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69: Sleep divorce or sleep settlement?

sleep Jul 29, 2023
Sleep divorce or sleep settlement

A sleep divorce refers to a situation where a couple chooses to sleep in separate bedrooms.  The decision may be initiated by one person or both to improve their individual sleep quality and overall well-being.  But I have an issue with the word divorce in this case.  That is a really serious word, and I think the intent behind the term says a lot about what is going on.  

Are you sleeping separately because you get better sleep?  Or is the nighttime separation because of negative feelings about your partner from which you need a reprieve?  

As a sleep medicine physician, I have heard many variations of living and sleeping arrangements.  This is privileged information since there are components of intimacy being revealed.  What I can tell you is that sleeping separately is a common practice.  A January 2023 survey of 2,200 American adults by the International Housewares Association for The New York Times revealed that one in five couples sleep in separate bedrooms.  And of those couples who sleep apart, nearly two-thirds do it every night.  

What does sleeping separately say about the state of your relationship?  I propose differentiating sleep settlement from sleep divorce:

Sleep settlement:  the couple makes a decision to sleep in separate bedrooms to honor individual preferences for room temperature, nighttime routines or movement, bedding or mattress firmness, child/pet care, or schedules.  Snoring, sleep apnea treatment issues, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia may also play a role.  By sleeping separately, each person can create an environment that caters to their specific sleep needs, allowing them to get better rest and wake up refreshed.  Having designated "together time" before sleep or upon waking up helps to maintain emotional closeness and intimacy in the relationship.  

Sleep divorce:  the couple has chronic issues that cause agitation and affects sleep.  Sometimes this is related to a sleep issue itself, such as one partner snoring and not taking steps to get checked out and treated.  It may also do to some underlying unhappiness in the relationship which leads to a preference to sleep separately and avoid or limit intimacy.  A sleep divorce increases separation at night without a chance to replace the opportunity for talking, snuggling, and sex.

If you or your bed partner have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, it is worth it to think about how that could be remedied.  Good sleep means good emotional regulation and a more positive outlook on the intentions of other people.  Poor sleep is toxic to a relationship, particularly if both parties are susceptible.  Restless nights lead to far more brutal fights! 

Separating for the night is an option, and may be taken on a trial basis to see if it’s beneficial.   This is a personal choice based on your unique circumstances and needs.  It's essential for partners to communicate openly, understand each other's sleep challenges, and find mutually acceptable solutions that work for both individuals and the relationship as a whole.

Those who don't mind the separate sleeping situation report benefits. In fact, more than half say that the sleep separation helped their overall sleep quality and report an average of 37 additional minutes of sleep every night, compared to when they shared a bed.





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