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Sleeping separately

When you and your partner snooze better apart.

Article Author: Katie McPherson

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His snores sound like a lumberjack sawing logs. She tosses and turns like a salmon swimming upstream. He yanks the covers to his side. She gets up to pee at 2 am.

Everyone has a complaint about their partner’s sleeping habits and sometimes, it’s hard to deny you might actually get better quality sleep if you each had your own bedroom.

A recent study found that sleeping apart helps couples get better quality rest, and in turn, feel happier in general and in their relationship. But for many couples, sleeping in the same bed for the first time is a big milestone, and something that just becomes part of life together. Is it bad for your relationship if you want to snooze separately?

“People tend to equate sleep and intimacy and think if people are sleeping in separate rooms, there must be something wrong with their relationship, but that’s not the case,” said Emily White, PhD, licensed psychologist and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Baptist Behavioral Health. “Surveys show at least a quarter of married Americans do sleep separately, and 30% to 40% would prefer if they could. The biggest barriers to doing so are most likely shame, fear of upsetting a partner, and judgment from outsiders.”

But what about…you know…

For those who go to sleep at different times than their spouses, sleeping in different beds may not feel like such a big leap. But when people use that time to connect, it can feel like a major change.

“A lot of people do feel like the time they spend with their spouse before bed is important. It tends to be when we debrief about the day and check in with each other. All those things can still happen in bed together even if you’re not going to be sleeping in the same place. You can think of it as having quality time together before you go your separate ways,” Dr. White said.

And perhaps the biggest hurdle to sleeping separately: If you’re not sharing a bed anymore, when are you going to be intimate? Dr. White said your sexual relationship isn’t tied to your sleeping arrangements.

“The bed doesn’t have to be the way we judge our relationships,” she said. “A lot of people will try to plan in advance, like, ‘OK, let’s go to my room first and then go our separate ways.’ I know it doesn’t sound very sexy, but planning can sometimes help if one partner maybe has difficulty with libido.”

Starting the conversation can be hard.

If you know you sleep better solo, maybe the only thing holding you back is the fear your partner will react poorly to the idea. It’s definitely a sensitive conversation, and one to have in a quiet space with no distractions.

“Certainly, you want to have a lot of empathy and care for your partner,” said Dr. White. “It may help to get a sense of how your partner is feeling about sleeping arrangements, if it’s something you’ve never talked about explicitly. You may be surprised and find out they’re not happy with how you’re sleeping together either. If you can make it a joint decision rather than an ultimatum, both parties tend to feel better about it.”

Dr. White also recommended focusing on the benefits of sleeping apart. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be your best self — at home, at work and in your relationship — and it takes good sleep to do that. Tell your partner which aspects of your daily life (and your time together) would benefit from better rest so he or she can understand your point of view.

It's not all or nothing.

If you want to try shaking up your sleeping arrangements, it’s worth a few nights of trial and error. Dr. White points out that choosing to sleep apart doesn’t have to mean you can never share a bed again. Figure out the setup and schedule that’s most beneficial for you.

“Sleeping separately could mean two beds in the same room, or it could mean you’re in completely different bedrooms. Having a split mattress and each person having their own bedding is another way to sleep a bit more separately. Can you experiment with sleeping together on the weekends and separately Monday through Friday, or one night on, one night off?”

If you’ve tried lifestyle changes, like sleeping separately from your partner, and your sleep quality is still poor, behavioral sleep medicine specialists may be able to help. Call Baptist Behavioral Health’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at 904.376.3800 to schedule a consultation.

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