Every evening we change out of our clothes, kiss each other good night…and head off to sleep in our separate quarters.
That’s rarely the expectation most couples have when they say “I do,” or even “Let’s move in together!” Yet being estranged bedfellows is common to 23% of the population: According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America™ poll, the odds a married or cohabiting adult sleeps alone to ensure a good night’s sleep are 1 in 4.35.
Couples have a variety of reasons for sleeping separately. For many, sleep disorders are the culprit. Most frequently, loud snoring (sometimes caused by sleep apnea) interferes with the other person’s ability to fall or stay asleep. And two disorders that prompt sleepers to kick, punch, or jostle their partners—restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)—are the source of many separate sleeping arrangements.
Such sleep disorders are a common source of friction: The odds a married or cohabiting adult has relationship problems due to his or her partner’s sleep disorder are 1 in 3.03. However, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t indicate how often these problems result from the couple continuing to share a bed despite the sleep disorder and how often it’s from resentment that arises after the couple starts sleeping separately.
Many couples sleep in different rooms for reasons unrelated to sleep disorders. Sometimes it’s due to disputes over the bedroom environment, such as the ideal room temperature or one partner’s penchant for hogging the sheets or needing the TV on to fall asleep. And some people find they just can’t nod off when another person is in the room.
Poorly matched sleep schedules resulting from work obligations or differences in the individuals’ biological clocks are another common cause. For example, if an early-bird wife goes to bed at 10 p.m. and gets up at 5:30 a.m. and her night owl husband prefers to sleep from midnight to 8 a.m., the couple may find they get more shuteye sleeping solo.
Young children are another frequent source of separate sleep arrangements, although this is usually temporary. When a baby requires feeding every few hours, one spouse may sleep near the infant’s room, allowing his or her partner to sleep uninterrupted.
Although sleeping apart can strain a relationship, it doesn’t have to. If the move is mutually agreed upon, it can strengthen the marriage. Nor does it mean the couple has a weak sex life. Couples who sleep separately can still make time for sex, and some even say this arrangement enhances their romantic lives because it prompts them to put more effort into planning quiet time—and they’re more likely to be well-rested when that time arrives.