Debbie and Trevor had problems in the bedroom. No, not intimacy issues. They had major sleep issues.
Debbie, a light sleeper and early bird, would find herself on the couch many late nights because of Trevor’s snoring. She’d awaken bitter and resentful. Trevor, a night owl, would often sleep in late but would be awoken when Debbie got up early to go to work. He, too, began to harbor animosity.
“Look, I love my husband. We really don’t have any major issues in our relationship other than at nighttime when we need to sleep,” Debbie said. “Trevor snores—apparently I snore too. I’m an early riser, and he’s a late sleeper. It wasn’t a great bedtime combo. And if we wanted to get sleep and not want to kill one another the next day, something had to change.”
The sleep-deprived couple knew it was time … it was time for a sleep divorce.
What is a sleep divorce?
A sleep divorce, or sleep separation, is an arrangement where a couple sleeps in separate beds within one room or in separate rooms from one another.
While you may scoff at the thought of resorting to the “olden days” when your grandparents slept in separate twin beds, they may have been on to something. And, it’s why more and more couples are jumping on board … er, or into separate beds.
“Studies have shown that the quality of close relationships influence sleep and vice versa, sleep issues influence close relationship quality,” said Anas Rihawi, MD, an internist undergoing a sleep medicine specialty fellowship training with the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “Therefore, we can assume that sleep separation may play an important role in improving sleep quality and thus, improving the relationship between partners.”
How lack of sleep affects your health and wellbeing
We know that getting a good night’s rest can have remarkable benefits on our health and well-being, but there’s ample evidence that insufficient sleep over time can have short- and long-term consequences.
“Insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and recent studies have linked it to an increased risk for developing cancer,” Dr. Rihawi said. “Excessive daytime sleepiness due to sleep disturbances can contribute to car accidents and occupational injuries and is known to contribute to psychological disturbances and mood swings.”
Benefits of getting a sleep divorce
While the concept may seem a bit archaic, if sharing a bed is beginning to interfere with your quality of sleep and your affection for your partner, it may be worth reconsidering.
“Sleep separation, if done correctly and for the right reasons, could have many positive impacts on a couple’s health,” Dr. Rihawi said. “It could improve deep sleep and decrease sleep disturbances in situations where they’re an issue, as well as improve mood disturbances and eventually the couple’s relationship.”
But, when it comes to saying goodbye at bedtime, Dr. Rihawi noted it’s important to remember that treating the underlying cause for the sleep disturbance should take precedence, and a sleep divorce should only be a temporary measure. “Don’t hesitate to bring up your sleep issues and concerns with your doctor, so they can help pinpoint what’s going on,” he said. “There very well could be a reason for your sleep disturbance that your doctor can help address.”
Reasons it may be time to discuss a sleep separation
If, like Debbie and Trevor, you find your eyes wide open while your partner’s mouth is wide open snoring, it may be time to cut ties with all the lies you’ve been sleeping (or not) with.
Here are some common problems that may initiate a discussion with your loved one:
- Snoring and other breathing issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea
- Parasomnia, a disorder that causes abnormal behavior during sleep, such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, night terrors or a REM sleep behavior disorder, when someone unknowingly attacks and injures their partner
- Tossing and turning due to restless leg syndrome or insomnia
- Different sleep schedules
How to bring it up with your partner
Bringing up the topic of a sleep separation or different sleep arrangements can be tricky, but the key is to come to your partner with honesty, love and reassurance.
“Communication between partners is crucial when making a bedtime split,” Dr. Rihawi said. “Bedtime routines and bed-sharing between couples is an intimate and delicate process and it may affect their relationship negatively if they don’t talk it through.”
If you both come to an agreement that it’s time for a split, here are two tips to guide your plan:
- Set goals for when you’ll be able to rejoin together.
- Dedicate time before your bedtime routine to physically connect with each other.
For Debbie and Trevor, agreeing on a game plan was crucial. “We were very clear in our expectations about sleeping separately,” she said. “It’s been amazing for our relationship. We both get great sleep, we’re in better moods and, as a result, we’re a better couple and parents.”
The bottom line
A sleep divorce doesn’t mean goodbye forever, but it could improve your health and help your relationship flourish.
That said, if you or your partner are experiencing sleep disturbances, sleeping separately may help your relationship but may not resolve the big issue at hand. Make sure you seek out medical care. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.