Health and Wellness

Do you and your partner need a sleep divorce? Here's what to consider and 4 tips from an expert

Thianchai Sitthikongsak | Getty Images

If your struggle to get a good night's sleep is specific to being in bed next to your partner, it might be time for a sleep divorce.

But don't worry, because unlike the real thing, this process won't require a lawyer or all the paperwork.

A sleep divorce is simply sleeping apart, in separate beds or bedrooms so that both partners can get the best sleep, says Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.

Despite how extreme it might sound, a sleep divorce may actually save your relationship if your inability to sleep at night has brought you to a breaking point.

"I actually recommend that couples sometimes do this, and it doesn't mean that their relationship is in trouble," Harris says. "It just means they're actually valuing their relationship and their health as well."

Here's when most people should consider a sleep divorce and how to do it successfully.

5 reasons you might need a sleep divorce

According to Harris, you may want to consider sleep divorce when you and/or your partner:

  • Have different sleep patterns or schedules (night owl vs. early bird)
  • Are a light sleeper/alarm interrupts sleep
  • Snore loudly
  • Move a lot while sleep
  • Have different preferences (bedding, temperature, light exposure, etc.)

However, you shouldn't take the plunge without problem-solving first, especially if you value sleeping in the same bed, she says. 

If you wake up much earlier than your partner and your alarm clock disturbs their sleep, maybe consider a vibrating pillow or vibrating watch as an alarm instead, Harris suggests.

You can also think about using a night light as you get ready in the morning, to avoid interfering with your partner's sleep.

If snoring or constant moving while sleeping is an issue, Harris encourages getting yourself or your partner evaluated for potential sleep apnea problems. 

"If those things are all done and it still is an issue, then we might make that conscious decision to sleep apart," says Harris. "Sleeping apart is totally fine."

Tips for a successful sleep divorce

But in order for a sleep divorce to be beneficial for your relationship, there are some things you can do to set yourself up for success, according to Harris — including the approach you take when suggesting it to your partner.

Approaching a sleep divorce proposal the wrong way can lead to a build-up of resentment, so she suggests being mindful of how you introduce the idea. 

"You have to make the choice consciously together. It can't be a reactive thing like 'You snore so much, so I'm just going to sleep somewhere else,' or kicking one person out of the bedroom," she says.

Additionally, you want to make sure no one feels like where they're sleeping is less favorable than where the other person sleeps, she adds.

"So, it's not like one person is relegated to the couch ideally. You want to make it so they have a comfortable place," Harris says. 

And sleeping in separate rooms doesn't have to affect your intimacy, she says. "That's the thing people are worried about, that it's going to lead to an actual divorce or separation."

To avoid this, she recommends having a space where you can spend intimate time together, whenever you choose to, before heading to your separate bedrooms.

Ahead of the decision, it could also be useful to come up with a response for potential judgment from family members or friends.

For this, Harris suggests letting them know how much sleep divorce can actually benefit your relationship.

"When people do it and they make that choice, it is so freeing," she says, "And people swear by it."

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