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

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Expert review by Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling services throughout the United States.
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 occurs 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 you may want to sleep apart. 

Studies show sleeping apart can improve the overall mental and physical health of each partner. 

"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. 

"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." 

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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, sex educator and marriage therapist Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D., LMFT, 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. 

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." 

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The bottom line.

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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