A “sleep divorce” is when a couple lives together, but does not sleep in the same bed.
Notice I didn’t say “sleep together” because that’s an obvious euphemism. We have a cultural expectation about the proxemics of sleep in marriage. “Sleeping together” means all is well. Sleeping apart invites a negative assumption on the quality of the relationship.
All couples have a vested interest in preserving both their sleep as well as their marriage. Cultural expectations presume a referendum on whatever decision the couple has made about sleeping arrangements.
Sleep disorders such as snoring or sleep apnea are more common in men. This can complicate sleep for wives who tend to suffer more from insomnia. Different sleep schedules may add yet another layer of complication.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 12% of American couples sleep apart. In addition, recent research by a mattress manufacturer indicated that over 30% of couples might want to. A large online mattress retailer surveyed the same question and put that number closer to 40%.
One of the reasons that I subscribe to Architectural Digest is because it opens a window on our collective domestic fantasies. In 2017, AD called dual master bedrooms “the hottest new amenity in luxury homes.”
There is a dynamic tension operation here. While sleeping, we are prone, unconscious, and vulnerable. And when we are vulnerable, we tend to take comfort from our connection to our intimate partner.
It’s common knowledge that we need at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Research tells us that sleep deprivation and relationship problems often co-occur. That’s because sleep-deprived people are more irritable and argumentative in their social interactions than those who get adequate sleep.
A 2014 study, reported that couples who experienced poor sleep during a two-week period reported more frequent marital conflict than those who got sufficient amounts of sleep.
National Sleep Foundation spokesperson Natalie D. Dautovich, Ph.D. also reminds us of the importance of sleep and physical health.
“Among many other functions, healthy sleep is important for healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels, reducing the risk for obesity, promoting healthy cognitive functioning, and promoting a healthy immune response. Natalie D.Dautovich.
There’s no doubting that an adequate amount of restorative sleep is vital to your health and well-being. So what do you do when snoring, apnea, insomnia, or restlessness in your partner deprive you of the sleep you need?
We don’t pretend to be “sleep scientists.” And your average Sleep Clinic doesn’t do couples therapy. The purpose of this blog post is to offer afflicted couples a more balanced way of looking at the problem of inadequate sleep because of one partner’s behavior. If poor sleep is impacting your relationship, learn everything you can about whatever issue you are struggling with.
A sleep clinic is one option. But there’s also great research-based healthy sleep information online. For example, check out the blog at www.sleepstandards.com.
The happier you are in your marriage, the more skeptical you should be about a sleep divorce.
It’s important to note that the presenting problem often obscures the more subtle benefits of sleeping next to each other.
Why do you want a sleep divorce?
If it’s because of snoring or apnea, Go to a sleep clinic. Sleeping alone may restore your sleep for the short term, but ignoring their medical condition will impact your partner’s long-term health and well-being.
Whatever medical symptom is disrupting your partner’s sleep; snoring, restlessness, sleep apnea, etc….get help for it quickly. There are many effective treatments. Sleep science can help.
Human beings are quite resilient and can adapt well. While sleeping apart may seem like an obvious solution, going to a sleep clinic and actually treating the condition is a far better option.
While a “sleep divorce” is increasingly trendy, it discounts the real benefits of sleeping next to your partner.
Any behavior which disturbs sleep should be taken seriously. But don’t take the easy way out. Go to a sleep clinic and get help before your partner asks you for a sleep divorce.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.