing them closer emotionally and physically,” Smith says. “Lying next to your partner while naked can also increase sexual desire, leading to greater intimacy.”
The Best Sleeping Positions for Couples
Sleep positions can be another source of friction in a relationship. Maybe you’re a back sleeper, but your partner is spread-eagle on their stomach and keeps kicking their leg into yours. Or maybe you both like to sleep on your sides facing each other, so you keep waking up to stinky morning breath.
Sleeping with a partner may mean that you are sleeping in a position that is new and different for you. Adults tend to shift positions throughout the night. Sleepers generally spend 54% of the time on their side, more than 37% of the night back sleeping and 7% stomach sleeping. If sharing the bed restricts your movements and keeps you from moving between comfortable positions, stiffness and pain upon waking could potentially occur.
Sleeping in Separate Beds (Sleep Divorce)
Recent data shows that nearly half of Americans want a bed to themselves. When couples aren’t obtaining quality sleep in the same bed, it may be time to consider sleeping separately. Here are the pros and cons of separate beds.
What Is Sleep Divorce?
A “sleep divorce” is when couples sleep in different spaces or separate bedrooms. Generally, the rest of the relationship remains unchanged.
While it may sound extreme, it’s a growing trend amongst American couples. In the findings above, 47% of respondents would prefer to sleep without their partner and 19% of respondents blamed their partner for their poor sleep.
There are numerous reasons why one or both partners might prefer to sleep solo. The study found common reasons for wanting a “sleep divorce” included being disturbed by a partner’s snoring, fighting over the bed covers, feeling overheated and waking up with the other person’s hair in their face.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping In Separate Beds
Sleeping in separate beds comes with both benefits and drawbacks.
In many cases, a sleep divorce increases the chances that both partners will obtain better sleep, making this option a win-win in those specific situations.
Getting consistent, quality sleep is critical, since sleep deprivation can lead to a host of physical and mental health issues. These include type 2 diabetes, depression, impaired work performance and reduced relationship quality.
Better sleep often results from the elimination of whatever factor was making it hard for one partner to sleep: for instance, no more snoring, blanket hogging, or tossing and turning. Some couples also find their sexual intimacy increases after a sleep divorce, as not sharing a bed leads to more exciting sex.
If you and your partner choose to try a sleep divorce, be sure to communicate throughout all stages in the process. Sleeping in separate beds could make either partner a little lonely or insecure, so make space to process thoughts and feelings together. Set a timeline for a sleep divorce trial, then decide whether to make it permanent based on how both partners are feeling.
If you choose to stick with it, consider scheduling time for sexual and emotional intimacy. You can also spend evenings together just before bed by watching TV or reading together prior to retiring to separate spaces. This can help promote the same level of intimacy that sharing a bed can create.
Is it OK to sleep apart as a couple?
If sleeping apart as a couple is better for your sleep (or relationship), it’s OK to keep separate beds. After all, sleep is essential to your health and functioning.
Still, if sleeping separately upsets one or both partners, be sure to have a conversation to discuss your sleep needs and why separate beds may be in your best interest. Be mindful of any concerns one or both partners may have and work together with your partner to identify a solution that’s best for both.
How should couples sleep at night?
There’s no right or wrong answer as to how couples should sleep at night. Spooning can keep you warm on cold nights, while sleeping side-by-side on your backs allows for some movement without disturbing the other partner.
Any sleep arrangement that’s comfortable for you and your partner is most likely a good choice, especially if it leads to restful sleep for both parties.
Do couples sleep better together or apart?
Most research points to couples sleeping better together, but this depends on the couple and their unique sleep needs and habits. If one or both partners snore, for example, they may not sleep better together, and instead could get more restful sleep by sleeping apart.