The Secret is Out: Separate Bedrooms are In



Contrary to general assumption, sleeping in separate bedrooms can be healthy and, for some intimate relationships, the best choice. Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicates that approximately 25% of cohabitating couples sleep apart, in different rooms. One study performed in Britain by the Sealy mattress company found this statistic to be considerably larger, with 36% of couples sleeping separately, at least some of the time.

Additionally, construction plans with “dual” master bedrooms in new homes have been gaining popularity to go along with another recent trend, his-and-hers master bathrooms. Not surprisingly, support for this living arrangement can be found online too. One example is a blog called “Sleeping Apart, Not Falling Apart,” reinforcing the acceptance of the separate bedroom phenomenon.

Reasons for sleeping apart vary, but the most common ones include:

  • Snoring.  Sometimes both partners snore, but usually one partner is the culprit.
  • Lifestyle differences/shift work. Some lifestyle variations known to cause problems are “night owl” versus “early bird” sleep patterns, and a preference for reading or television before bedtime, while the other person simply wants a quiet room.
  • Restless leg syndrome. This is a neurological disorder, causing a person to frequently move around in bed.
  • Incompatibility issues. These might include: trips to the bathroom multiple times at night, need for a hotter/colder room temperature, more light/no light, or when one partner is a very light sleeper.

In all the above situations, the number one advantage of separate bedrooms is clear: better quality sleep. By ensuring that both partners get a good night’s rest, each partner has less irritability, less resentment, and less negativity in the relationship. As most of us know well, trying to function after a night of insufficient sleep (not to mention the consequences of a long-term deficit), does not enhance personal or relational wellbeing.

It’s critical to point out, however, that some physical sleep disruptors such as snoring, nighttime cough, restless legs, or increased urinary frequency may indicate a treatable health condition. Seeking medical attention should always be the first course of action here, in order to rule out disease, and possibly get relief of symptoms.

That said, there are fairly obvious disadvantages to the separate bedroom arrangement. Some of these are:

  • It is more challenging to stay close and feel connected as a couple.
  • Sleeping in separate bedrooms can eliminate more spontaneous intimacy or “pillow talk.”
  • Sex lives can suffer.
  • Any conflicts or disagreements between couples might take longer to overcome.

Based on my experience as a couples counselor, I recommend that you follow the guidelines below to keep separate-bedroom relationships as healthy and satisfying as possible:

  • Ensure that your intimate connection is maintained, with an agreed-upon understanding of how that will happen. This will involve discovering how to best connect outside the bedroom. Date nights and having “pillow talk” on the couch before retiring to sleep are two important ways to stay connected.
  • Plan for a consistent sex life. For most, this will include scheduling regular “intimacy dates.” For more information on sex dates look here.
  • Be aware that this sleeping arrangement does not have to be all or nothing. I suggest experimenting with sleeping together in the same bed one night a week, and try alternating bedrooms. Agree ahead of time on who will leave if a sleeping incompatibility arises. It will be helpful to remain tolerant and familiar with each other’s sleep behavior, for the time when sleeping together becomes a necessity, such as sharing a room when visiting friends/family or during a vacation.

Sleeping in separate bedrooms is one of many ways that intimate relationships can get derailed if care is not taken to keep the personal connection alive. Couples who commit and stay invested in maintaining the quality of their partnership can make sleeping apart an arrangement that enhances, instead of strains, their intimacy and connection.

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