What’s ‘sleep divorce’ and how do we approach it?
‘Sleep divorce’ is becoming a popular topic and for some, one of concern for the stability of our relationships - sleeping in the same bed as our significant other (or others) has been a social norm for so long that the thought of sleeping separately might curdle our stomachs or strain our heartstrings.
The term ‘sleep divorce’ is commonly used when partners decide to no longer share a bed at night and choose to sleep separately in an attempt to save their sleep, improving the quality and experience. Lots of individuals are choosing to sleep alone because of snoring, clashing schedules, duvet hoggers and the human radiator causing us to bake overnight, preventing us from catching those all-important Zzzzzs.
So are there any benefits?
‘Sleep divorce’ might feel scary or weird, but there are huge benefits if we’re struggling to sleep together.
Research suggests that sleep issues and relationship problems tend to occur simultaneously , and further adds that getting poor sleep due to our partner’s irritating habits causes more conflict the next day . Quality sleep separately can save the torment of conflict tomorrow.
It can feel lonely to sleep separately, especially if we’re not used to nights without each other or have been in bed together for years. But, sleeping alone actually gives us a chance to miss each other, which can draw us closer the next day. We might feel excited to reunite in the morning or plan to have breakfast together making it more satisfying than the usual rushed toast-over-the-sink routine before darting out of the door (or into the home office/dining room table).
We might have slept separately following a dispute or argument, which can be off-putting. But we actually consider it to be a form of self-care and putting our own needs and those of the relationship at the forefront, and for some, that means sleeping separately to get the good sleep that we can’t get or aren’t getting while sharing a bed.
It doesn’t sound like an awful idea, in fact nearly 1 in 6 British couples who live together now sleep apart, with 1 in 9 of them doing so in separate rooms ! So if it sounds like something that could save the relationship or we just need a good night’s kip, why not try it?
Approaching the idea of sleeping separately can bring up some difficult feelings, and maybe cause a little anxiety over the stability of our relationships, particularly if we’ve been having some turbulent times anyway - lockdown has certainly seen more riffs rising and arguments bubbling - but sleeping apart doesn’t mean our relationship is reaching an end, it might actually be the answer to stop all the bickering!
A good way to bring up a tough conversation is to start by outlining the issue. Start the conversation by saying sleep is the problem, and here’s why (we get too hot, we’re sensitive to their snoring, a light sleeper, or a sleep-kicker - whatever it is). It helps the listener understand without feeling blamed, which can prevent some of those defensive reactions caused by feeling threatened or insecure.
Timing and tone are really important here, approaching our partners mid-work day probably isn’t great, nor while they’re getting some house chores ticked off the to-do list.
The right time: Have a romantic meal for two, go for a walk together, get the oxytocin flowing with outrageous PDA (public displays of affection - everyone’s at home anyway) or post-sex pillow talk. With the ‘love’ hormone pumping, we will feel more secure in the conversation, leading to more satisfying outcomes.
The right tone: A soft, comforting tone is helpful here, caring tones help prevent conflict from rising as it’s difficult to respond calmly to accusatory or harsh tones. Approach the conversation with compassion, comfort and recognise the news may not be well-received - initially at least.
As a listener, it can be hard to hear our partner’s don’t want to curl up in a corner of the bed while we spread starfish anymore. So if our partner does bring this up try not to jump to conclusions but hear them out - a good night's sleep might do wonders for the rest of the relationship!
It can be really beneficial for partners who do have mismatched sleep habits, especially if one of us is a sleep dictator - someone who manages the sleep environment to their needs, leaving the other person having difficulty sleeping. We’ve all done it, or maybe we’ve been the ones to enjoy a night away sleeping just how we like, it’s a common issue in many relationships.
Sweet dreams: Sleeping separately is worth a try if our sleep is suffering, we don’t have to stick to it 7 days a week and it doesn’t have to be forever. Trial it if our partners are interested, call it something else if ‘sleep divorce’ is intimidating - a ‘sleep-cation’ maybe, and discuss the results. If it turns out our sleep improves, it might be worth sticking to (and possibly avoiding any sleep-deprived disputes of a real divorce).
Two in a bed: The influence of couple sleeping and chronotypes on relationship and sleep. An overview. (2016). Chronobiology International.
The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights? (2013). Sagepub.
Sleeping arrangements - GB survey (2018). YouGov.