Usually the term divorce is used to signify one thing and one thing only: the end of a marriage. If a relationship is headed for divorce, it’s usually not heading in the right direction, so to speak. However, there’s a new type of divorce that’s becoming increasingly popular—and it doesn’t have to do with the end of a marriage at all. In fact, it may even help rectify a relationship and even make the marital bonds significantly stronger.
It’s called a sleep divorce and it’s just as it sounds—it’s when a couple starts sleeping separately, be it in different beds or different rooms of the home. While once considered a “last resort,” sleeping apart from your partner is becoming increasingly popular, notes Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love. “Some people may view taking a sleep divorce as a sign of trouble in their relationship, and may have been worried that sleeping apart meant that their sex life was ending,” she says. “As more and more research on the importance and benefits of sleep have come out, I would hope that more couples counselors talk about sleep hygiene and sleep divorce with their clients.”
Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of CityCouples Online Therapy, agrees adding that a sleep divorce does not always need to have a deeper meaning aside from a couple simply desiring to sleep apart for reasons specific to their circumstances. “While some couples may experience sleep divorce as a first step to a loss of intimacy—sexual and emotional, many couples choose to sleep apart simply to improve their quality of sleep,” she says.
The benefits of taking a sleep divorce
The most obvious benefit of taking a sleep divorce is that you are often able to get a better night’s sleep. This is especially true if your partner has sleeping behaviors that prevent you from falling or staying asleep, such as snoring, taking up a lot of space or tossing and turning often. While there are benefits to the physical body to getting consistently good sleep, Chlipala also points out that there are also many mental and emotional benefits to your relationship. “For example, after a good night of sleep, you improve your chances of having decreased anxiety the next day,” she says. “When you don’t get enough of the non-REM deep sleep, the prefrontal cortex is impaired and more easily triggers anxiety.”
Another benefit is that your bedtime-morning routine can turn into a ritual. “Knowing that you will be sleeping apart can prompt a couple to make the most of their time before and after the time apart,” says Chlipala. “You can spend focused, quality time right before bed, whether it’s for talking or physical intimacy and spend quality time in the morning before the start of your day to cuddle and talk about what your day looks like.”
Last, and certainly not least, taking a sleep divorce can also promote more physical intimacy. “A major block that I hear from my clients is that they’re too tired for sex,” says Chlipala. “Better sleep will give you more energy and improve your mood, so that in turn can make you want more physical intimacy.”
Signs your relationship might be ready for a sleep divorce
Wondering if a sleep divorce might be right for your relationship? Here are some expert-approved signs that your bond could stand to benefit from a sleep break.
Your partner’s snoring wakes you up.
If you have trouble falling and staying asleep due to your partner’s snoring and it’s gotten to the point where you are having frequent arguments about it, it might be time for a sleep divorce. “You might be sacrificing your health just to share the same physical space for a few hours because you think sleeping in the same bed no matter what is what you ‘should’ be doing,” says Chlipala. “It’s healthy to prioritize your well-being especially if lack thereof is impacting your relationship.”
You have an infant or young child.
If you and your partner are managing through sleepless nights already due to a crying infant, a sleep divorce may be just what you both need to get as much shut-eye as you possibly can. “Many couples in this family stage decide to sleep apart for 4 to 5 hours overnight, so they each can get a stretch of uninterrupted sleep,” says Rivera. “Increased sleep quality is often more important to new parents than total hours slept; in other words, uninterrupted sleep contributes more meaningfully to rest than does more hours of sleep that have been interrupted.”
You’ve fallen into a sex rut.
If your sex life has taken a dip, you might find that sleeping apart can help get you out of the rut. “It can be fun to try it for a few nights, and it could reinvigorate your intimate relationship, and make you that much more excited to see them in the morning,” says Kati Morton, L.M.F.T., author of Are u ok?.
You have different nighttime routines.
If you like to get in bed early, dim the lights and read a book before you go to sleep while your partner prefers to stay up late and watch TV until all hours of the night, it might make sense for you to sleep separately. “Trying a sleep divorce will allow you both to do exactly as you want before bed,” says Morton. This can not only help you sleep better, but also give you each the alone time you might be needing.
You have different sleep cycles or work hours.
Instead of waking each other up, not getting enough sleep, feeling bad the next day, and possibly arguing about it, Morton points out that a sleep divorce can help you each get the sleep you need. If you do go this route, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting enough quality time with each other during your wake hours to make up for the time apart during the day and night.
Before taking a sleep divorce, Chlipala recommends talking about concerns and planning for them. “For example, if you think your sex life will be negatively impacted, talk about it with your partner,” she says. “Maybe you need to schedule sex to give you comfort that intimacy will still be a priority.”
It also may be something that you consider on a “try” basis. “You don’t have to commit forever, but see if, after 2 to 4 weeks, a sleep divorce not only improves your sleep but your relationship,” says Chlipala. “Or try a couple of nights a week for several weeks and see if that makes a difference.”
Last, but certainly not least, Chlipala reminds couples not to take it personally. “It may be a struggle not to take your partner’s request for a sleep divorce personally,” she says. “It may still hurt your feelings, but vocalize what you need to make it work, such as that quality time to connect before you part to separate rooms.”