Is A ‘Sleep Divorce’ From Your Partner The Answer To Catching Zzzs?

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A “sleep divorce,” despite what it sounds like, does not equate to warring spouses fuming in separate rooms. Experts say the practice is more customizable than it appears and can be good for long-term pairs. “I’ve watched many couples do that, and it’s actually benefited their relationship,” says Ebony Robinson, licensed mental health counselor. She says it works for couples “as long as both parties communicate about their needs and the reasoning behind the transition.”

Sleep divorces are rising in popularity, according to a 2023 survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Sleep divorce is probably going to grow in numbers, especially as we look at brain health,” Asha Tarry, licensed master social worker and CEO at Behavioral Health Consulting Services, tells ESSENCE.

So what is this practice exactly?

What Is A Sleep Divorce?

In a world of “she sheds” and “man caves,” more people are craving personal space. Opting not to share a bed with one’s partner full-time can aid in better sleep quality. But for many, having your own sacred corner in a home that you share with your partner is much different than having your own bed, making the concept somewhat controversial. “There is a sense that it still needs to be hidden because it’s being compared to the quote-unquote norm,” says licensed master social worker Shavon Terrell-Camper.

She believes couples should do what suits their needs. “Most important is what is working for your relationship and what’s going to help sustain the well-being of your relationship over a longer period,” she says.

Sleep divorce has been practiced for generations, as before queen and king beds, couples had two smaller beds in one room. Think shows like I Love Lucy. “I remember as a kid seeing my grandparents sleep in different beds,” Tarry recalls. “They had 11 children.”

She continues, “We didn’t question it, because what we saw was a lot of personal touch affection, we saw laughter, we saw them taking care of each other’s needs.”

“I don’t think the place in which you end up for sleep necessarily determines your longevity in a relationship,” she adds.

What Are The Reasons For It?

Snoring is a major cause for sleep divorce, but there are other reasons couples might opt to catch their Zzzs apart. “Most times, sleep divorce has nothing to do with sex per se and everything to do with what’s going on mentally with people outside of the bedroom,” Tarry shares. From trauma to differing light and sound requirements, the reasons to sleep solo in a long-term relationship or marriage run the gamut.

Tarry suggests that not adopting an approach to sleep hygiene that suits you can actually do harm to your relationship. “You’re definitely going to have less energy for sex. You’re going to have less energy for the other person in the relationship,” she warns. A 2017 study by the Journal of the International Society of Psycho­neuro­endocrinology found that a lack of sleep contributes to an increased number of marital spats. “Many of us already know that if you are sleep deprived, you’re usually more on edge,” says Shané P. Teran, psychologist and social worker.

Robinson agrees. “I think that If you need to do something like sleeping apart to improve overall quality of sleep for one party or both parties. I highly recommend it,” she says.

A Short-Term Solution Vs. A Permanent One

“Just because a couple has decided to sleep divorce, it doesn’t mean they no longer sleep together. It just means they’re intentional about when they are sleeping together and understanding that, hey, it’s not best for us to do this every single night,” says Terrell-Camper.

Some of Robinson’s patients sleep together on weekends and sleep separately on weeknights. Most sleep divorces, Teran observes, are not permanent. “It is more common for it to be a temporary situation,” she shares.

There are multiple ways to go about the practice. Some couples have asymmetrical bedtimes, something Teran said still affords access to co-sleeping benefits. “If one person goes to sleep before the other, that’s fine. The benefits still stand when that other person that stayed up longer is still going back to bed with that person,” she says.

Tarry notes, “For some people, it’s that they end up in the same bed, but they don’t fall asleep in the same room because maybe one partner snores or the other gets overheated in the middle of the night and throws the covers on and off or someone likes the room a little bit cooler than the other.”

How To Stay Close

While there are plenty of benefits, could sleep divorce equal disaster for some couples? Experts agree that the key to the practice not ending in an actual divorce is communication. Terrell-Camper has seen couples institute non-negotiables when trying it, scheduling intimate dinners, phone-free conversations, passing notes, and having couch dates to maintain a strong connection.

Teran recommends resting together whenever possible. “You can be in a rested state cuddling,” she explains. The potential benefits of cuddling, including lower blood pressure, decreased inflammation, dopamine release, and increased serotonin, are almost interchangeable with co-sleeping benefits.

Alternative methods for creating closeness are imperative to not allowing sleep divorce to ruin your relationship. “Prioritize that like you do anything else in your calendar,” Tarry instructs.

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