What Are the Benefits of Sleeping Alone?

Why Some Couples Are Choosing a ‘Sleep Divorce’

Sleep experts break down why some couples are choosing a “sleep divorce,” or opting to sleep alone instead of sharing a bed

Woman suffers from her male partner snoring in bed

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As important as romantic compatibility is for partners, their compatibility in the bedroom also matters—sleep compatibility, that is. Up to a third of couples in the U.S. are going through what social media is calling a “sleep divorce,” or opting for separate sleeping arrangements in search of a better night’s rest.

A sleep divorce might sound like a harsh bedtime breakup, evoking the image of a spouse spending the night on the couch after a fight. But the concept derives from couples who have prioritized better sleep over being in close proximity in the same bed, says Mark Aloia, an associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Colorado and head of sleep and behavioral sciences at the smart bed company Sleep Number.

Only a few studies have looked directly at the effects on couples of sleeping together versus alone. But some evidence does suggest that sleeping separately—temporarily or permanently—is one approach that couples might consider if they want to snooze more soundly.

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Not All Couples Are Sleep Compatible

Whether a sleep divorce is the right choice boils down to a pair’s sleep preferences—what is often called “sleep hygiene” For example, a person who enjoys slumbering in a dark and quiet room might struggle to fall asleep if their bedmate prefers to leave the television on at night.

Snoring is another common sleep disruptor. A 2017 study found that people who slept with a heavy snorer were three times more likely to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep than people whose partner didn’t snore. Additionally, snorers’ bedmates were twice as likely to experience fatigue and daytime sleepiness the next day. Because snoring may happen during deep sleep, Aloia says, it’s possible the snorer is waking up their bedmate when the latter is also entering the later stages of the sleep cycle.

Differing sleep schedules may also be an issue. In a recent study, people who shared beds with a night-shift worker reported feeling experiencing poorer sleepthan people who slept with a day-shift worker. Night-shift workers’ partners also exhibited more depressive symptoms and signs of cognitive impairment, possibly from sleep deprivation. Similarly, a person who tends to hit the sack early is more likely to be woken up by a night owl partner who frequently comes to bed relatively late, shortening the former individual’s total time asleep.

Women Have More Sleep Problems When Bed-Sharing

Some studies show women are more vulnerable to insomnia symptoms than men are, and having a bed partner can raise the risk.

For example, women are more sensitive to a bed partner’s movements than men are. Lauren Hale, a professor of preventive medicine and a sleep behavior expert at Stony Brook Medicine, says fidgety movements such as kicking in bed can wake a partner multiple times throughout the night. The longer it takes that partner to fall back asleep, the more sleep deprivation they experience.

Men are also more likely to snore. One study of sleep quality among heterosexual bed partners found women were more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and to have lower-quality sleep when sleeping with male snorers. Although the researchers didn’t find “clear evidence” that women’s sleep quality “substantially improved” when they slept alone for a night, the research found women woke up significantly less often when they did so. Another issue among heterosexual couples is that men are often physically bigger in size, Hale says. This could mean “a man’s sleep kicking might be more disruptive than a woman moving in her sleep,” she says.

“Everyone should prioritize their sleep and identify the circumstances that may detract from high-quality sleep,” Hale says. “If having a bed partner is one of those factors, it might be worth trying to sleep in a separate space.”

Health Benefits of Sleeping in the Same Bed

Although certain bed-sharing situations may lead to poorer sleep, research has also found some benefits to co-sleeping. Hale says the comfort and emotional security of having one’s significant other nearby can relieve some stress, leading to better sleep.

Thomas Kilkenny, director of Northwell Health’s Institute of Sleep Medicine at Staten Island, says both sexual activity and nonsexual behaviors such as cuddling can trigger a release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces a calming effect. The resulting intimate bonding and feeling of safety between partners can lead to higher perceived sleep quality. A 2020 study of bed-sharing in heterosexual couples found a link between co-sleeping and a 10 percent increase in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—one of the sleep phases involved in emotional processing and memory consolidation.

Sleep Divorce Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Of course, the decision to sleep together or apart should be based on a couple’s unique needs—not on what society expects them to do. Sleeping together may work for some couples, whereas others may prefer separate beds.

Sleep experts say that as long as the decision is mutual and partners are in constant communication, there is no harm in experimenting with different sleeping arrangements. Just remember: what happens in the bedroom—including your sleeping arrangements—stays in the bedroom.

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