What is sleep divorce — and is it helpful?
1st November 2022

Plenty of people operate with the belief that sleep is a luxury that sometimes must be sacrificed in order to excel in other areas of life. For example, it's not unheard of to pull an all-nighter studying for an exam or working long hours on a presentation in hopes of getting a promotion. Others are unwilling to compromise on catching zzz's, even if that means getting a sleep divorce from their romantic partner.

If you've never heard the term "sleep divorce" before, it's a buzzy term for when partners decide to sleep separately from one another, whether in different beds, rooms, or homes entirely. While the concept of sleep divorce has a negative connotation, when done right, the practice can have a positive impact on your relationship and, of course, your sleep quality, according to Danielle Kelvas, M.D., chief medical advisor at Sleepline. Here, experts explain what a sleep divorce is, why it might be beneficial, and tips for trying a sleep divorce from your partner if you decide it's for you.

What Is Sleep Divorce?

Unlike an actual legal divorce, a sleep divorce is a temporary or permanent measure in which partners sleep solo, most commonly due to "differences in sleep patterns, habits, and preferences, or disruptive snoring from one or both partners," says Shelby Harris, Psy.D., D.B.S.M., director of sleep health at Sleepopolis. And deciding to enter a sleep divorce doesn't mean your relationship is at risk, notes Harris. Instead, it's a way to ensure that all parties involved are maximizing their ability to get quality sleep — a perfectly healthy aim.

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The particulars of any sleep divorce depend on what works for the partners and the extent of the sleep disturbance. For example, if one partner uses the restroom often, resulting in the other being woken up by the movement, sleeping in separate beds (in one room) may work, according to Harris. However, if one partner has sleep apnea or snores, or the partners can't agree on their preferred sleeping temperature, then sleeping in separate rooms can offer a solution. In an extreme situation (such as when long work commutes may cut into one's sleep time), sleeping in two completely different homes may make the most sense, says Dr. Kelvas.

While some people opt to sleep together on some nights and separately on others, that scenario may not help you get consistent, high-quality sleep. "Constantly changing where you sleep does not contribute to healthy sleep cycles or regular circadian rhythms," says Dr. Kelvas. "I advise patients to have separate rooms and beds, but be intentional about having regular moments of affection and cuddling" outside of the bedroom.

What Are the Benefits of a Sleep Divorce?

The biggest benefit of a sleep divorce is it can allow you to get quality, nourishing sleep that can improve both your physical and mental health. "Quality sleep can improve your memory, strengthen your immune system, decrease your risk of serious health problems [such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke], and increase your overall quality of life," says Harris. Sleep therapists will often point out to their patients that people spend about a third of their life sleeping, and so it makes sense to prioritize high-quality sleep, says Dr. Kelvas.

It may seem counterintuitive, but a sleep divorce can actually bring couples closer, given that a good night's sleep is shown to improve one's mood, says Harris. Additionally, a bed divorce may prevent any potential resentment stemming from poor sleep. It's easy to feel grumpy after a night of interrupted or less-than-restful sleep, and as a result, snap at your partner or end up in a bad mood.

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How to Try a Sleep Divorce and Maintain a Healthy Relationship

While a sleep divorce in and of itself won't ruin a relationship, it may necessitate extra effort from both sides to maintain a healthy partnership. When participating in a sleep divorce, try scheduling time for intimacy, such as a date night once a week with the expectation to have sex after the date's end. Or, try scheduling sex regularly and having a designated bed for intimacy to ensure that your physical needs are met after no longer sleeping in the same bed, suggests Harris.

Be prepared: Couples often get questions from family and friends about sleeping separately due to the negative connotation behind the habit, says Harris. "The key is framing [sleep divorce] as a decision to improve their health and strengthen their relationship, normalizing it as something that's beneficial for all," she says. While people on the outside looking in may not understand the arrangement, what matters most is that it works for the partners.

If you want to bring up the option of sleeping separately from your partner, make sure to present it in the most positive light possible. Start by attempting a one-week trial period, suggests Dr. Kelvas. That way, you and your partner can see if the sleep divorce helps you and your partner get quality sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.

While presenting the idea of a sleep divorce may feel uncomfortable at first, in many ways it can positively impact your quality of sleep and your relationship. If you struggle with sleep, it may be worth considering.

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