If Sleeping With Your Partner Is Disruptive, Consider the Pros and Cons of Sleeping Apart
In classic shows like I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke, these “married” couples slept in separate beds. While this was really more about the prevailing television code and censorship rules of the 1950s and 60s, we can take a lesson from shows like these. Separate beds – and even separate bedrooms – can be a good solution for people who are sleep deprived because of their partner’s different or poor sleep habits or physical issues.
Why Sleep Is Important
Sleep is critical to our well-being. We need restful, restorative sleep for emotional balance, mental clarity and overall health.
- Supports brain functions, including how nerve cells communicate with each other.
- Removes toxins from the body.
- Supports a strong metabolism and immune function.
- Reduces the risk of disorders like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity.
- Reduces anxiety and irritability.
- Regulates hormones.
Consider this: When you don’t get enough sleep, your romantic relationship can suffer. One partner’s restless night caused by disturbances from the other partner can lead to conflicts in the relationship the next day. And, because sleep regulates the body’s hormone levels, when you don’t get enough sleep, sex hormone levels drop as stress hormone levels rise, which may lead to sexual dysfunction.
Moreover, without good sleep, you’re compromised the next day in general. We need 6 to 9 hours of consecutive sleep. We need to enter the REM sleep stage several times each night to fortify the body and mind. Each time we wake up, we start back at Stage 1, limiting our REM sleep, which stimulates areas of the brain that are essential to learning and memory.
Is the Disruption to Sleep Temporary or Long Term?
Sometimes, we experience broken sleep when we need to process something or something is happening in our lives that we can’t let go of. In temporary situations like these, it may not be necessary to employ a new sleeping situation. Meditation before sleep and journaling about things that are on your mind before you go to sleep can help. This “brain dump” can help you relax and sleep better.
Other times, patterns and disruptions are ongoing and may affect sleep in the long term. If sleeping with your husband, wife or partner is making it difficult for you to get that much-needed rest, then it may be time to consider an alternative to sleeping in the same bed or even the same room.
The Pros and Cons of Sleeping in the Same Bed or Bedroom
- Sex: The first thing that usually comes to mind is physical intimacy and spontaneous sex.
- Cuddling: Some people enjoy more physical touch – for example, they like to spoon.
- Bonding, physical and emotional.
- Some couples like to watch TV in bed. Figuring out which show to watch together can connect people in another way.
- It feels safe to sleep with a loved one.
- Partners can comfort each other if one has a nightmare.
Cons that can affect both partners’ sleep include:
- Mouth breathing.
- Hormones that are out of balance and affect the sleep/wake schedule.
- When one partner is hot and/or sweaty.
- When partners have different sleep/wake schedules, and one is partner is already asleep when the other gets into bed.
- When one person wants to read, be on the phone or use a laptop and the other wants to sleep.
- If one is a light sleeper or struggles with insomnia.
- Restless sleep, thrashing or acting out in dreams.
- Cover/blanket pulling.
- Physical intimacy needs to be planned.
Sleep Divorce or Sleep Freedom?
You may have heard the term “Sleep Divorce,” meaning to divorce yourself from sleeping together. It’s more common than you think – around 30% of couples don’t sleep together. The term has a negative connotation in my opinion – there is a stigma attached to couples not sleeping together. This stigma creates anxiety and confusion for the couple who know they’d sleep better, and be happier, healthier and better partners as a result of not sleeping together. I’d rather call it “Sleep Freedom.” Give yourself permission to have a loving, close relationship that doesn’t include sleeping in the same bed or bedroom, if that’s what you need.
Retain and Strengthen Intimacy
But people may fear they will lose intimacy if they don’t sleep together. In fact, if you’re not sleeping well together, you might bond more strongly if you sleep apart. The relationship is not doomed because you’re not sleeping together. If the relationship has problems, they will be there whether or not you sleep together. Your relationship will be as strong as what you put into it outside of the bedroom.
One couple I know has been married for more than 30 years. Being an early riser, he goes to bed early, but she goes to bed late. About 10 years ago, my friend decided she didn’t want to disrupt her husband’s sleep by coming into bed long after he’d retired. She started sleeping in the guest room. That worked out so well that they’ve slept in separate bedrooms for the last 10 years. They have a solid relationship and spend a lot of time together outside of the bedroom – rested and benefitting from refreshing, undisturbed sleep.
Options When Choosing to Sleep in the Same Bedroom
So, you’ve decided you have a strong relationship that will benefit from not sleeping together but separate bedrooms is not your preference or not an option. There are other solutions that can help.
If one partner has physical issues like snoring or mouth breathing, I’d recommend they see an ENT physician. They may have a nasal blockage or sleep apnea, which can be treated.
Mattresses and Sleep Systems
Mattresses are available that are designed with adjustable firmness on each side. This can help with partners who have different firmness preferences. You can also push two twin beds together for the “feeling” of sleeping together if the issue is movement. If one partner is an active sleeper and disrupts the other partner’s sleep, this can be a good solution.
There are also mattress pads available that help regulate body temperature. They are connected to a machine that makes the pad cooler or warmer. The mattress pad can be adjusted to a different temperature than the room as well as a different temperature than what each partner needs. These are especially helpful for women in menopause with hot flashes.
If the issues aren’t resolved using specialized mattresses, and separate rooms are not an option or desired, consider the following solutions:
- Get separate beds. Bedding, sheets and pillows can be customized to each person’s best sleep.
- Put beds on opposite sides of the room.
- Place a white noise machine between the beds.
- Use a room divider/screen. This will enable one person to stay awake and read, for example, without the light affecting their partner.
- Use ear plugs.
- Have a diffuser for aromatherapy to ease any anxiety about the circumstances.
- Plan ahead about bathing, toiletries and clothing. Take what you’ll need in the morning before your partner rises and lay them out in another room.
When it comes to the bedroom, there is no right answer – it’s about what works for you and your partner. With modifications, you can have the right tools in place that work for each of you to get your best sleep and support each other’s sleep health. Rest assured, you can have a loving relationship and not sleep in the same bed or even the same room.
by Ingrid Prueher, Holistic Sleep Coach