Several years ago, my partner and I decided that we would experiment with sleeping in separate beds after a long period of struggling to get a good night’s sleep together.
There was nothing wrong with our relationship (to my knowledge!). We were just a bit incompatible when it came to sleep.
She snored quite loudly. I moved around in bed too much. I liked to keep a window open. She liked extra bedding. We didn’t get to the point of blaming one another for the disrupted sleep, but we both acknowledged that we slept better on our own.
Having a go at sleeping in separate beds was my suggestion initially. After all, I own a website about sleep and these are the kind of experimental ‘better sleep’ ideas I periodically have.
Fortunately, my partner supported the idea, knowing that I’m a light sleeper and particularly sensitive to noise. The grumpy noises I sometimes make in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and change position for the millionth time aren’t her favorite thing in the world either.
It might seem like an unorthodox approach to sleep, but it had an instant and significant effect on the quality of our sleep and daily functioning.
However, it wasn’t as simple as deciding never to sleep together again because we both would have preferred to find a better solution that would allow us to sleep together.
Is it ok to sleep in separate beds?
If you’re reading this article, perhaps you’re worried about what wanting to sleep in separate beds says about your relationship.
My view is that unless there are other problems brewing, wanting to sleep well is a valid reason to consider sleeping on your own, even if just temporarily. Sleep is important, and an ongoing lack of it has a myriad of negative consequences.
It’s not just my view though. There have been several interesting surveys conducted that showed that many couples choose to sleep in separate beds.
For example, a survey by the Better Sleep Council found that 9% of American couples sleep in separate bedrooms. 26% reported that they sleep better if they sleep alone.
A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that almost one in four married couples in America sleep in separate beds.
And a story published in the Guardian news website discusses a study from the Sleep Health Foundation that found 17% of 2,040 Australian adults who were married or living together slept separately.
So it’s clear that many couples choose to sleep in two beds. How long for is a different question though and I’ll be talking about that point later in the article.
First though, let me explain how it was for us.
A time for intimacy and a time for sleep
It’s important to note that we still shared all the good things you can do in bed. We just cut out the bad parts.
We decided that we still liked the idea of starting the night together in the same bed, and even fabricating a type of ‘second waking’ in the same bed after we’d woken up alone.
Every night, we’d choose a bedroom (usually hers to warm the bed) and spent plenty of time together before turning the light off. We felt it was important to still share the intimate time at the end of the day, cuddle, read in bed, and share funny cat videos.
When one of us started to drift off to sleep, the other would gently say goodnight and quietly move over to the other bedroom.
In theory, we’d then both sleep well on our own (it didn’t always work perfectly). And whoever woke up first would usually visit the other to say good morning – hopefully with a cup of coffee in hand.
For both of us, it seemed important to share those moments at the start and end of the sleep period when we had time for it.
Why we decided to sleep in separate bedrooms
I call myself a part-time insomniac, as I regularly cycle through periods of better and worse sleep. It’s not an official term, but I like it nonetheless.
I know exactly what steps I need to take to keep my insomnia at bay. The problem is that not all of those steps are completely dependent on me.
I need to be physically and mentally tired, which I can control. It’s also important that I have a cool, quiet bedroom with plenty of space in the bed – points that are harder to control when I share the bed.
If my partner snores, it wakes me up. I’m very tall (193 cm), so I need a lot of bed space to stretch out and feel comfortable. She likes to sleep with thick covers and the heating on, while I prefer thinner covers and an open window – even in the winter.
If I can’t sleep, I find it difficult to just lie still for hours so as not to wake my partner up too. I know I should be thoughtful and keep my insomnia to myself without disturbing her.
At four o’clock in the morning, sometimes the rational and considerate parts of your personality are sometimes the only bits that appear to be asleep though.
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 bathroom. Make a drink in the kitchen. Let out a frustrated sigh. Turn your phone on. Read a book.
There are many ways one person sleeping badly can easily turn into two.
The hope then was that having our own rooms would give me complete control over all the steps I need to take in order to sleep well. It would mean we disrupt each other’s sleep less. And it would mean that my partner can also arrange her bedroom exactly how she would like it.
The positive side to sleeping in separate bedrooms
We all know that life is infinitely better when we sleep well. Okay, so a bad night here and there might not make such a noticeable difference, but an ongoing lack of sleep will trouble you in the short term and punish you over the years.
These are some of the positive outcomes I noticed in the time we slept apart:
- I slept better and felt happier because of it, with more energy and a more positive outlook.
- I was more productive and focussed when working.
- The moment of visiting, or being visited, in the morning is really nice.
- My partner didn’t feel bad about her snoring keeping me awake.
- My partner slept better too, with the same positive effects along with it.
- We both enjoyed our intimate time even more.
- We didn’t just go to bed and read until it’s time to sleep. We made a concerted effort to spend some quality time together before going to sleep, and really enjoyed it.
There are, of course, some downsides to sleeping apart. We’d both love to be able to sleep together throughout the night, every night. I don’t think that it’s fundamentally better to sleep separately and therefore everyone should do it.
At its core, the concept feels a little sad. Surely the right thing to do is sleep together? It feels like it’s the ‘normal’ thing to do.
I have to admit that it’s sometimes a struggle to say goodnight and leave both the physical and emotional warmth of my partner’s bed behind.
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 main downside though was just that nagging feeling that you should be able to sleep together.
Three years later…
We slept in separate beds for nearly two years, up until one year ago. What changed? We got an enormous king size bed, where we previously always had a queen.
The difference on paper didn’t seem that much, but the extra room made a huge difference. We have more than enough space to stretch out on our own side comfortably. Our body temperature doesn’t affect the other so much. We can cuddle at first, then roll over to our respective sides and stay there, which is what we both naturally seem to do.
It’s also helped by the fact that the bed has dual zones. So we can both change the firmness on our own side. That’s great in itself, but it also has the added benefit of being designed to have great motion transference isolation. That means that if one of us is moving about a lot, the other doesn’t really feel it.
Admittedly, we went big here and got a very fancy bed, so it’s not an option everyone will be able to afford. An alternative could be to put two single-size beds together rather than share a normal queen or king.
At the very least, I highly recommend getting a larger bed if you don’t currently have one and you have the space and budget for it.
Five years later…
Many years after first writing this article, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the concept of sleeping in different beds and there are a couple of extra points that I think are worth making.
Firstly, I stand by my view that it’s perfectly acceptable to experiment with sleeping in separate beds for a while to see how it feels – especially if your sleep is suffering and you need to replenish your energy reserves.
Secondly, I do think it’s good to think creatively about how you can make it work together. Getting a really big bed helped a lot, but a couple of other points have helped over time.
One is to have two sets of bedding so you don’t disturb the other person when you pull the covers as you change position.
Another idea is to consider a memory foam or latex mattress or mattress topper to improve motion isolation. Memory foam is particularly good for that.
I’ve also realised that it seems to be more of a problem in the summer than the colder months of the year. Overheating is much more of an issue than being too cold for me, and I find I can share the bed more easily in the winter. So it’s good to think about it seasonally too if temperature is the main problem.
As for noise, that’s something that can and should be tackled at the source. There are plenty of ways to cope with snoring, and if you or your partner snore loudly, it’s worth getting checked by a doctor for sleep apnea.
I also like the idea of having a separate bedroom set up as a backup bed rather than the default scenario. That way, you can try to sleep together, and if it’s just not happening for one of you and you think you’ll be better off alone that night, you can quietly slip out of bed while the other stays asleep.
Finally, I think it’s important to come back to the point about not feeling like it’s the end of the world for your relationship if you choose to sleep apart. As long as you continue to show your partner affection, respect, and love during the waking hours, all is not lost.
Do you already sleep in different beds or are you considering it? Let me know your thoughts below.