Couples opt for sleep divorce due to many factors, including snoring and sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia.
Despite the strong stigma attached to it, approximately 1 in 3 Americans choose to sleep separately from their partners for various reasons, primarily to improve their sleep quality.
Chances are you know someone who, at some point, chose to sleep in a different room from their partner. Sleep divorce, or the idea of sleeping separately in pursuit of a better night’s sleep, is more common than you might think.
A recent survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that approximately 1 in 3 Americans sleep apart from their partner. Despite its popularity, you don’t hear about sleep divorce much—largely due to the strong stigma attached to sleep divorce, causing people who practice it to feel ashamed or embarrassed.
In actuality, many couples find that sleeping in different rooms transformed the quality of their sleep and, ultimately, their physical and mental health. Sleep divorce may get a bad rap, but here’s why millions of couples are choosing to sleep separately.
Why do people sleep separately from their partner?
Bed-sharing is a common practice across the world. Many people find that cuddling up to a loved one at night helps them drift off more easily and induces feelings of comfort, security, and calm. At the same time, several studies have shown that people often find they sleep more soundly when they’re alone in bed, says Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, a Yale Medicine sleep psychologist and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. 
The reasons are numerous, including everything from a snoring partner to disruptive health issues, like sleep apnea or insomnia, to family care requirements and work schedules. Research shows that sleep apnea, for example, has a negative impact on partners’ mood, quality of life, daytime sleepiness, and relationship quality. In addition, the more a person snores at night, the worse off their partner’s sleep is. It’s no wonder why coupled-up people are going to greater lengths to protect their sleep.
Greta Raglan, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers and clinical assistant professor in the U-M Health Department of Psychiatry, frequently discusses sleep divorce with her patients and advises certain patients to give it a shot, For example, she often suggests it to couples who recently had a baby. “I often recommend this for my postpartum patients and their partners so that they can each have a period of solid sleep while caring for a new infant in shifts overnight,” says Dr. Raglan.
For some people, merely having different sleep styles and habits is reason enough to take bedtime to another room. Couples may have conflicting preferences in white noise machines, mattress firmness, and bedroom temperature. According to Dr. Schneeberg, partners who have different sleep chronotypes—for example, one is a night owl, and the other is an early bird—often benefit from sleeping apart. “That and snoring are probably the two most common reasons” for sleep divorce, says Dr. Schneeberg.
The pros and cons of sleep divorce
It’s no secret that getting high-quality sleep confers endless health benefits. A good night’s sleep is linked to better cognition, a more positive mood, a healthier body weight, more energy, less stress, plus a lower risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Schneeberg says sleep studies consistently show people almost always have better quality sleep when they snooze alone compared to when they sleep near their partner. “It’s a fact that your sleep is probably less disrupted when you’re alone,” she says.
When sleeping in their own rooms, each person has the ability to craft a sleep environment that promotes an optimal snooze. “Sleeping separately can reduce sleep disruptions and can improve quality of sleep for one—or both—partners,” says Dr. Raglan.
On the flip side, most of the downsides are related to the stigma attached to sleep divorce, says Dr. Raglan. There’s a misconception that sleeping together is crucial for maintaining physical intimacy or that the marriage may be in trouble if they sleep in another room.
It’s possible that some people may experience less intimacy, but it’s very manageable, says Dr. Schneeberg. In fact, some couples actually find that sleeping separately improves their relationship and boosts intimacy. “The truth is that many couples are able to maintain positive intimacy while not sharing a bed and that there’s no requirement that a couple sleep in the same bed in order to have a healthy relationship,” says Dr. Raglan.
With sleep divorce, there is a chance someone could miss detecting a serious sleep issue, such as sleep apnea when they’re not near their sleeping partner. If someone has sleep apnea but is undiagnosed and untreated, it could increase their risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
How to set up your sleep divorce for success
Clear, open communication is a must. If people aren’t on the same page about why they’re choosing to sleep separately, there’s a chance someone could feel hurt or confused about the situation. Couples should really hash it out so there’s no misunderstanding about the reasons for the sleep divorce, says Dr. Schneeberg.
Because every couple is unique, it’s crucial to consider what works best for you and your partner. Some people may do fine simply sleeping in separate beds in the same room, whereas others will sleep more soundly in different rooms.
Interestingly, it may not be helpful to fall asleep in the same bed, only to move to different rooms later in the night. Because many people develop a sleep association or rely on the presence of a person in bed with them as a cue for sleep, this could disrupt one’s sleep and contribute to late-night wakefulness, according to Dr. Schneeberg. In most cases, it’s best to fall asleep where you want to sleep, she added.
If you’re concerned a sleep divorce could take a toll on your relationship, set aside time during the day to connect—through a conversation or even physical connection, says Dr. Raglan. Some couples are intimate and then go to their own beds, or they pick one night a month, for example, to have a sleepover. Not only can this promote intimacy and connection, but it can help individuals pick up on other sleep-related health issues their partner may be having.
Sleep divorce may seem complicated and messy, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. With clear communication and the right approach, it may very well boost the quality of your sleep and, along the way, improve your relationship.
Experiment, listen to your body, and check in with your partner. “Millions of couples make the decision to sleep apart and still have a happy, solid marriage with plenty of intimacy,” Dr. Schneeberg said.