My husband and I recently went through a temporary “sleep divorce.” This is a term that’s often used to describe the growing practice of couples opting to sleep in separate beds, or bedrooms, to improve their nightly rest.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not thrilled with any relationship advice that has “divorce” in its name. Still, my husband and I weren’t sleeping well enough together for us both to feel rested.

Clearly, we are not alone.

The sleep divorce is a trend that’s gotten a fair amount of attention in recent years. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a survey several years ago that found about 23 percent of couples slept in separate beds or separate bedrooms. More recently, a survey conducted by a mattress company of 3,000 US adults reported that more than 30 percent of respondents would like to sleep separately from their partners.

For us, a few issues led to experimenting with a sleep break-up. He snores sometimes. I’ve been informed I move around quite a bit in my sleep. We also operate on slightly different schedules. I’m an early-lights-out person and a very early riser. He likes to read with the lights on until well past my snooze time.

It seems we’re pretty typical for couples who consider sleeping apart. Snoring isn’t the only issue that drives couples to separate bedrooms. But in discussions with couples who don’t sleep together, snoring comes up a lot. It’s cited again and again as a factor in the choice to sleep separately. Other common reasons? Restless movement by one or both partners, too much body heat, differing sleep and work schedules that cause partners to disturb each other’s slumber at one end of the night or the other. Conflicting needs from a sleep environment can also play a role: one person needs complete silence while the other wants the hum of the radio, or somebody wants to wake up with the sunrise while the other is desperate for darkness until 8 a.m.

I was curious about the history of couples sleeping together: are we really moving from a sleep-together to a sleep-apart society? If so, why? Historian Roger Ekrich says couples sleeping separately is a relatively modern phenomenon. Before industrialization, there typically wasn’t enough room in homes for couples to sleep apart, Ekrich said in an interview with The Globe and Mail newspaper. “Sleeping together was a source of warmth and emotional security,” Ekrich said.

In the modern age, changes to the way we live and work gave families the physical space to choose separate bedrooms. (A decade ago, the National Home Builders Association predicted that by 2015 more than half of custom-built, upscale homes would be built with two master-bedroom suites.)

That modern age has also seen sleep issues become more prominent, and more common. A body of scientific research shows that adults in the US and elsewhere sleep less than their counterparts from generations past. And awareness of sleep problems—whether sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea, or simply not getting enough truly restful sleep—has increased dramatically.

In the end, our family’s sleep divorce didn’t last. We missed the closeness and the routine of sleeping together. My husband is addressing his snoring issue, and we invested in a larger mattress so nobody’s getting elbowed in the middle of the night. We decided that our ability to sleep well together was something we wanted to work on, just like other parts of our relationship.

What’s your experience with sleeping together? Have you thought about sleeping separately?


Written by Caitlin Reynolds