2 in 5 Australians aren’t getting enough sleep – but is sleeping in a separate bed the solution? We explain why you might consider sleeping in a different room to your partner, and how can you ensure it contributes positively to your relationship, instead of hindering it.
Mounting scientific research consistently tells us that sleep is critical for our mental and physical well-being.
We’re reminded that adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep every night, and those hours need to involve periods of deep sleep to be truly restorative. We’re told it should take place in a calm, quiet, and peaceful environment and that not getting enough can have long-term impacts. It can even impact the economy, with inadequate sleep estimated to cost the Australian economy $66.3 billion in 2016-17.
But what happens if your partner tosses and turns, snores loudly, likes to stay up much later than you, or works shifts, meaning you’re regularly disturbing each other’s slumber?
Why do couples sleep in separate beds?
It’s normal for couples to sleep in separate beds from time to time, like when one of you is travelling, suffering a bout of illness, or has a habit of nodding off on the couch.
However, it’s generally expected that couples in good relationships should want to sleep together and that any temporary departures from the communal bed should be hastily recovered, to ensure the status quo.
But growing anecdotal evidence suggests more and more couples across all demographics are turning to sleeping in separate beds or separate bedrooms, all in the name of a better night of shut eye. In fact, single adult dwellings are the fastest growing type of household in Australia, perhaps suggesting that even those in relationships are delaying or forgoing cohabitation and co-sleeping.
There are a number of reasons a couple may choose to sleep separately, which don’t necessarily signal that there’s trouble in the relationship:
- Light or restless sleeping: one partner tosses and turns, or repetitively wakes up, and the other partner is a light sleeper.
- Health and medical conditions: one partner may have sleep apnea, or snores regularly.
- Different body clocks: perhaps one of you goes to bed very late, wakes up early, or wants to read for two hours in the middle of the night.
- Different work schedules: one of you may work night shifts, meaning that they’re awake when you’re asleep, and vice versa.
- A desire to have your own space: one or both of you may simply enjoy having some time alone, especially right before bed, to recover from a long day.
When you add in the multitude of other sleep barriers modern life throws our way – such as technology, having young children, noisy neighbours, and the increasingly ‘always-on’ nature of work – it’s little wonder this time of the day feels so precious.
Sleeping separately doesn’t have to signal problems in the relationship
If you normally live with your partner, and you’re worried that trialling separate bedrooms could signal problems in a relationship that’s otherwise strong and healthy, don’t be. Balancing psychological and physical space is a perfectly normal dance that changes over the course of a relationship. Initially, we long for lots of skin-to-skin contact with our partner, and new couples show that by sitting close and touching a lot.
Over time, this changes, but it doesn’t have to mean a loss or lack of interest in each other. Rather, a reduced desire to express your emotions physically can actually be a positive sign of comfort and security in the relationship. You no longer need to constantly check on your partner’s proximity to be reassured of their love.
It’s also important to realise that where you sleep does not have to reflect on the level of sexual intimacy between you. As long as you can discuss your needs openly with your partner, you’ll be able to find effective and intimate solutions to the sleep preferences and challenges you encounter, in ways that involve the bedroom as well as other rooms in the house.
How to make your relationship work when you sleep separately
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go about it – what’s important is the communication between you and your partner. Some questions to ask yourselves and each other include:
- Has the arrangement drifted into a pattern without discussion, leaving it open to interpretation?
- Do you worry there is deeper meaning to sleeping separately, because it adds to other issues you may be having with intimacy or connection?
- Does one of you prefer to sleep together and the other doesn’t, making the arrangement feel like rejection?
- Have you in other ways started living “parallel lives”, or are starting to feel more like flatmates than a couple?
- Have you moved to another bed because you have another unresolved issue that you are not raising?
If any of these questions raise issues, it’s a good idea to have an open and honest conversation about the sleeping arrangements in your relationship.
It’s also important to address any issues that could be leading you to sleep separately. For example, do you need to see a doctor to get that snoring checked? Are you staying up later than is really good for you anyway? Have you really paid attention to achieving intimacy in other ways?
Finally, it’s important to feel resolved between yourselves, and to check in on your arrangements from time to time.