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Will Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms Heal Your Marriage — or Kill It?

Spending the night apart may create distance, but it can also mean partners are better rested

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He snores too loud. She twists and turns all night. These are just 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 a relationship since everyone is better rested. But others worry that it can put distance between a couple. ​

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The practice of couples sleeping apart is fairly common. In fact, there’s a term for the practice: “sleep divorce.”​

But Anna Marie Boyd, a licensed professional counselor 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 survey. Those surveyed also documented getting an extra 37 minutes of sleep each night.​

“Couples often find that after deciding to sleep separately, they’re able to have more meaningful connections during the day and are stronger” together, says Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist and director of sleep health for Sleepopolis, an online sleep resource. This “conscious decision … helps to let go of any resentment related to poor sleep and can lead to an overall happier and healthier life for both partners.”​

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 it comes to 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 or so 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 in his sleep and trying to get my pillow.”​ ​

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Lots of other factors can contribute to separate bedrooms. The mattress could be perfect for one partner and too soft or hard for the other (although customizable models allow for different degrees of firmness and other features on each side of the bed). The ideal temperature of the room may be too warm or too cold. Sleeping with pets may be obligatory or repulsive. One partner’s use of technology at bedtime may keep the other one awake. In fact, a recent Architectural Digest article proclaimed that the stigma of sleeping in separate beds is over, mentioning that some high-end interior designers are even getting requests for individual primary bedrooms.​ ​

DeCaro says that sleeping separately had no ill effect on her marriage’s level of intimacy. “It improved our relationship because we both slept well for a change,” she says. “And if we wanted more from each other, we’d go to one bed.”​ ​

Watching out for relationship red flags​

​While sleeping in separate rooms may be beneficial at times, it can create risks for a relationship and be a signal that other issues are being ignored, says Mark Sharp, a licensed clinical psychologist in Oak Brook, Illinois. “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. “Sometimes the issue may be real but is also solvable, yet the couple continues to sleep in separate beds rather than fixing the problem.”​ ​

Sharp says that when couples go to bed together, they often use that time to catch up on their day and other things going on in their lives — seemingly insignificant conversations that help keep couples connected.​ ​

And sharing a bed makes lovemaking more convenient. Sharp has known couples who sleep separately and report a decline in their sex lives. “People often resist ‘planning’ sex,” he says, “but in such situations, it may be necessary.”​​

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When else might sleeping apart create friction? “If one person snores and potentially has apnea but won’t see a doctor because they refuse to see it as a problem, and the other person leaves the room because it is the only way to get sleep, then that can be a huge issue in the relationship,” Harris says.​ ​

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 the purpose of 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 go 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 needs to be as uninterrupted as possible for it to be restful and restorative. A consistent bedtime routine helps with staying 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 in — not a detriment to — the relationship, as long as the root cause is addressed. “At the end of the day, are we really looking out for the health of both partners?”​

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