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What Is A Sleep Divorce? Why You May Want One, From Experts

Distant Couple Sleeping in a Bed

Moving in with a partner is an exciting step in most relationships, but it does require an adjustment period. For some couples, sharing a bed is one of the hardest parts to get used to. Not only does it create a total lack of privacy, but snoring, different bedtimes, and blanket-hogging can disrupt sleep quality. So, what's the solution?

Many couples opt for a sleep divorce to promote overall sleep quality, decrease conflict, and have their own space. Sleeping in separate bedrooms is often seen as a sign of an unhealthy or troubled relationship—but it may actually be just the opposite. 

What is a sleep divorce?

A sleep divorce is when partners live together but choose to sleep in separate beds or bedrooms to get better sleep. "Unlike when a partner decides to sleep elsewhere for a single night or accidentally falls asleep on the couch, a sleep divorce happens when couples make a clear decision to break sleeping ties for the foreseeable future," says relationship therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT. 

Sleep divorce agreements can be long term or temporary, depending on the situation. For example, some couples sleep together the majority of the year but separate throughout a pregnancy or an illness. 

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Why some couples sleep apart.

Many couples simply sleep in separate beds for a better night's sleep, according to research. "Over time, some partners find it difficult to get good rest with their partner lying beside them," Cullins says. Common problems that may initiate a sleep divorce include:

  • Snoring and other breathing issues, like sleep apnea. 
  • Hogging pillows and blankets
  • Sleeping diagonally or taking up too much space. 
  • Tossing and turning due to restlessness.
  • Late-night TV watching or social media scrolling. 
  • Different sleep schedules. 
  • Being a light sleeper. 

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"Another less talked about reason some partners ask for a sleep divorce is a lack of sexual desire or connection," Cullins says. "When one partner doesn't crave physical intimacy and fears their partner may proposition them for cuddling or sex, they may choose to proactively sleep in a different space to avoid the unwanted requests." 

Sleep divorce is not for everyone. In fact, some studies have shown people do sleep better with a partner (or at least their scent). However, if sharing a bed is beginning to interfere with your quality of sleep, it may be worth considering.

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Benefits of a sleep divorce.

1. Better sleep

Yes, sharing a bed with a partner can affect your sleep. It's not the case for everyone, but for some people, having your partner moving around in bed next to you can make it harder to fall asleep or impact your sleep quality. By sleeping in separate beds, couples can make sure they're getting the right amount of sleep each night.

2. Personal space

Some people prefer to have their own personal space to decompress in the evening, hear themselves think, and simply have time to themselves. Alone time in a relationship is actually very healthy, according to licensed psychotherapist and sex therapist Michael Moran, LCSW, CST.

"It's important that couples spend time cultivating their own interests, doing things they enjoy on their own, which helps facilitate a healthy sense of self beyond the relationship," he recently told mbg. "Otherwise they risk enmeshment, which usually leads to complacency and feeling unfulfilled."

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3. Less conflict in the relationship

People tend to have their own sleep routines when they live on their own, and some research suggests couples who get together with mismatched sleep habits tend to have more conflict in the relationship. A 2016 study found relationship problems and sleep problems tend to occur simultaneously, and another study found couples tend to pick fights with each other the day after one person loses sleep because of the other. Sleeping in separate beds can avoid the potential for conflict over losing sleep.

4. More flexible routines

When couples sleep in different beds, each partner can have their own individual bedtime routine and not have to worry about disturbing their partner's sleep. One person can stay up hours after the other without worrying about keeping their partner awake, allowing for more independence and personalization in their daily schedules.

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5. More sexual excitement

Sex educator and marriage therapist Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D., LMFT, points out that sleeping in different beds doesn't have to translate into a sexless relationship. To the contrary, it can allow the couples to have more intentional time for intimacy together—and more excitement about the physical touch they do share.

How to bring it up with your partner. 

Broaching the subject of a sleep divorce can be tricky. It may come off the wrong way and offend your partner, but proper sleep is critical for personal health and the health of the relationship

When bringing it up, Brown-James says to reassure your partner they're wanted and loved: "Intimacy can still be had. It's just for sleep and rest." It may also be helpful to track your sleep patterns on a fitness tracker or app for one to two weeks and then journal about your sleep experience. 

"Be as honest as possible, and include any connections you see between lack of rest and strained interactions between you and your partner," Cullins says. "Approach any discussion about sleeping apart with sincerity and care. Let your partner know that you've put some serious thought into your request, and be willing to share your sleep logs or journal with them."

Keep in mind, while you've had time to process the potential change, your partner hasn't. Be patient as they think through the decision. "In the end, you may have to compromise by sleeping apart on some designated nights of the week while agreeing to sleep together on some nights," Cullins says. 

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Tips for keeping intimacy alive. 

If you both agree to sleep apart, make a plan to maintain physical intimacy outside of the bedroom. Asking your partner what turns them on and how they like sex to be initiated can be the key to doing this, Brown-James says. Giving your partner sexual context clues can also help get them in the mood. 

"Remember, intimacy is not necessarily full-on intercourse," Brown-James says. "Intimacy can be body rubbing, sexting from another room, using pleasure-enhancing devices, and simple things like specific pleasurable touch." 

There are many types of intimacy, and not all of them involve sex. (And by the way: sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy are closely linked, and more of one usually leads to more of the other.)

And when you do sleep in the same bed from time to time? Choose the right couples sleeping position to find the right balance of feeling connected and comfortable.

The bottom line.

Sleeping in the same bed isn't required for a healthy relationship to flourish. Couples can find many ways of increasing intimacy between them without necessarily sleeping next to each other night, and the sleep divorce might actually help them each individually get more necessary shut-eye.

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