Love & Sex 26th January 2023 by Bronwyn O'Neill
Do You Need A Sleep Divorce?
A sleep divorce is all the rage these days…
There is an unnatural joy that overcomes you when your partner heads away on an overnight trip and you get to spread out on the bed, all by yourself. My personal sleep style is starfishing. I take up the whole bed. And when I’m not doing that, I like to kick and turn, and basically, get a full cardio workout in while I sleep. It’s not exactly very welcoming for a partner, but hey, it’s who I am.
So when I stumbled across the phrase ‘sleep divorce’ I started to do some digging. Trust me, it’s not as drastic as it sounds. It is simply the idea that you and your partner sleep in separate beds or separate rooms. How very period drama of us. Honestly, call me Elizabeth Bennet because this sounds ideal.
Okay, bar the notion that I can wrap myself up in the whole duvet and roll around the whole bed without any issues, what are the benefits to sleep divorce? For this I had to speak to both a sleep expert and a relationship expert, to make sure that separate beds didn’t quickly lead to separate lives.
Dr Caroline West, sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast tells me, “If your partner is a snorer or restless sleeper, this can impact your own sleep experience negatively, and can breed resentment in the relationship. Sleep deprivation can have huge impacts on our mental, physical and sexual wellness, so being proactive can help offset these negative impacts.”
Beds aren’t just used for sleeping, so if you are not sleeping in the same bed as your partner can this hinder your sex life?
“It doesn’t have to – if it is communicated well. If so, then people can decide if it is right for them, or a dealbreaker. It can make sex more exciting if it is in different locations or planned like a date might be,” Caroline adds.
Basically, she sums it up as making sure you communicate with your partner that this isn’t a snub on them, but merely a method to help you sleep better.
“It could be the best thing to happen to your relationship, but even if it is not, you are still exploring what your boundaries are, and that is always a good thing.”
Okay, as long as you’re open and honest with your partner, relationship-wise it seems like we could be on to a winner here. But what about sleep-wise?
Motty Varghese, a sleep physiologist and behavioural sleep therapist explains, “Bed-sharing is generally the default choice and should be encouraged in normal situations. But when either of the individuals has a sleep disorder like sleep apnea/snoring, restless legs, insomnia etc, and if that is affecting the other person’s sleep, sleeping separately can be considered to protect the sleep quality. Even then, the focus should be on consulting with a sleep specialist and resolving the difficulty, since resolving the difficulty also comes with other health benefits and better mood during wake hours (which is vital in a relationship).”
He explains that sleeping with a partner has its advantages and many people report that they sleep better with someone next to them.
“Sleep is also a health behaviour couples regularly share and there is value in encouraging it. Sleeping together and especially the short time that is spent talking, reading together, or relaxing in general before one turns the lights off is also helpful to nurture a sense of security and emotional intimacy.”
But what about the whole notion that using your bed for things other than sleep will affect our ability to go to sleep? Motty reassures us that doesn’t include being intimate with your partner.
“We should not spend a long time awake in bed using a computer, smart devices or watching TV. Reading for 10-15 minutes in bed helps you to relax before you turn the lights off. If you are awake at night and struggling to fall asleep or fall back asleep, consider getting up and leaving the bedroom for 30 minutes and return to provide you with another chance of falling asleep.”
So, sleeping apart from your partner may not damage your relationship, but it could actually affect your sleep routine. The experts certainly have their feelings about the concept. But what about someone who has actually decided to try out sleep divorce with their partner?
Maeve* from Cork has been with her partner for five years and after they moved in together in 2019 they quickly realised that their very different sleep schedules wouldn’t work out.
“We have very different work schedules, I am usually in bed by 9pm and up at 6am for my commute if I need to go to the office. My fiancé gets up after 7am and stays up much later,” she explains.
“We found we were disturbing each other so decided to sleep apart Monday – Friday so we both got a good rest. We had both lived alone for a couple of years so got very used to sleeping solo.”
For most couples this would be a no-go but for Maeve it is absolutely perfect. She explains, “Honestly it has kept us together! Especially during the pandemic when we were both at home we appreciated the little bit of space. My partner went through a period of insomnia and it meant I was not disturbed when he was tossing and turning for hours. When we have slept well we are better partners to each other, which was the main priority when we first talked about it.”
She tells us that their arrangement means that they get a much better quality of sleep and it “impacts us positively in lots of ways”.
“We have a good routine in the evening where we chill out in bed together and chat. Then when we are ready to turn off the lights we go our separate ways. In the morning we get a sneaky cuddle in too if we wake up early,” she adds, so there’s definitely no shortage of intimacy between the pair.
While she is quick to praise their choice of sleeping separately, she admits that there can be some issues.
“The downfall is probably feeling a bit weird when you tell people, there is a lot of judgement out there!”
But would she recommend sleep divorce to other people?
“I think every couple is different,” she says. “If you are not sleeping well in the same bed for whatever reason then it is worth trying. We sleep together at the weekends and appreciate that more then. It’s led to improved intimacy too so that is a win!”
Maybe sleep divorce shouldn’t be your immediate go-to if you’re having a hard time sleeping, but it’s definitely an option for those who can’t seem to sleep next to their restless loved ones.
How to make better sleeping habits
Sleep is a natural process, but you can nurture it by adopting certain good habits. It may go against what your preferences are, but prioritising sleep will pay you the dividends now, more than ever.
Have a routine
Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time through the weekends and weekdays.
Focusing on light exposure during the day and reducing light exposure closer to bedtime indicates to our body the day-night cycle and prepares itself for sleep at night and alertness during the day.
Avoid a state of hyper-alertness
Avoid consumption of news via TV, social media, or other sources too close to bedtime. Make a conscious effort to “put your day to bed” before you go to bed at night by doing some journaling in the late afternoon or early evening.
Be mindful of sleep
The force of sleep is irresistible and if you trust your body and keep your sleep-related worries at bay, sleep will embrace you.
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