Could a sleep divorce be the secret of a happy marriage?

Why a sleep divorce could be the best cure for insomnia and sleepless nights

Sleep divorce: couple sleeping in bed
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Opting for a sleep divorce may seem drastic—especially for happy duos who do enjoy sharing a bed. Surprisingly, though, it's an increasingly popular way for couples to get their kip. And, if you or your partner are regularly struggling to nod off, it could be the solution that saves your sleep and improves your relationship, too.  

“While this may seem unusual, it’s not something to worry about,” says sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. “If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep don’t pressure yourselves to sleep together. It is important to remember that sleeping separately doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your relationship.” 

So, if you've already invested in the best pillows, but you’re still lying awake at night and it’s beginning to take its toll, sleeping solo could be the next thing to try. Here’s how to successfully navigate a relocation to the spare room.

What is a sleep divorce?

The term is used when a couple chooses to sleep apart, despite being together and happy within the relationship. The decision to sleep separately prioritizes quality rest so that one or both partners benefit from a better night’s sleep than they'd get in the same bed. When it comes to how to sleep better, it's an easy technique.

In fact, studies show that sharing a bed can considerably impact our sleep. Research by Silentnight and the University of Leeds revealed that 40% of people have trouble sleeping due to their partner’s snoring.

So, if you've sipped on the best sleep teas or tried to drift off listening to guided meditations, and you still can’t go down, a sleep divorce could be for you. And you wouldn’t be alone. There’s been a rise in couples retreating to rest in separate bedrooms. On average, this happens four nights a week, according to research by Eve Sleep.

sleep divorce woman waking in bed

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Who should try a sleep divorce?

There are many reasons why an otherwise happy couple may choose to sleep apart, says relationship therapist Alison Tinsley

Some factors that prevent sleep compatibility might be behavioral and can be sorted with good sleep hygiene habits, but other reasons may be medical and unpreventable. Either way, if you or your partner’s rest is regularly being disturbed it could be time to take action. 

You might decide a sleep divorce is appropriate for your relationship due to any one of these common sleep-stealers: 

  • Health conditions
    A sleep divorce could be for the short-term, such as following surgery or during a bout of illness. Or it may be a long-term option due to illness, such as chronic respiratory disease where noisy equipment may need to be used during the night, or a condition that requires frequent trips to the toilet. 
  • Menopausal symptoms
    Up to 80% of women are affected by hot flushes during menopause due to hormonal changes and many may find that night sweats are easier to manage when sleeping alone. 
  • Snoring
    Unsurprisingly, being kept awake by a partner’s nocturnal rumbles is the most common co-sleeping complaint, with nearly half of couples citing it as a reason to impose a sleep divorce. 
  • Out-of-sync schedules
    Shift patterns at work, different waking and bedtimes, or even one person’s use of digital devices in bed can be disturbing when trying to sleep—all good reasons for relocating to another room.
  • Irritating habits
    How is it that duvet-hogging, tossing and turning, sleep talking and even a partner's sleep position all seem so much more intolerable in the middle of the night? If you're regularly kept awake by your partner’s bad bed habits, a sleep divorce can prevent resentment from building. 

Sleep divorce: sleep deprived woman

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The benefits 

The most obvious benefit of a sleep divorce is a blissful, uninterrupted night’s sleep where you can prioritize your own comfort and wake up feeling refreshed. So, if you need more space for one of the best pillows for neck pain or your sleep problems make it hard for you to be lying next to someone, it could do you a lot of good.

“Data shows that on average we're getting 6.7 hours of sleep a night, which is at least1.3 hours less sleep per night than the recommended eight to nine hours rest,” says Dr Ramlakhan. 

“Sleep is important as it allows our bodies to rest, recover and recuperate for the following day, so we need to ensure we are getting as least eight hours nightly.” 

You may also find that your relationship improves after having a few nights of adequate shut-eye. Being tired, especially if that’s chronic tiredness, can often lead to irritability and an ongoing low mood, says Alison. “It therefore makes sense that getting the right amount of sleep will positively impact a couple's psychological health and therefore their ability to engage well with each other.

“Communication is likely to be more effective when a couple is relaxed and at ease rather than being drowsy or short-tempered due to a lack of quality sleep,” she adds. “When rested, there is also greater energy between a couple and more motivation to be loving towards each other.”

Making continued caring, meaningful or even fun deposits in each other’s love tanks—rather than tired sniping over who does the washing up—means a relationship is much more likely to thrive. “Sex can also be more enjoyable and adventurous if each partner is fresh and alert rather than being sleepy or irritated by their partner's advances,” says Alison. 

Is sleeping in separate beds bad for marriage?

The success of a sleep divorce depends on whether both people in the relationship are in agreement about the arrangement. The downside of sleeping apart is that one half of the couple may feel neglected or lonely over time if it wasn't what they really wanted.

“Negotiating so that both people get some of their needs met is important. If not, tension and discontent could creep into the relationship,” warns Alison. “Sleeping separately can actually improve a relationship if sleep habits improve. Whilst for others, it is important to ensure closeness and intimacy is retained in other creative ways.” 

Both you and your partner should be involved equally in the decision-making process of a sleep divorce, rather than one person imposing their will on the other. It’s also important that no one gets the short straw—such as sleeping on an uncomfortable sofa or in a noisy room—which may negatively impact sleep further in the long term. 

How to suggest a sleep divorce

If you want to try solo sleeping, then it's best to avoid springing the idea on your partner at bedtime. Alison suggests having an open and honest conversation during the day where you can talk through the sleep benefits of having separate beds.

“As an introduction, you could explain how lack of sleep has become problematic for yourself or both of you,” she says. “Ask for suggestions on how sleep could be improved and then float the idea of a trial two, three, or four-night sleeping-apart experiment.”

Talk about each other’s concerns and fears and plan a review after the experiment to see what worked well and what could be improved. Making adjustments and being flexible is vital if the arrangement is to succeed and you might find you only need one or two nights of sleeping alone before you feel recharged enough to come back together. 

You may also want to avoid using the term “sleep divorce” initially! “Words do carry weight and the word divorce implies that is what will follow after separate beds,” says Alison. “Phrasing the idea of sleeping differently is less threatening than implying a permanent separation is on the cards.”

sleep divorce couple hugging on sofa

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How to have a successful sleep divorce

Sleeping in a different bed may feel strange to some people. If you sleep separately, maintaining intimacy in your relationship requires a shift in mindset, says Alison. “Sleeping apart could be an opportunity to develop your relationship in fresh and exciting ways rather than seeing it as a nail in the coffin,” she says.  

Prioritize your relationship several times throughout the day to keep a feeling of closeness between you and your partner. You could try these ideas:

  • Surprise each other with a little gift.
  • Have an impromptu date night out.
  • Make regular acts of kindness or thoughtful gestures.
  • Steal an affectionate kiss, snuggle up together in front of the TV—even sex on the sofa can be a novelty.
  • Send a sexy, funny or caring text when apart during the day.

A sleep divorce is a perfect opportunity to re-discover how to have good sex. “Actively making time for sex and intimacy during the day or in the evening before going to bed will help with connectedness,” says Alison. 

Mixing up a sleep-apart routine by sharing a bed one night midweek and another at the weekend, means togetherness is never more than a few periods of sleep away. Regular weekend retreats to reconnect can also be scheduled in the diary.

Why communication is key 

It’s important to keep talking about what’s working and what's not when having a sleep divorce. If either partner isn’t happy with the bedtime arrangements, keeping quiet will only lead to relationship problems further down the line–even if you’re enjoying more sleep. 

"A willingness to experiment, while seeing each person’s needs as equal, will keep the relationship on track when navigating a sleep divorce," says Alison. 

Ali Horsfall

Senior Health Writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including woman&home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent. She currently specialises in health and fitness content and loves sharing the best expert advice on staying well.