A while back, my partner and I came to the conclusion that sleeping well alone was better than sleeping badly together.
It’s an admittedly unorthodox approach to sleep, but it’s had a very positive effect on the quality of our sleep, our well-being and dare I say it, overall happiness.
As the one who’s the extremely light sleeper, it was my suggestion initially. Fortunately, my partner supported the idea, knowing that I often struggle to sleep when sharing the bed. And of course, my incessant position changing and grumpy yawning can unfairly keep her awake too.
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 and a time for sleep
We might not 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.
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 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 considerate 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 – insomnia 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 deprviation 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 bad sleep 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.
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 think that it’s fundamentally better to sleep separately and everyone should do it.
At its core, the concept feels a little sad. 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, and 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. We’ll 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.
Do you already sleep in different beds, or are you seriously considering it? Let me know your thoughts below.