Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Sleep Divorce

Is breaking up in bed the answer to a better night’s sleep?

Scene-1 One partner falls asleep and the snoring begins. The other partner lies awake in agony until the snorer is given a fierce jab to turn to the side, only to resume snoring in a while. Neither sleep well, and a vicious cycle of disturbed sleep becomes a relationship problem making one partner increasingly resentful. 

Scene-2 Some of us are night owls who like to burn the midnight oil, while the larks wake up cheerfully at the crack of dawn. Should these birds of different feathers sleep together because their sleep-wake schedules are out of sync?

Scene-3 A is a lifelong insomniac and her partner B keeps offering her caring advice with the best intentions, “sleep in darling” or “go to bed early, catch up on some sleep.” Unfortunately, that’s precisely what not to do when it comes to insomnia. Understanding how to deal with an insomniac is one thing and quite the other dealing daily with lack of a good night’s sleep.

Scene-4 In the case of illness of a partner, undisturbed sleep is vital for a quick recovery, even turning over in bed can wake up your partner, if going back to sleep is an issue it can slow down the recovery. Sleeping apart till you are well again, is recommended.

Ninety five percent of couples can relate to one or more of the above scenarios. In the first years of a relationship couples have the tolerance levels to deal with sleep patterns, waking each other up usually ends in intimacy and falling back to sleep. However as time and age advance, the tolerance levels go down and health issues creep in. Sleep in the real world is often noisy, interrupted and most importantly shared. Couples of all types straight, gay, young, old, healthy or those facing illness, experience all sorts of challenges when it comes to the sharing your bed.

The truth is that sleep does occupy about one-third of our lives. Since our sleep cycle is hard wired, it is almost impossible to change inbuilt sleep rhythms to satisfy your partner, no matter how much in love or lust you are with each other. Consistently interrupted sleep does lead to both health and relationship issues, excessive sleepiness during the day which can be a serious safety issue when driving or on the road, less intimacy, it’s hard to forgive and forget when you are sleep deprived. Proportionally, sleep takes up a major part of our lives as a couple, much more so than sex, and yet our sleep lives receive so much less attention than our sex lives.  

UC Berkeley psychologists Amie Gordon and Serena Chen have found that couples are much more likely to lash out at each other after a bad night’s sleep, magnifying any discord over relationship conflicts.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where many people still view sleep deprivation as a badge of honor to sustain relationships. The sexual revolution meaning of sleeping together is, sex. There’s a lot of pressure around the meaning of the shared bed, largely a socially constructed belief system and not science based. The pendulum has shifted back and forth from the stigma attached to sleeping together versus sleeping apart. This suggests that our social brain is prioritizing our need for closeness and security at night, even when it comes at a cost to our sleep.

It is time, Couples need to make sleep a priority in their relationship. 


Research shows that when you are well rested, you are a better communicator, happier, more empathetic, more attractive and more humourous. All these important attributes are needed for developing and sustaining strong relationships.

A SLEEP DIVORCE, as dramatic as it sounds, just means you have agreed to sleep in separate spaces, could be separate beds or rooms for a restful night. In fact it could result in a happier state of togetherness.

There are ways of trying it out before your make the final shift. Communication of feelings and an open, honest discussion will make for a smooth transition.

Break into it slow and steady, 

If you are in an owl and singing lark situation, Start by sharing some time together in bed before falling asleep, quietly one partner leaves the room and returns at natural bedtime. Or, when your partner wakes up before you, he/ she could start the early-bird day and return to you later to wish you good morning (ideally, with coffee in hand.) 

Advance to sleeping apart on weekdays and together on weekends for a while.

Finally with a lot of communication, make the “SLEEP DIVORCE”

After all, the key to a healthy relationship is, knowing how to negotiate differences and find compromises be it for the day or night. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, even the sleeping arrangements of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as portrayed in The Crown. Theirs is a seriously enduring relationship, even though they have slept apart for decades (at least according to Netflix).

Today sleeping apart is not necessarily a sign of a loveless or sexless union. It is the falling asleep and after waking up that is most important to a strong relationship. It isn’t a bad for you and your partner to sleep in separate beds.


After dabbling as solo sleepers you find disturbed sleep is…

… Damaging your health

… Turning you into an ogre every morning

… Souring your relationship rather than strengthening it.

… Making your day ahead hard to cope.

In every decision-making situation, I always ask myself “Is this reversible?” 

if so “go for it” 

Here’s my bottom line: There isn’t a one-size-fits all sleeping strategy for all couples.

That said, 

Couples should make a good nights sleep a priority for both.

See sleep as the pillar of health it is. 

If you’re not going to sleep for yourself, do it for your partner, as well as everyone else around you. 

Consider it an investment in your closest relationships.

At the end of the day, there is nothing healthier, happier and even sexier than a good night of sleep.


Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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  1. I understand that if one can sleep soundly it does not matter what one’s partner does during that time. I get up at 4 am and by 10pm I become so sleepy, I fall asleep immediately. My wife sleeps at late hours and keeps lights and TV in our bedroom on all this while. It however does not disturb me at all. Is that a kind of sleep divorce?


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