You are not alone if the pandemic has exposed small (or large) relationship irritations. Chewing your partner could send you a spiral. Snoring can cause rabies. Or, after spending every waking moment together for almost a year, you may have come to terms with an unfortunate truth: you love your partner, but you want a divorce to sleep on.
What is a sleep divorce, you ask? It’s an arrangement where couples decide to have individual sleeping arrangements (think: different sleep times, separate beds, or entirely different bedrooms). There are many reasons why you might need a sleep separation. If either of you works late at night, sleeping together can be disruptive at 3 a.m. Either of you might have a sleep disorder that makes sleeping in the same bed uncomfortable or even dangerous. It’s also possible that you and your partner started sleeping separately for some reason during this pandemic and discovered that you appreciate the extra bed space.
If you want concrete proof that sleep divorces are helpful overall, there hasn’t been a lot of research on this (sorry). But it is clear that some of the issues that could lead to a sleep divorce can certainly interfere with your rest. For example, a 2016 review of the literature published in Chronobiology International found evidence that sleeping with someone who snores can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Bottom Line: More research is needed to examine how sleeping together (and separately) impacts overall mental and physical health, but you need to do what’s best for your sleep if you can.
We know that adequate sleep fuels your overall well-being. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), sleep can help you solidify memories and rebuild muscles, among a host of other benefits. On the other hand, over time, insufficient sleep can increase the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, according to NINDS.
Yet even with a good night’s sleep on the line, it can be difficult to tell someone that you want to spend every night away from them. So if you think you want to break up every night (but stick together), we asked a relationship expert to give you some advice.
1. Remember that sleeping separately doesn’t mean your relationship is terrible.
If you’ve discovered solo sleep and never want to go back, or if you’re just curious about it, remember that this isn’t a statement about your overall relationship. It is true that sleeping together is one of those things that our society generally considers inherent in a committed romantic relationship. But people in a relationship can make sense of their interactions. It’s okay if you want to rehearse with a little space between you, because you know the rest you get separately is way better than the rest you put together.
2. Be gentle in your approach.
If you are at the point where you are ready to sleep in separate places, your partner is probably experiencing your sleeping problems. Even so, it can be hard to tell someone you love that you want a divorce to sleep on, and the truth is, you might have feelings about it, too. “In many cases, it’s painful for both people as for some reason you can’t share a bed at night,” said Emily Jamea, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., SELF. She suggests being honest about any sadness you are feeling.
3. Consider compromising on sleep.
If you are troubled by sleep deprivation, different beds may seem like the best solution. But is there room for compromise? Could you sleep separately on weeknights and spend weekends together? You are allowed to bring creativity to your sleep routine, just as couples can define relationships on their own terms. “Look for compromise areas where you can,” suggests Dr. Jamea.
4. Spend time cuddling before bed.
Sleeping with your partner might not be amazing right now, but it probably has some hidden benefits for both of you. If the two of you usually chat before bed or cuddle in the morning, you should try to keep these rituals alive. Even if you’re not a hug, creating a nighttime ritual – like watching TV in bed an hour before bed – that makes separate sleep a little less alien could be helpful.
5. Be intentional about other forms of physical proximity.
It doesn’t have to result in sex (unless you want to), but Dr Jamea says everything from showering together or hanging on the same couch during a Netflix frenzy goes a long way. She explains, “These kinds of things create physical togetherness… and will help you feel near to your partner.” If you are concerned that sleeping separately could interfere with your sex life, you should speak up as well. To keep the momentum going you can schedule sex or find other creative workarounds.
Finally, we have to note that your heart may want a divorce from sleep, but your tiny apartment tells a different story. If space is an issue, find out why you would like to sleep separately and see if there are any tradeoffs you can make. For example, a white noise machine could muffle snoring, and separate blankets could eliminate any duvet grabbing overnight. Additionally, if you or your partner has a disruptive sleep disorder, a discussion with a primary care provider or sleep specialist may be appropriate.