Could a sleep divorce save your relationship?

You get on with your partner in almost every way – except when it comes to sleeping.

When it’s time to tuck in for the night, your partner snores so loudly you’re sure it can be heard blocks away.

Meanwhile you toss, turn and wake at the sound of a leaf dropping.

Maybe you’re a morning lark, but your partner is a night owl.

Or you prefer to fall asleep in dead silence, while your beloved wants to drift off to a dreamy tune.

Sound familiar?

Some experts believe that if you and your other half are incompatible when it comes to slumber styles, you may benefit from a “sleep divorce”.

The rising trend of sleeping separately

While our cultural norm is to share a bed, issues like different schedules, a bad mattress, a hot room, children in the bed and noises can contribute to fitful sleep for one partner.

Sleeping in different bedrooms might seem like a radical solution, but it is already being embraced in different parts of the world.

A US National Sleep Foundation report estimates one in four US couples sleeps in separate bedrooms, while another study found 30 to 40 per cent of Canadian couples do the same.

Some architects have even noted that requests for two separate master bedrooms in new homes are on the rise.

The benefits of sleeping separately

Sleep deprivation takes a huge toll on our bodies and mind, affecting our willpower, memory, judgment and attention – not to mention our moods.

One US study found sleep deprivation can impact gratitude and leave couples “too tired to say thanks”.

“We found that poor sleep can make us more selfish as we prioritise our own needs over our partner’s,” says study author, psychologist Aime Gordon.

“You may have slept like a baby, but if your partner didn’t, you’ll probably both end up grouchy.”

Perth neuropsychologist and sleep expert Professor Romola Bucks says slumber is vital to health.

“I think we ignore sleep at our peril, it is one of the pillars of good health and underpins those other pillars of diet and exercise,” she says.

“It is so worth investing in. Long-term sleep disruption can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and dementia.”

Things to know if you want to try a sleep divorce

Prof Bucks warns sleeping in separate rooms may cause couples to miss the signs of potentially serious sleep disorders in their other half.

“Often, it’s the spouse who says, ‘Gosh you were sounding like a steam train last night’, or ‘You tossed and turned all night’, and who will encourage their partner to seek medical help,” says the head of the School of Psychological Science at The University of Western Australia.

“After all, people often don’t know they’re snoring crazily or rolling around the bed – sleep disorders are most often suffered alone.

“I fear that an absence of couples being close to each other at night might mean that a treatable disorder is missed.”

Not only that, even if your partner is lacking in the sleep etiquette department, you might still be better off with them by your side, according to a new study.

The research found people who regularly shared their bed with their partner reported longer, deeper sleep and better overall mental health.

How to try a sleep divorce

Perhaps start slowly and spend a night or two in separate beds before you think about a full sleep divorce.

And remember to talk through all of the options, pros and cons with your partner.

But Professor Bucks says if you decide a sleep divorce is for you, don’t forget date nights.

“You have all those other things that come with sharing a bed like falling asleep holding hands, intimacy, cuddles and yes sex, and these are all very important to a relationship,” she says.

Written by Liz McGrath. Updated September 2022.