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Is A Sleep Divorce A Good Idea For Your Relationship?

By June 10, 2024Blog
Sleep Divorce - Is It A Good Idea For Your Relationship - Sam Owen

Putting Sleep Divorce Into Perspective

Sleep divorce is still trending so let’s put this argument to bed for once and for all.

Sleep divorce is a term I first heard a few years ago when asked to comment on Prince Charles and Camilla reportedly sleeping in separate beds. Now it’s rearing its head once again and it fills me with dread and here’s why.

People will jump on a trend because it’s a trend and this sleep divorce ‘trend’ (which I’m not convinced is popular anyway) concerns me because for happy, healthy romantic relationships to exist, in the majority of cases, division is not the answer. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, and if it works for you with zero short-, mid- and long-term, negative side effects, then great, but right now, let’s focus on the rule rather than the exceptions.


Sleep Divorce Motivation

Life is about balance. Every aspect of your life should be running well, not only some aspects whilst others wither and lay in waste.

People will say they have opted for a sleep divorce because it helps them to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is an incredibly important function for our health, wellbeing, and relationships, so we should take getting a good night’s sleep every night, seriously. No question about it.

Sleep helps you to consolidate memories [1], be better at interpersonal communication [2], diminish your brain’s emotional reaction to emotionally distressing events from the day before [1, 3], and even problem-solve [4].

But if your solution to getting a good night’s sleep causes (other) problems in your romantic relationship, or life, it’s not necessarily the right sleep solution in the first place then, is it?

Secondly, if you are deflecting from the real issues in your life by incorrectly blaming sleeping with your spouse as the reason for your lack of sleep, again, it’s not the right solution for you and, furthermore, the sleep divorce will leave the root cause unresolved as well as further dissolving your romantic connection for no reason.

In a romantic relationship, your focus should be on what keeps you connected, in love, and intimate with one another (emotionally, physically, sexually). The intimacy is what makes your relationship unique and there is a level of intimacy that only you and your spouse can provide each other with so you have to maintain that. No excuses, no complacency.


Does Sleep Divorce Provide Short Term Gains For Long Term Pains?

Sleeping in the same bed as your partner can help your romantic relationship.

Research shows that attempts at physical intimacy among married and cohabiting couples results in more relationship satisfaction, better couple communication and less couple conflict [5].

Elsewhere, researchers have found that both male and female partners in romantic, long-term relationships experience higher sexual desire when they have higher emotional intimacy between them [6].

And given co-sleeping affords you the environment for all forms of intimacy, you want to keep that opportunity alive.

Bed sharing and sleeping together is one of those key daily times for closeness, bonding, intimacy, relaxation and, importantly, wiring your brain to positively associate those things with one another. This is in part due to your brain releasing chemicals such as oxytocin when you touch and kiss which makes you feel relaxed, safe and bonded with each other.

You don’t want to strip that away from your relationship and then have to try to make up for it throughout the rest of your day, if you even can, instead of doing it in your day and during your night, thus gaining double the dose of all the benefits of all forms of intimacy.

So whilst one may argue that having a sleep divorce means one simply finds the time for intimacy elsewhere in the day, being frank, people are busy and distracted as it is. Better to have the night and morning together and use it for all forms of intimacy as well as rest, and then create even more intimate moments and hours in the day.


Deal With The Root Cause, Not The Symptoms

Be very honest with yourself about what’s really causing your sleep problems. It’s sometimes easier to blame other factors and other people for your personal challenges or the relationship woes you’re scared to confront. For example:

  • Are you struggling to meet targets at work?
  • Do you feel like your partner has disengaged from you?
  • Do you feel like you’re failing as a parent?
  • Are you struggling with depression or (complex) post-traumatic stress disorder?
  • Is your partner a loud snorer?
  • Do you have a physical illness that disrupts your sleep?
  • Are you spending too much time on social media, emails, or the news late at night?
  • Are you struggling with sleep as a new parent?

Now, just using that list of examples, notice how separate sleeping arrangements is not necessarily the solution if sleeping with your beloved is of the utmost importance to you; and that’s where your focus should lie, on resolving the root cause, as per the examples above, not on the symptom which is the quality or duration of your sleep.

And even if you have exhausted all other possible solutions, in the case of some issues, such as the insomnia that stems from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, assuming your spouse is not the cause of it, whether you sleep with your spouse or alone is not going to resolve the brain changes that have occurred due to the trauma.

Quite the contrary, in fact, sleeping with your beloved can be very helpful.


Sleeping With A Partner Vs. Sleeping Alone

Research links bed-sharing with one’s partner to be associated with longer and more stabilised REM sleep than when sleeping alone [7]. Despite more fidgeting in bed in the form of limb movements (which could simply reflect a desire to connect physically with one’s partner), the participants’ brain scans showed objective benefits from sleeping together in the form of longer and more stabilised REM sleep.

Getting REM sleep, and non-fragmented REM sleep, is important for dissolving the brain’s emotional reactivity to a stressful event [3]. In other words, more and good quality REM sleep is important for your mental health. It enables your brain to do a sort of file away and clean-up exercise for itself each night.

So sleeping with your partner, as opposed to sleeping alone, gives you a very important mental health benefit, helping your brain to process and move on from stressful events, every night. It’s one of the reasons you wake up feeling (more) relaxed, refreshed. Like you’ve hit a reset button.

Sleep is an important reset button for your mind and sleeping with your beloved could help it to work better.


You And Your Partner’s Mental Health

Poor sleep quality and duration is linked to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and for various reasons, a very important aspect of the mental health healing journey is getting a good night’s sleep each night, in particular REM sleep.

And as per the previous research, sleeping with one’s partner results in longer and more stabilised REM sleep so you want to maintain your co-sleeping time with your spouse as it is providing you with mental health benefits.

As you search, then, for the correct solutions to your sleep issues, you must consider all the factors that might be affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

For example, if you are struggling with insomnia, whether you are mentally healthy, or whether you have anxiety or depression symptoms or a disorder, exercise is always a good idea.

Exercise has soothing and healing effects, it helps you to rewire your brain for different habits, it helps you to increase the grey matter in brain regions that have shrunk, and it’s a really good way to help yourself drift off at night too.

And now, new research confirms what you probably already suspected, that in both adults and children, increasing the amount of moderate physical activity during the day leads to better sleep quality and less tiredness during waking hours [8].

So whatever you currently do, daily, start increasing the physical exertion level and take note of how much more physical exertion in a given day helps you to get a better night’s sleep as a result. That way you can build a personalised routine for your days to optimise sleep length and quality.

To give you some ideas, a brisk, long walk (at least 45 minutes) and resistance training where you are pushing your limits, are two easy ways to get at least moderately intense physical activity into your day, so that as well as their various documented mental health benefits, they would also help you to get a good night’s sleep.

But choose whichever activities boost your daily activity intensity that you also enjoy and will sustain over time, such as gardening, swimming, tennis, dancing, basketball, football, martial arts, etc.

Use your body a sufficient amount each day, it will help you to maintain a healthy mind, body and brain, both through the strengthening of the brain and body and by resulting in sufficient nightly restorative sleep.


There Are Many Factors That Affect Sleep

So remember to consider all possible causes for your sleep problems and be thoughtful of the side effects of the solutions you choose, as well as the side effects of sleeping apart and how it reduces the amount of intimacy you both have simply due to spending less time together during the night and early morning.

Remember that many studies highlight other factors that can hinder your nightly sleep and your daytime mood and overall health, that you may not even be considering, from the stress you’re under [9], to your pessimistic outlook [10], to what you eat [11], to whether you have green views from your home [12].

And we’ve not even touched the topic of new parents, or parents with young children in the house. But once again, separate sleeping arrangements isn’t the solution people might think it is.

What allegedly works for one or two couples is not something you should be aiming to emulate.

Do not deflect from the real issues, wrongly put the blame on your partner or bed sharing with your spouse, and mistakenly begin unravelling your unique, intimate bond with your spouse, all while allowing the real cause of your sleep issues to worsen.

The odd night’s sleep alone here or there is fine, or a week or two after an operation, for example, is fine. But don’t make division a habit.

Your daily relationship habits make or break your relationship and it’s the cumulative affect that will either ensure you grow closer or apart over time so think hard about what you’re doing every day and where those habits are going to take you and your marriage over the long-term.

Make sure your relationship maintains the identifying features that make it a romantic relationship, i.e. one that is different to all the platonic relationships in your life. Rather than nonchalantly friend zone your partner, resolve the root cause of your sleep issues, and keep a loving focus on each other.



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3. Wassing, R., Benjamins, J. S., Dekker, K., Moens, S., Spiegelhalder, K., Feige, B., Riemann, D., van der Sluis, S., Van Der Werf, Y. D., Talamini, L. M., Walker, M. P., Schalkwijk, F., & Van Someren, E. J. (2016). Slow dissolving of emotional distress contributes to hyperarousal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(9), 2538–2543.

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8. Matricciani, L., Dumuid, D., Stanford, T., Maher, C., Bennett, P., Bobrovskaya, L., Murphy, A., & Olds, T. (2024). Time use and dimensions of healthy sleep: A cross-sectional study of Australian children and adults. Sleep Health, 10(3), 348–355.

9. Smith, J., Honig-Frand, A., Antila, H., Choi, A., Kim, H., Beier, K. T., Weber, F., & Chung, S. (2024). Regulation of stress-induced sleep fragmentation by preoptic glutamatergic neurons. Current Biology, 34(1), 12–23.e5.

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