Why Couples Sleep Apart
Ahhh, So Your Partner’s Not Letting You Sleep. Here’s Why
Sometimes a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by – the neighbor’s barking dog, a car alarm, or a teething baby all seem to conspire to keep you awake. But add a restless bed partner who snores or steals the blankets or who prefers a subzero sleep environment, and all hope for a good night’s sleep can be lost. No wonder so many of us are not getting the recommended amount of sleep on a consistent basis.
Research from the Better Sleep Council found that on average, one in three Americans report their bed partner has a negative impact on their own sleep. Americans crave sleep more than sex – which should give everyone pause to think about their respective sleep arrangements. A UK survey found the average couple engaged in bedroom quarrels a whopping 167 times a year. The No. 1 reason was blanket hogging, and the No. 2 reason was snoring.
With sleep deprivation linked to a host of problems including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression, relationship problems, accidents, irritability and poorer job satisfaction, it is imperative that sufficient, quality sleep is everyone’s primary consideration.
Historical perspective on sleeping
In Roman times, the marital bed was a place for romance but not sleep. Folks in the Middle Ages viewed beds as places of courtship, where unmarried couples were permitted to be in the same bed but were separated by a strategically placed bolster. Before the Victorian era, sleeping in the same bed with your partner was considered unhealthful. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that couples slept in the same bed as a result of limited living space in the cities.
The dirty little secrets of bed partners
Contrary to popular belief, sleeping apart from your partner is not uncommon today. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll, nearly one in four American couples sleeps in separate bedrooms or beds. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that 60% of new custom homes will have dual master bedrooms this year. Some of the reasons for nocturnal incompatibility include:
- Different bedtimes and wake times
- TV viewing by one partner
- Preferences for a firmer or softer mattress
- A mattress that is too small
- Different room-temperature preferences
- Sleep disorders and other medical conditions
- Snoring, snoring, and more snoring
- Sleep crimes, including the blanket burglar, pillow thief, and sheet stealer
The good and the bad
Proponents of bed sharing support the psychological benefits of being close to your partner at night. Some researchers maintain that sleeping with your partner may promote health by lowering the stress hormone cortisol and reducing cytokines that are linked to inflammation. Sleeping together is also thought to boost oxytocin levels, which are known to lower anxiety levels. Sharing a bed with your partner may also serve as emotional support while promoting feelings of safety and security.
In contrast, proponents of separate sleeping cite research demonstrating that couples suffer 50% more sleep disturbances when sharing a bed. They argue that a “sleep divorce” is not necessarily indicative of a bad relationship, nor does a good sleep life (meaning incompatible sleepers sleeping separately) necessarily result in a bad sex life.
Celebrity solo sleeping
If you prefer sleeping alone, you’re in some famous company. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt reportedly frequented separate rooms to sleep, as do Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. It has been reported that Kevin Jonas sleeps separately from his wife due to his loud snoring and that Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick sleep separately as well.
Rethink your sleep
Until recently, sleep and all of the benefits sufficient sleep confers have been underestimated and undervalued – but now it’s time to make your own sleep a priority and ignore preconceived notions about conventional sleep styles. Focus instead on a sleeping arrangement that offers you and your partner the best sleep possible, including sleeping in separate beds or separate bedrooms, both viable options that work best for some couples.
If you and your partner prefer to sleep together, keep doing so. Today’s mattress and bedding options, materials and new technologies – including dual-zoned adjustability, comfort and firmness and temperature controls—make sleeping in the same bed with your partner much easier.
Couples should optimize their sleep quality to ensure a great relationship. Whether you sleep separately or together, there’s no right or wrong way. Just get your sleep. Your relationships, health, well-being and quality of life depend on it. As always, see a sleep specialist for sleep problems you or your partner may be experiencing.
About the Expert
Terry Cralle, RN is a registered nurse, certified clinical sleep educator, certified professional in Healthcare Quality, and has devoted much of her career to sleep health and wellness. As an educator and co-founder of a four-bed sleep disorders center, she serves as a consultant and speaker for numerous organizations, including schools, hospitals and corporations. She's the author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top and Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle. For more visit www.terrycralle.com.