Do You Need a Sleep Divorce? 5 Stories from Couples Who Tried It

By Ericka Sóuter
Reviewed by Samantha Domingo, Psy.D.
October 06, 2022

Most of us have felt the frustrating sensation of waking up and feeling anything but well rested. If it happens once, we might have a day of feeling tired and cranky. But if it happens regularly, poor sleep can negatively affect mental well‑being and physical health. In fact, not getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night puts people at greater risk for stroke, diabetes complications, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. It can also increase risk of depression and motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are many reasons for not getting a good night’s sleep, such as choosing to stay up late or experiencing stress, for example. For some people, a partner snoring, fidgeting, or stealing the covers might be keeping them up. In those cases, it can feel like both a sleep problem and a relationship issue at the same time.

One of the ways some couples overcome this issue is what’s called sleep divorce. To do this, the couple stay connected sexually and emotionally, but they sleep in separate beds or even in separate rooms. Many say it’s the key to a good night’s sleep for people whose sleep is affected by their partner.

“Couples may decide to sleep apart due to medical, physical, or personal circumstances that create a disturbance of quality sleep within the relationship,” explains Omar Ruiz, a marriage and family therapist from Boston. “Circumstances can range from being diagnosed with sleep apnea to working late-night shifts that force one person to come home at 3 a.m., which may unintentionally disrupt the other person's sleep cycle.”

Sleeping in separate beds or—if you’re lucky enough to have the space in your home—in separate rooms has the potential to help one or both partners sleep more restfully. Could sleep divorce be the key to solving the riddle of better sleep? And could it be right for you?

There are some pros and cons of sleep divorce to consider. Here, a few people who have done it share their experiences.

1. Our rest is peaceful, but sex has changed.

Roberta, 48, Williamsburg, Virginia

“When we first moved in together, I thought the guest room would be for guests,” says Roberta, who now utilizes the spare room to happily sleep apart from her snoring spouse.

“I was tired, cranky, and resentful. Now, we both get to sleep because I have peace and quiet and he isn’t constantly getting kicked and nudged.”

However, Roberta admits that sleeping apart has affected the couple’s sex life: “Spontaneous nookie is a distant memory, but we now hate each other less, so the sex is better when we do have it!”

2. We’re more patient and energetic.

James, 39, Beverly, Massachusetts

James says his sleep has improved enormously since he and his wife decided not to share a bed every night.

“My wife unfortunately suffers from both sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, so getting a good night’s sleep in the same bed just wasn’t possible for us [before],” James says. “I would either have to wake my wife up while she was in a deep sleep or relegate myself to sleeping on the couch.”

James suggests that other couples in the same boat give sleep divorce a try. “I would definitely recommend sleeping in separate beds if a couple is facing this type of sleep challenge together,” he adds. “Now, my wife and I aren’t tired all the time, which gives us more patience and energy.”

3. We parent better this way.

Kaitlyn, 40, Portland, Oregon

Since the slightest movement keeps her awake, Kaitlyn prefers to sleep in the spare bedroom in the basement while her spouse stays in the bedroom they once shared. “I found that changing sleep locations helped,” she says.

The setup was especially effective for the couple to divide their parenting duties. “Our son was about 18 months old at the time,” she recalls. “As he got older and we had another kid, my partner was the one who soothed the kids at night, which frequently meant them sleeping in the same bed. It just made sense that I would have my own sleeping space, since sleep was harder for me and I needed fewer disruptions.”

Five years later, the arrangement still works for her family. “I think our relationship has been better since sleeping separately,” she says. “My sleep is better, and if I am having sleep issues, I don't feel as much resentment towards him.”

4. We’re seeking solutions so we can sleep together again.

Jeanne, 39, Callicoon Center, New York

Jeanne says her husband tends to move wildly in his sleep and has even unconsciously bumped and bruised her. “When he’s not acting out in his sleep, he’s snoring like he is sawing through the Amazon forest,” she says.

As a result, one of them ends up on the couch about five nights a week. The next morning, she tends to wake up more refreshed, but she doesn’t feel it’s the ideal long-term solution for them. “I miss sleeping beside him and the benefits that come with waking up next to him and early morning snuggles,” Jean says.

A permanent sleep reunion is in the works. Jean’s husband has been seeing a doctor, and they suspect he will be diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine (a specialized machine designed to help those with sleep apnea), which may reduce both the snoring and acting out.

“Overall, I hate our sleep divorce, and I’m incredibly hopeful we can get back to sleeping in the same bed each night,” she says. “My husband is my best friend, and we spend enough time apart as two busy working parents. I want to enjoy the time we can have together, even if part of that time is spent sleeping!”

5. I will always want my own sleep space.

Angie, 41, Portland, Oregon

It started with a breakup. She and her partner decided to end things, but neither could move out immediately. The pair got back together, but Angie realized sleeping in separate beds worked well.

“I have a chronic illness, and at times I am in a lot of pain,” she says. “It helped not to share a bed.”

It also helped the pair focus on intimacy. “We were very mindful that we connected,” she says. “One of us would say, ‘You want to sleep over in my space?’ It makes those nights more special.”

While the couple eventually ended the relationship for good, Angie plans to have separate beds with future partners. “It’s a matter of knowing what your needs are. I will never go back to a traditional sleeping arrangement.”

What to Consider About Sleep Divorce

Sleep divorce isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering it, Ruiz suggests first talking with your partner about the impact sleep has on your relationship. “Doing this will put some perspective into the values and importance that sleep has,” he says.

Next, consider the impact that sleeping apart will have on your need for physical intimacy, which includes touching, cuddling, and talking, in addition to sex.

Lastly, explore other things you can do to improve your sleep. Speak to a doctor or specialist about alleviating any health issues or finding ways to improve sleep without creating distance.

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