When we think of unconventional or antiquated marital sleeping arrangements, images of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo sleeping in their separate beds might pop to mind. But as it turns out, that 1950s model isn’t so outdated after all.
According to a study out of Ryerson University’s Sleep and Depression Laboratory in Toronto, 30 to 40 per cent of Canadian couples sleep in different beds. Add to that a poll conducted by the U.S. National Sleep Foundation that found nearly one in four couples sleeps in separate beds or rooms, and the fact that there’s been a rise in the request for double master bedroom homes, and it all points to a trend for separate sleeping quarters.
It’s referred to as sleep divorce, but its effects could have the exact opposite on your marriage.
“There’s nothing wrong with sleeping apart, especially if one partner snores or tosses and turns a lot and prevents the other from getting a good night’s sleep,” says Betty Stockley, a Toronto-based registered psychotherapist. “In cases like this, it’s actually better to sleep apart.”
When you consider that sleep deprivation has been linked to a host of negative health outcomes, including mood changes and low sex drive, it’s pretty clear that a good night’s sleep — regardless of how it’s achieved — will benefit your relationship with your partner.
In fact, one UC Berkeley study concluded that sleep deprivation could impact gratitude and leave couples “too tired to say thanks.”
“Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s,” study author and psychologist Amie Gordon said in a statement. “You may have slept like a baby, but if your partner didn’t, you’ll probably both end up grouchy.”
And although many couples will say that they sleep better when they share a bed, research has shown that that isn’t necessarily true.
“People will say they sleep better [together], but when we actually monitor their brains, we see that their brain is not getting into deeper stages of sleep because they’re continuously being woken up by movement or sound,” Colleen Carney, director of the Ryerson sleep laboratory, said to CBC. “It creates a lot of problems.”
However, Stockley is aware that the situation could raise some psychological concerns for one or both members of the couple.
“It could be that their elderly parents sleep separately and they view their parents as non-sexual beings, or they could think that sleeping separately is the beginning of the end of their relationship.”
But all of that can be counteracted with open communication. If you’re the partner who is causing the issue (i.e. your snoring is keeping your spouse up or you’re a night owl who likes to read in bed), Stockley says it’s easy to frame the request as something you’re offering to do for the benefit of your partner. If, however, you’re the party who’s being kept awake, it needs to be addressed more delicately so that you don’t send the wrong message.
“Tell your partner that you really love them but you’d be [less resentful of their sleeping habits] if you slept in separate beds. Suggest trying it for one or two nights a week and see how it goes.”
She says this will also spice up your sex life. Just as a person may be more inclined to be intimate with their partner if they’ve been separated for some time, be it because of a business trip or working different hours, this could have the same effect on your libido.
“You can tell your partner that they can come visit you in the other room at any time,” Stockley says. “It’s important to communicate that it won’t interfere with sex.”
Communication doesn’t end between the couple, either. If there are children in the house, it’s important to address this change in sleeping arrangements to put to rest any fears they might have that there’s discord between their parents.
“On some level, when a child sees their parents sleeping apart, they’re going to wonder and worry about the relationship,” Stockley says. “Kids notice everything.”
Most importantly, don’t shy away from trying a sleep divorce because you equate sharing a bed with sharing intimacy or love.
“A lot of times, even though people are sleeping side-by-side, there’s a great distance between them,” Stockley says. “It’s heart-rending to be afraid to reach out. You need to talk about your feelings and explain that if you want to sleep apart, it’s not a rejection.” In fact, it could bring you closer together.