Several years ago, my partner and I decided that we would experiment with sleeping in separate beds.
She snored too loudly. I changed positions too much. Who was more to blame for our combined lost sleep is irrelevant; the point is that neither of us was sleeping nearly as well as we do when we’re alone.
Sleeping in our own beds was my suggestion initially. I blog about sleep after all, so 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.
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.
So each night we chose one 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 then both got a great night’s sleep (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 was essential to share those moments at the start and end of the sleep period.
Why we did it
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 what I need to do to keep my insomnia at bay. 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’m also very tall (193 cm), so I need a lot of bed space to stretch out and feel comfortable.
And while my partner likes to sleep with thick covers and the heating on, I prefer 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
I know I should be thoughtful, suffer in silence, and keep my insomnia to myself without disturbing my sleeping partner.
But at four o’clock in the morning, the rational and considerate parts of your personality are sometimes the only bits 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 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 positive side to 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 things I personally noticed in the months we slept in separate bedrooms:
- I sleep better and feel happier because of it, with more energy and a more positive outlook.
- I’m more productive and focused when I work.
- We both enjoy our intimate time even more.
- We don’t just go to bed and read 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 really nice.
- 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.
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 – even though a survey in 2015 by the National Sleep Foundation found that one in four couples sleep in separate bedrooms.
But 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.
Three years later
We slept in separate beds for nearly two years – up until one year ago. What changed? We got an enormous king-sized bed, where we previously always had a queen.
The difference on paper didn’t seem that much, but actually the extra room has made a huge difference,
It now means we never fight for space, and 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. But an alternative might be to put two full-size beds together rather than share a normal queen or king.
At the very least, I highly recommend getting a king-size bed if you don’t currently have one, and you have the space and budget for it.
And if you currently sleep in a double bed with a partner, upgrade to a queen at least – if you can.
The backup bed
As much as we slept better in our own beds during our experiment, neither of us truly got used to the idea of not falling asleep or waking up together. It almost felt like a bit of a failure not to make it work somehow.
And that’s why I think it’s probably best to never give up on the idea of sharing the same bed again.
If you’re at the point we were, I think it’s a great idea to spend some time in separate beds just to get some decent sleep and properly recharge your batteries.
But I would perhaps see it as a backup option – if you have the space in your home to have a permanent second bed ready for when you need it.
Do you already sleep in different beds, or are you considering it? Let me know your thoughts below.