If you were around during the era of I Love Lucy, you might recall Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz sleeping in separate beds. The duo had matching twin beds in their shared bedroom because television broadcasting rules forbid couples from sharing a bed – it was considered much too risqué and taboo!
Though they slept apart on TV, we don’t know if the real-life couple shared a bed at home or were like the 1 in 4 American couples that sleep in separate beds. Today, TV couples are almost always seen sharing a bed. It’s become the norm on television despite it not being an accurate representation of current society. With bigger houses, more bedrooms, and a priority placed on sleep, many couples choose to sleep in separate beds and bedrooms.
The growing trend of married couples sleeping in separate beds isn’t an indication of marital problems. Instead, it’s a solution to help people get a better night’s rest. In 2017 a survey completed by the National Sleep Foundation found that roughly 25% of married couples sleep in separate beds.
Yet despite the many benefits of this sleeping arrangement, there is still a stigma surrounding it that prevents others from trying. As a result, it’s been dubbed a “sleep divorce” - the point in a relationship where a couple chooses to prioritize sleep and head to their own beds each night.
Some couples feel that if they sleep in a separate bed, it’s a sign that their relationship isn’t as strong as it could be. This is not true. According to New York clinical psychologist Jill Lankler, sleeping in separate beds can actually make your relationship stronger. Lankler told USA Today, “People are losing sleep. They are waking each other up, and there is this resentment that begins to build in a relationship. If you don’t address that, obviously, your relationship is going to suffer, your work suffers. It’s this cascade.” Daytime television’s favorite doctor, Dr. Oz, agrees. He’s spoken out on the topic on his own program, saying, “if you’re not taking care of your sleep, you are hurting your marriage.”
Sleeping can be tough on its own, and sleep troubles can be exacerbated when sleeping next to someone. For example, if you are a light sleeper and your partner snores, moves, or has restless legs, it can make it very difficult for you to sleep. You may lay on your millet pillow, unable to sleep because of your partner's movements. Meir Kryger, a professor of medicine at Yale’s School of Medicine and author of The Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life told The Washington Post that “few things impact the quality of your sleep each night more than your sleep environment. That includes who’s sleeping beside you and how well you sleep together. Kryger said that many of us are already struggling with sleep difficulties, and when you have a partner with their own sleep difficulties, it makes it worse for both people.
Even when another bed is available, many people stay next to their partner. Lankler said this is because they fear long-term consequences and that moving to another bed will adversely affect intimacy. Experts agree the opposite is true.
Using the snoring example above, if you spend the entire night awake because of your partner's snoring, you won’t feel great in the morning. In addition, a lack of sleep can result in moodiness, irritability, and a sense of resentment, which can all lead to relationship troubles. So although you may think sleeping in a separate bed is worse for your relationship, it is actually much better than suffering through sleepless night after sleepless night.
There are several high-profile examples of couples who sleep in separate beds like Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, and Kevin Jonas and Danielle Deleasa. Relationship experts and sleep experts say that for this sleeping arrangement to strengthen your relationship, there should be open communication. Discuss it with your partner and why this could be a positive adjustment. And, to ensure intimacy isn’t lost, you should carve out one-on-one time.
Eric Marlow Garrison, a certified sex counselor, said he is a “huge proponent of couples sleeping apart” and that sleeping in separate beds has strengthened the bond between thousands of couples that he’s met with. He said, “the sum of two healthy/rested individuals who make up a loving couple are greater than the individual parts.”
Though we are all pretty aware of the social expectations and pressures around sleeping in a shared bed when married, the science isn’t as obvious. The majority of sleep research is conducted in a sleep lab when people sleep on their own in a controlled environment. Unfortunately, these tightly controlled conditions don’t provide insight into natural sleep in the real world, where kids wake you up earlier, and your partner hogs the blankets.
The majority of the US population shares a bed as only 40% of people sleep alone, regardless of relationship status. In the few studies on partnered sleep, the results are clear – people sleep better alone. One study looked at 46 couples and monitored them for eight nights, assessing their body movements and sleep logs. Another study compared movements in those who slept with a partner versus those who slept alone. Both studies found that when one partner moved, the other would also move. These individuals were unaware of these movements, but it negatively affected their sleep quality. As a result, the researchers of both studies concluded that there is more movement and a reduction in sleep quality with partnered sleep.
The better your sleep, the better your health will be. In addition to improving your relationship, sleeping in separate beds reduces your risk of health problems and enhances your well-being, yet the option to sleep in separate beds is a privilege. Most incomes and living conditions don’t allow for this, so couples need to share a bed if they don’t want to sleep on the couch. Fortunately, there are adjustments that can be made to improve the quality of your sleep while sharing a bed with your spouse.
As mentioned by Yale’s Meir Kryger, sleep environment is so important. This includes your bedroom and bedding. So first, make sure you and your partner have a comfortable pillow and sheets. A millet pillow will provide you with the perfect amount of support and comfort and can be tailored to your body. This means neither you nor your partner will continuously need to fluff and adjust your pillow throughout the night.
Further, you should ensure you have a pillow that is designed for your sleeping position. When you or your partner are uncomfortable, you will move around a lot more. As we have seen from the research, this movement will disrupt your partner's sleep. A poorly designed pillow or one that doesn’t work with your sleeping position will increase tossing and turning. For example, if you are a stomach sleeper, you should be using a stomach sleeper pillow to reduce tossing and turning.
Sleeping with someone can also make your bed a lot hotter; with their added body heat, it can make you feel hot and uncomfortable. For better sleep, you need to stay cool. Cooling sheets, like a Tencel sheet set, will help you and your partner remain cool and comfortable all night long.
Another alternative to separate beds is to create a pillow wall. Lining millet pillows down the length or your bed can help you feel as if you are sleeping alone without actually sleeping in separate beds. For this to help your sleep, you will need a bigger bed; otherwise, it can just make you feel more crowded.
If you have the space, don’t be afraid to try sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms.
By prioritizing your sleep, you will be happier, healthier and can improve your relationship. The arrangement can be temporary. Television host Carson Daly said that he and his wife had a brief “sleep divorce” when she was pregnant as she was finding it more challenging to sleep and get comfortable at night. This worked very well for them, and after their child was born, they went back to sleeping in the same bed. Another option is to set up a weekly schedule like sleeping in separate beds during the week and together on weekends.
For it to work and improve your marriage, you both need to be on board. If you are bringing it up, tell your partner you love and appreciate them but feel your different sleep styles make it challenging to sleep. You can start slow, like one night a week, and gradually build up as comfortable. And again, make sure you carve out time for intimacy, and you may just find that a sleep divorce was the best thing for your marriage!