While sleeping in separate rooms may be beneficial, it can create risks and signal that other issues are being ignored. In this AARP article, Mindpath Health’s Anna Marie Boyd, LPC, explores how this trend challenges traditional notions of togetherness and redefines the boundaries of a healthy relationship.
He snores too loud. She twists and turns all night. These are two reasons couples often greet the day unrested and, because sleep and mood are so closely intertwined, increase their odds of being at odds.
Some try to resolve differences by sleeping in separate bedrooms. But will that improve a relationship — or introduce strife? Some experts say separate bedrooms can strengthen relationships since everyone is better rested. But others worry that it can put distance between a couple.
The practice of couples sleeping apart is fairly common. There’s a term for the practice: “sleep divorce.”
But Anna Marie Boyd, LPC, with Mindpath Health in Houston, says spending the night in separate bedrooms doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. “Society has a framework for what things should look like, and there’s a lot of black-and-white thinking about partners who don’t sleep together,” says Boyd. “But really, there’s a lot of gray area and a lot more involved.”
More than half of adults who started and maintained sleeping in separate beds reported the arrangement improved their sleep quality, according to a January 2023 SleepFoundation.org survey. Those surveyed also documented getting an extra 37 minutes of sleep each night.
Sleeping separately “improved our relationship”
Nearly 1 in 4 couples sleep apart, according to a 2017 poll from the National Sleep Foundation. Snoring can be a main offender when pushing couples to doze alone.
Pat DeCaro, 78, a retired teacher from Rochester, New York, recalls having to split up the spousal bedroom with her husband, Jim, who passed away in 2019: “He said that it was impossible to sleep with [my] snoring, and even when he moved to another room, which was right next to the bedroom, he would say, ‘I can still hear you.’ ”
For the last 15 years of their 47-year marriage, her husband slept on a pulled-out futon in their study, which wound up having an added benefit: “The bed was very high, and the futon was very low, so it was easier for him to get out,” she says. “I slept so much better, too, because he was always flailing around and trying to get my pillow.”
Watching out for relationship red flags
While sleeping in separate rooms may be beneficial at times, it can create risks for a relationship and signal that other issues are being ignored, says Mark Sharp, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Sometimes the reason for sleeping in different beds or one partner moving out of the bedroom is just an excuse to get away from their partner,” he says.
Sharp says that when couples go to bed together, they often use that time to catch up on their day and other things — seemingly insignificant conversations that help keep them connected.
It’s about more than sleep
What does science show when it comes to sleeping apart and romance? “There’s no research I can find suggesting that couples who sleep apart for better sleep have a less-romantic connection,” says American Academy of Sleep Medicine spokesperson Rajkumar Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist.
Dasgupta’s interest in the topic goes beyond togetherness, however. Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome not only increase the risk of diseases and disorders, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, and dementia but prevent the deep sleep necessary for the health of your brain and immune system — an issue for both partners.
Good sleep is about quantity, quality, and regularity, Dasgupta says. Even though older people tend to sleep earlier and wake up earlier than they did when they were younger, they still need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to stay healthy and alert, according to the National Institute on Aging. And that sleep must be as uninterrupted as possible to be restful and restorative. A consistent bedtime routine helps stay on top of a solid shut-eye schedule.
Communication (as usual) is the key
While sleeping separately can be a sensitive subject to bring up with a partner, stirring up feelings of insecurity or fears of abandonment, brushing the topic under the rug can lead to disconnection and resentment. Both parties need to understand that such a conversation isn’t a personal attack but merely an attempt to address an important health issue.
“This takes collaboration, sometimes with a professional if these conversations are difficult,” says Boyd, suggesting that more couples should consider separate bedrooms an investment — not a detriment to — the relationship, as long as the root cause is addressed. “At the end of the day, are we looking out for the health of both partners?”