A "Sleep Divorce" Might Save Your Relationship, Experts Say


No matter how long you've been together, there's always more to discover about your partner, whether it's a positive that strengthens the union or something that causes even long-term couples to reconsider their relationship. That goes for sleeping habits, too. Your spouse may have been a restless sleeper for years or perhaps their high-decibel snoring is a new thing. Either way, what do you do when your life partner is the reason you're not getting a good night's sleep? Chris Winter, MD, neurologist and Mattress Firm's Sleep Health Expert, has a surprising approach—and tips on how to pull it off successfully. Read on to find out more about how a "sleep divorce" might save your relationship.

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Lack of sleep can have serious consequences.

Sleep is a crucial component of our overall well-being, something our body needs to function on multiple levels. For most adults, the Sleep Foundation advises "at least seven hours of sleep each night for proper cognitive and behavioral functions." A consistent lack of sleep can cause problems with cognitive abilities and mood, and it can increase the risk for conditions and diseases such as "obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, and early death," according to the site.

Yet, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the Better Sleep Council, 85 percent of American adults say they have trouble sleeping at night. And 40 percent of those adults said their spouse or partner's sleep habits were the problem—revealing that relationship issues can be another consequence of insufficient sleep.

Sleeping in the same bed isn't always what's best for the relationship.

There are different ways couples can keep each other awake. Tossing, turning, and snoring are some common issues. "You may have different sleep hygiene habits leading to one of you coming to bed later and disturbing the other, creating challenges in the bedroom and waking hours," says therapist, counselor, and coach Shelly Qualtieri, RSW, MA.

Whatever condition is at the root of the problem, "poor sleep can tremendously impact your relationship," cautions Winter. "People are more irritable, less able to read emotions, more impulsive, and more prone to depression if they aren't getting adequate sleep."

If the sleep habits of one person (or both people) in a relationship are causing problems, Winter suggests trying out a "sleep divorce." It might sound dramatic, but there are no attorney fees or legal documents involved. The term simply refers to couples who decide not to sleep together. "It makes sense to sleep apart any time one partner's sleep disturbs another, whether it's because of snoring, different work schedules, or restlessness, at least from time to time," Winter says.

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A "sleep divorce" can be a flexible arrangement with benefits for both partners.

While the word "divorce" has negative connotations that don't necessarily bode well for a relationship, choosing to have a sleep divorce can actually strengthen a relationship because both partners are well rested.

If you can't imagine a night without your romantic partner, Winter encourages people "to refrain from thinking of healthy relationships and sleeping in the same bed as mutually exclusive," comparing a sleep divorce to other, mundane decisions such as not exercising as a twosome. "If you want to run together, great—but if one of you prefers going in the morning and the other at night, that's totally fine, too," Winter explains. "I spend a lot of time telling couples that it's okay to sleep apart sometimes."

If you're having trouble deciding on a sleep divorce, Winter suggests sleeping apart only on certain days of the week. "This falls under the category of 'two days of good sleep are better than none,'" he says. "Doing this can eliminate the guilt that you're not sleeping together, it allows you to get needed sleep, and it gives you the opportunity to figure out if your spouse is really your sleep saboteur."

After all, sleeping apart may clue you in to other factors—such as temperature or outside noise—that are the true causes of your disrupted sleep.

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How to have a successful "sleep divorce."

Winter notes that being able to sleep in separate rooms is the ideal approach to a successful sleep divorce. "Having separate bedrooms gives each partner the opportunity to set their bedroom up to their exact specifications, including the mattress, lighting, and temperature, huge contributing factors to a good night of sleep," he says.

If that's not possible, Winter recommends making the sofa as close to your bed as possible, using your own pillow, or even wearing your partner's t-shirt or pajamas. "The familiar smells will help the sofa seem more like bed," he says. "Our brains tie smells most tightly to memory, so trick your brain into thinking you are in your own bed with your partner."

Winter also recommends picking certain days to sleep apart if you're feeling daunted by the idea of a sleep divorce. "Pick two nights a week, like Mondays and Thursdays, to sleep in different rooms. It works because you don't have to make the decision every night, and it's kind of fun to have these periods where you're away and then reunite."

Another tactic? Trying it out for a specific occasion. "It could be beneficial to consider sleeping separately, say, the night before a big meeting, which also helps you test out the waters, so you know if this is something you want to do more often," Winter says.

The bottom line, according to Winter: "It's a lot more fun to be in a relationship when you're both well rested."