Earlier this year, my partner and I decided to experiment with sleeping in separate bedrooms. Before you wonder what went wrong though, let me be clear that it’s because of sleep problems, not relationship ones.
Taking this rather unorthodox attitude to home life has had nothing but positive effects on the quality of our sleep, our well-being and dare I say it, happiness.
I say ‘we’, but as the one who’s the extremely light sleeper, it’s only fair to admit it was my suggestion. Fortunately, my partner fully supported the idea, knowing that I very often struggle to sleep well when sharing the bed. And of course, my tortured tossing and turning can unfairly keep her awake too.
Before the idea sounds too much like another manifestation of the British repressed coldness that we’re sometimes accused of, it’s important to note that we still share all the good things you can do in bed; we just don’t share the bad things.
A time for intimacy & a time for sleep
There hasn’t been a single night when we haven’t gone to bed and woken up together. We don’t sleep together, but we still go to bed and kind of wake up together.
Each night we choose one bedroom (usually hers to warm the bed) and spend plenty of time together before turning the light off. We share intimate moments, cuddle, read, chat and stare at the ceiling wondering what tomorrow will bring.
When one of us starts to drift off to sleep, the other will gently say goodnight and quietly move over to the other bedroom.
Then we ideally (it doesn’t always work of course!) both get a great night’s sleep, waking up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day.
And whoever does wake up first pays a visit to the other to say good morning, hopefully with a nice cup of tea or coffee to accompany a morning cuddle.
For both of us, it’s essential that we share those moments at the start and end of the sleep period. And I think we enjoy them even more than we used to because we know the time is limited.
Why we do it
I often jokingly call myself a part-time insomniac, as I regularly cycle through periods of better and worse sleep.
As I’ve described in a previous article, I know exactly what I need to do to avoid insomnia. It’s just the actual doing it that isn’t always easy to keep on top of.
I know I’m ridiculously sensitive to noise, movement and temperature at night. I also know I’m very tall (193 cm), so need a lot of bed space to stretch out and feel comfortable.
And where my partner likes to sleep with thick covers and the heating on, I like thinner covers and an open window – even in the winter!
So there’s the issue of sensitivity, along with personal preferences for how the bed and bedroom should feel at night.
When I can’t sleep…
And then there’s the added problem of what happens when I can’t sleep. You know you should ‘behave’ and quietly keep your insomnia to yourself.
But at 4 o’clock in the morning, the rational and empathetic parts of your personality are sometimes the only bits of you that appear to be asleep.
As any insomniac knows, it’s not so easy to lie peacefully in bed for hours on end, calmly meditating and lying still so as not to disturb your partner.
Change position. Reverse the pillow. What time is it now? Go to the toilet. Make a drink. Walk over the creaky floorboard, again. Let out a frustrated sigh. Turn your phone on. Read a book.
There are many, many ways one person sleeping badly can easily turn into two.
And so we sleep separately.
The insomnia beast will only get one of us tonight.
The positive side to separate bedrooms
We all know that life is just better when we sleep well. Okay, so a bad night here and there might not make such a noticeable difference. But the accumulative effects of sleep deprivation make for a worryingly long list of things nobody wants in their life.
Impaired attention and memory, stress and anxiety, weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular problems – a lack of sleep will trouble you in the short-term and punish you over the years.
There’s plenty of research showing what better sleep does for you, and worse doesn’t. But here are some of the positive things I’ve personally noticed in the months we’ve been trying out separate bedrooms:
- I sleep better and feel happier because of it, with more energy and a more positive outlook.
- I work better, with more focus and enjoyment in what I’m doing.
- We both enjoy our intimate time even more.
- We don’t always just go to bed and read side by side until it’s time to sleep. We interact more and enjoy each other’s company.
- The moment of visiting or being visited in the morning is a wonderful thing.
- My partner doesn’t have to worry about keeping me awake without even knowing it.
- My partner sleeps better too, with the same positive effects along with it.
In case you’re wondering how I can get away with such self-serving rationalization, there are of course some downsides to sleeping separately.
We’d both love to be able to sleep together throughout the night, every night. I don’t for a second think that conceptually it’s better to sleep separately and everyone should do it.
At its core, the concept does kind of feel a little sad. We’re partners and we live together. Surely the right thing to do is sleep together? That’s what most couples do, along with many members of the animal kingdom who also seem to enjoy snuggling up together.
It’s normal-ish (according to a 2015 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 1 in 4 couples sleep in separate bedrooms!)
And that’s why sometimes it’s a real struggle to say goodnight and leave both the physical and emotional warmth of your partner’s bed behind.
And then there’s the sudden change in temperature! That in itself takes some getting used to. One minute you feel all warm and cozy; the next you’re sliding between two cold sheets. Fine in the summer; not so pleasant when it’s minus five outside.
There’s also the issue of what happens when you don’t have the luxury of sleeping in separate bedrooms. When people come to visit, when you go to visit others, when you’re on holiday. Those are times you want to enjoy, not be worrying about a lack of sleep.
The backup bed
The pros might seem to outweigh the cons on paper, but emotionally I think the downside of not feeling connected at night carries a huge amount of weight.
And that’s why I think it’s probably best to never give up on the idea of sharing the same bed again. So we’re going to try not to let it become the new normal forever. Try to fall asleep together as often as possible.
After all, the second bedroom can be a backup plan. Even if you resort to the backup plan every night, it just feels right to always have in mind that one day you’ll sleep together normally again.
I wrote this article specifically because many readers have asked me about sleeping separately. I know people often feel it would be beneficial for them, but are worried about the impact it might have on their relationship.
So I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Do you sleep separately and find it works for you? Are you thinking about doing it, but just aren’t sure? Let me know what your thoughts are on this unusual way to sleep better.
Dedicated to Laura, my wonderful partner who only ever wants what’s best for me