Do You Need a Sleep Divorce?

Sleep doesn’t come easily for many. One in three American adults isn’t getting the sleep they need (defined as seven to nine hours a night), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Numerous factors may be driving these sleep woes, but one that stands out if you’re in a romantic relationship? Your partner. Rest easy. We've got help.

By Karen Asp


If you have trouble sleeping next to someone, you’re not alone

Sharing a bed with a partner can indeed make for restless, even sleepless, nights, something many couples experience. In a Slumber Cloud survey, one in five respondents cited their partner as their most significant sleep disruptor with almost half saying they’d rather sleep alone than with their partner. In a survey conducted by the mattress company Saatva, 39 percent of respondents said they found their partner’s snoring irritating. (Stealing the covers and cuddling in bed were the other two annoying sleep habits mentioned.) And women were more bothered by snoring than men. 

This would all be the stuff of stand-up routines if not for the fact that now that you’re over 40, sleep is extra important. “Disturbed sleep among older women has impacts on mood, memory, pain and numerous aspects of health and wellbeing,” says Brandon Peters-Mathews, M.D., board-certified sleep physician at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. 

But what are you going to do, kick your partner out of bed? Well, not exactly, but an entire night spent spooning may not be advisable either. Consider this: Sharing a bed with somebody isn’t a pre-requisite for a healthy relationship, say pros. In fact, it’s insane to think that two people can have the same sleep habits, let alone the same sleep schedule. “A couple shouldn’t expect to have the same sleep schedule any more than they should be expected to feel hungry at the same time every day,” Peters-Mathews says.

Besides, with age comes an increased incidence of sleep disorders, including snoring, insomnia and restless leg, which could disrupt a partner’s sleep. Save yourself from ruin! Read on to see how two women, including your author here, have worked their way around incompatible sleep styles.  

What is a sleep divorce?

When I proposed that my husband and I sleep in separate rooms a few years ago – his snoring and later bedtime had started messing with my sleep – it wasn’t such a radical idea. My dad’s parents had slept in separate rooms, and when I visited them as a kid, I just accepted that my grandmother had one room, my grandfather another.

As I later learned, history was also on my side. For almost a century, between the 1850s and 1950s, sleeping in separate beds was viewed as healthier for couples, according to The Guardian. Twin beds then became the norm, and while couples weren’t necessarily splitting rooms, they were splitting beds.

Recent data also indicates that more couples are exploring what’s been termed a sleep divorce. A Mattress Clarity survey revealed that almost 40 percent of Americans would like to get a sleep divorce while the National Sleep Foundation reported in 2005 that almost one in four American couples sleep in separate beds or bedrooms. The practice gets a thumbs up from the sleep expert. “A separate bedroom may not only improve sleep quality, it may also be necessary for safety when certain sleep behaviors occur,” Peters-Mathews says. 

Of course, this only works if your living arrangement includes two separate rooms that are conducive to sleeping. But if you can make it happen, my husband and I are proof that it can work. While I’m still battling my own sleep issues, my sleep quality has improved now that I’m alone at night. What’s more, I no longer wake up feeling angry at my husband because he stole my sleep — bringing us oddly closer during the daytime. My husband’s also slumbering more soundly, namely because he’s not worried about waking me up. 

Find a mattress designed for minimal partner disturbances

Sleep divorce not in the cards? Then consider the solution that worked for Jill Benjamin of Melbourne, Fla.: A new mattress, namely a Sleep Number, allowing her and her husband Scott to choose their own firmness, even the elevation they prefer. 

The couple had been slumbering on a traditional king mattress with a pillow top that Benjamin says was too soft for her. “Because I like a firmer bed, Scott a softer one, I was always sore in my hips and shoulders,” she says. To make matters worse, Scott had started snoring and getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, both of which disrupted Benjamin’s sleep. 

After researching options, they purchased a split king Sleep Number so that Benjamin can keep her mattress fairly firm while Scott can opt for something softer. Although Scott’s snoring still shakes her out of slumber occasionally – except when he’s exercising, avoiding alcohol and watching weight, all habits that quell the snoring  … but that’s another story – she’s had better success sleeping through the night for 7 to 7.5 hours, even waking up without her hips and shoulders bothering her. Triumph!

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