Should you try a 'sleep divorce'
from your partner?

The studies are unanimous: almost a third of Australians aren’t getting enough sleep. But is sleeping in a separate bed the solution? Our CEO Elisabeth Shaw explains the ‘sleep divorce’ trend, when you might consider trying it, 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 wellbeing. We’re reminded that adults need around 7-9 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.

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?

Enter the concept of a sleep divorce.

Temporary trend, or a solution to getting the rest you need?

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 who are in good relationships will 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:

  • 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. Indeed, some couples can find it erotic to invite each other into bed either at night or perhaps at another time or location, finding it more exciting because of the deliberateness of the planned seduction.

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 have a successful sleep divorce

While there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go about it, what is important is what couples say to themselves and each other about sleeping apart.

Some questions to ask yourselves include:

  • Has the arrangement drifted into a pattern without discussion, leaving it open to interpretation?
  • Do you worry it has deeper meaning to sleep 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, and this feels like unresolved 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 – for example in relation to your sex life?

If any of these questions bother you, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about it. It’s important to ensure that you are actually experiencing benefits, and if there are any concerns, how can they be addressed without leaping back into bed if it doesn’t really suit you? 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. 

If the discussions do raise a negative pattern or underlying concerns, talking it out and finding a better resolution with a couples counsellor can be hugely beneficial. Relationships Australia NSW offers couples counselling to help you find ways to move forward. Contact us to find out more.

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