Could sleeping apart be the secret to a better night’s sleep – and a closer relationship?​ We explain more about sleep divorce and how it can affect your romantic relationships

Sleep. We all need it, yet the quantity and quality we manage to fit into our schedules can vary greatly. According to the Sleep Foundation, more than one-third of adults sleep less than the recommended seven hours each night. Nearly half of working adults regularly feel tired during the day, while seven in 10 of us feel tired by the end of the working day. 

Sleep has so many benefits for our health and wellbeing. It can help us to feel more energised and alert. The better we sleep, the better we can process emotional information, and the less likely we are to fall ill. As Counselling Directory member Neelam Zahid (MBACP Reg. Accredited) explains, sleep plays a significant role in our lives. “Sleep is a crucial part of our regular routine, and getting enough good quality sleep is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep, it is more difficult to concentrate, respond quickly, and learn and create new memories.” What’s more, losing sleep can have a significant impact on our mental health. “Lack of sleep increases your chances of depression and other mental illnesses.”

We’ve all heard the basics on how to get a better night’s sleep: drink less caffeine, avoid doom-scrolling and blue lights before bed, keep your bedroom tech-free, and try to create a relaxing nightly routine. But what if there was a bigger change we hadn’t been considering, that could improve both our quality of sleep and even our romantic relationships? According to some experts, sleeping without your partner could be the answer.

What is sleep divorce?

A new term used to describe couples that choose to sleep apart in separate beds rather than together, sleep divorce is more common than you might think. According to The Better Sleep Council, more than one in five (63%) couples spend most of the night sleeping separately, with one in four (26%) reporting that they sleep better alone. Of those that do share a bed, one in five (20%) end up “cling[ing] to their respective corners.”

With so many of us sleeping alone instead of with our partners, why aren’t we talking about it – and what’s causing us to stop snuggling up together?

Why do some people sleep separately?

The Better Sleep Council suggests that women in particular may be more sensitive to their partner’s sleeping habits. 44% of women are kept up by their partner’s tossing and turning, 42% by their snoring, and a whopping 60% by the environment in which they sleep. With an overwhelming 85% of us having problems sleeping at night, it’s no wonder many of us are willing to try anything to get a better night’s sleep. 

While people choose to sleep separately for a wide variety of reasons, some of the more common ones can include:

  • Different sleep patterns or schedules (different bedtimes, shift work, caring for babies or young children at night).
  • Incompatible sleep habits (loud snoring, very different temperature preferences, different needs for background noise).
  • Sleep conditions (insomnia, restless leg syndrome).
  • Personal preferences (some people prefer to sleep alone).
  • Nighttime habits (frequent bathroom trips, late night scrolling, wanting/not wanting background noise/lights). 
  • Wanting space or time to themselves.

While the term sleep divorce sounds serious and even scary, many feel that having the space to sleep apart can help strengthen their relationship by making the time that they do spend together that much more meaningful. 

What happens when couples stop sleeping together?

Expert opinion is divided on what can happen when couples stop sleeping together completely. While some research suggests that individuals experience better quality sleep, which can promote numerous mental and physical health outcomes, some experts warn of negative impacts. It’s important to prioritise connecting with your partner outside of the bedroom to avoid a loss of crucial quality time together. 

While sleeping separately can be a positive choice for some couples, for others, it can be a sign that their relationship may be struggling. Communication is key. As explained by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, “Effective communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. When we communicate well, we feel heard and connected to our partners. When communication breaks down, it can lead to misunderstandings [and] hurt feelings.”

Ensuring you are both happy with your sleeping arrangements, are talking about any changes before they happen, and are regularly checking in with each other to make sure you are still happy, can all help avoid accidental communication breakdowns.

What are the benefits of sleeping separately?

Sleep plays a vital role in our overall mental health and wellbeing. While it’s not the only factor that affects us, it can have a significant impact on our emotional health and wellbeing, our ability to handle stress, and good quality sleep can even have a positive impact on mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. The better we sleep, the better we can communicate with others, look after ourselves, and handle the expected and unexpected day-to-day stressors that pop up in our lives. The less we sleep, the more likely we are to be grumpy, to make poor decisions, and even to struggle to empathise with others. 

Sleeping alone gives you the chance to optimise your sleep schedule. You can make changes to your bedroom to fit your needs: whether that means sleeping with the window open in the middle of the winter, or wrapping up warm with a thick winter duvet during the summer months. You can banish blue lights from your bedroom, or go completely tech-free to create a more zen sleep space. You're in charge.

Is it OK for married couples to sleep apart?
Yes! While every couple is different and has different needs, sleeping separately isn’t a sign that something is wrong. For many couples, sleeping separately can help them to feel more rested, reduce bedtime-related arguments, avoid disturbed sleep cycles, and even create a pocket of alone time to enjoy before falling asleep. It’s still important to remember to create opportunities for quality one-on-one time together, foster your sense of connection, and ensure you are both happy with your sleeping arrangements. 

Are there any downsides to sleeping apart?

Sleep divorce can be beneficial for many individuals and couples, but it can also have its drawbacks.

For some people, this can include:

  • making them feel more lonely
  • increasing feelings of insecurity
  • fostering a sense of resentment 
  • reducing their sense of intimacy

For some, physically sleeping apart can create an underlying sense of disconnect, or may negatively impact your sex life. It’s important to ensure you are still prioritising physical and emotional intimacy outside of the bedroom. Make time for cuddling and touching (whether sexual or not), as well as time to open up with each other and talk about your day. 

Depending on your living situation, sleeping apart can be tricky. Not everyone has a spare room – or a good spare bed. If you aren’t able to sleep in separate rooms, but feel like your current sleeping arrangements aren’t working for you, having an open, honest conversation together can still help. See if there are any areas in which you can compromise, or if you can make any changes to help you both get a better night’s sleep.

So, how do you know whether sleep divorce is right for you? And how can you start the conversation about sleeping separately? 

Is sleep divorce right for me?

Having the conversation can be scary. How do you even broach the subject? If either you or your partner have been complaining about a lack of sleep, feeling exhausted, or have started to seem more irritable due to poor quality sleep, it could be a sign that it’s time to have a conversation. 

Talk about all things sleep-related – not just sleeping separately! Once you feel able to sit down together to get the conversation started, you can begin to identify the areas in which your sleep could be improved. Maybe one of you needs total silence to fall asleep, while the other needs some background noise to help drift off – it’s hard to understand which areas are and aren't working for you, unless you create the opportunity to discuss them and make changes together. 

It’s important to remember that anything you do try out doesn’t have to be permanent. Try sleeping apart for just a night or two, before having another conversation to see if you are feeling more rested – or if any new issues have popped up. This can help to avoid any resentment building up, and help you to both get a better night’s sleep without creating additional new worries.  

Sleeping separately doesn’t have to be an every night occurrence, either! Scheduling in weekend sleep-ins together can be one way to ensure the spark remains in the bedroom, whilst still prioritising good quality sleep on weekdays.