What Is Sleep Divorce?

While it may sound alarming, the term “sleep divorce” simply describes a scenario in which a couple chooses to make separate sleeping arrangements. This could mean one person takes the bedroom and the other is on the couch, in the guest room, or at another home. 

“A sleep divorce sounds very serious and negative,” licensed psychologist Kelsey M. Latimer says, but she clarifies that it’s not an emotional divorce or something intended to end a relationship. “This is best for people who have a strong connection but their issues tend to be simply around the issue of sleeping challenges,” she adds. It makes sense a relationship may struggle if partners are disturbing each other’s sleep. A simple solution, in some cases, may be to separate so that each person can concentrate on getting the sleep they need.

According to one survey, many American adults would rather sleep alone. The survey, which was conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with bedding company Slumber Cloud, found that nearly half of respondents had a difficult time sleeping with a partner. That appears to be a trend. A recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) survey found that over one-third of people sleep separately, either regularly or occasionally.

What is Sleep Divorce?

Sleep divorce is when a couple chooses to sleep separately, either in different beds or different rooms, to ensure a better night’s sleep for both partners. Its name may sound like the end of a marriage, but it’s not a reflection of the relationship as a whole—just incompatible sleep habits and preferences.

Common Reasons Couples Sleep Separately

While there are specific reasons that drive couples to make alternative sleep arrangements, they largely come down to incompatible sleep habits. According to Latimer, couples may experience sleep challenges relating to significant differences in sleep temperature, sleep schedules, or bed quality. 

Two thousand Americans who sleep with a partner responded to the OnePoll survey. Out of this group, 47 percent said they would prefer to sleep without their partner and 19 percent of respondents said they blamed their partner for their poor sleep.

When they were asked about specific causes of sleep disturbance, here’s what the survey found.

  • Half of those surveyed said their partner’s snoring disturbs them at night.
  • Thirty-seven percent said they overheat when they sleep together.
  • Thirty-two percent said it involves a fight for sheets and bedding.
  • Twenty-two percent of male respondents said their significant other’s hair gets in their face.

At the same time, 3 out of 4 respondents said they sacrifice their own sleep for the sake of their partner, and 57 percent said they had recently snuck out of bed to get a good night’s sleep.

Regardless of the particular issue, poor sleep can stress even the strongest relationship. Research suggests that improving sleep quality has multiple benefits, including improving depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also improve your ability to communicate, empathize, and practice patience.

Potential Benefits

We spoke with Dr. Wendy M. Troxel, sleep expert and clinical psychologist, about the struggles and benefits associated with co-sleeping. She has performed many studies regarding the ways relationships and sleep affect one another and has found that “couples who are more in sync as they sleep together have higher quality relationships.”

Personal Space

Sleeping separately means no more compromising on sleep needs and preferences. When each partner has personal space to sleep, they have the freedom to choose their own sleep schedule and environment. Beyond the physical benefits of a sleep setting that caters to your needs exclusively, there’s also the benefit of time spent alone. For couples especially, there can be benefits to nightly solitude, which gives both partners the kind of “me time” that may reduce stress and improve personal satisfaction.

Better Sleep Quality And Duration

Improved sleep is the goal for most couples considering a sleep divorce. By sleeping separately, couples can avoid the sleep disruptions from their partner that keep them awake. This can lead to better sleep quality.

Reduced Fighting

According to Latimer, a sleep divorce is less about separating a couple and more about ultimately bringing them closer. “Sleeping in separate rooms or in specific sleeping arrangements can be very helpful to allow each person to actually receive the quality sleep needed to be able to actually have quality time in other ways outside of the sleep situation,” she says. Studies show that relationships tend to experience higher levels of conflict when partners regularly experience poor sleep.

Improved Relationship

Troxel says it is important to remember what the bedroom means for a couple. It is not just about sleep, but the togetherness found before and after sleep. “For many couples, the bedroom is sort of a haven for closeness and intimacy, not just sex, but time together,” she explains. “It’s the time when, ideally, you’re away from the rest of the distractions of your family, your work commitments, and then you actually get to have some one-on-one time together, which we know is so critical for relationships.”

Potential Drawbacks

  • Logistics. Not all couples have the luxury of a guest room with a comfortable bed. Depending on your situation, a sleep divorce may mean one partner ends up on the sofa, which could create issues of its own.
  • Decreased intimacy. There’s also the chance that sleeping separately can decrease intimacy between partners. “A couple has to feel very strong about their relationship and know that where and how they sleep is not central to the quality of the relationship itself,” says Latimer. “If this is lacking in the relationship to start, then the lack of co-sleeping can actually highlight other issues that may be in the relationship.”
  • Worsened sleep quality. In some instances, particularly when the sleeping arrangements aren’t equal, sleep quality may actually decrease for one or both partners. 

Tips for Sleep Separately

Couples who are considering a sleep divorce should have an honest discussion about how they might put it into practice. It’s important to broach the subject properly to avoid making your partner feel like you’re rejecting them. Rather, make a point of clarifying that the goal is simply finding a sleep environment that supports better sleep.

Be prepared for a little trial and error as well, since it can take time to adjust to the new arrangement. “Ensure that you are doing everything you can as a couple to stay connected outside of the sleeping arrangements if you must sleep separately,” advises Latimer. She says you may also want to schedule to spend some nights together, which might be helpful for maintaining a connection that feels central to the marriage.

Bottom Line

Latimer says that sleeping in the same bed is considered typically central to a marriage, but for many it can be a potential hindrance to their connection. Choosing to sleep separately can be a simple way for both partners to enjoy restful sleep and may actually improve the relationship as a whole by reducing stress and improving patience. For many couples, in fact, sleep divorce could be quite effective.

Jessica Timmons