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How Sleeping in Separate Beds Can Save Your Marriage

It’s not about sex, it’s about getting some quality z’s

Couple sleeping side by side in separate beds.
Fredrik Brodén (Prop stylist: Lauren Galyean)

In college, I dated someone who told me their parents slept in separate beds; I immediately assumed their marriage had problems. Fifteen years later, when I moved in with my current partner, we made separate bedrooms a nonnegotiable part of our real estate search.

We learned early that trying to share a bed was a recipe for disaster. Once, at a hotel, I even slept in the bathtub after hours of tossing and turning next to him.

For us, having separate beds is about getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining personal spaces and schedules. He prefers his bed sparse — just sheets, pillow and comforter — whereas mine is piled with books, magazines, computer and stuffed animals. 

If I wake up at 3 a.m. and want to read or watch TV, I can do so without bothering him. Especially during the height of the pandemic, when we both were home 24/7, it was crucial for giving us a little time apart. We both consider separate bedrooms to be one of the keys to why our relationship works so well.

Nearly 1 in 4 couples sleep in separate beds. Yet a sense of stigma persists. 

Jim, 46, initially felt ashamed about the prospect of having separate beds when faced with his wife’s perimenopausal insomnia a few years ago. But after too many nights of retreating to a mattress in his home office, he finally decided to turn it into a proper bedroom and finalize their “sleep divorce.” 

Their tension over sleep dissolved, and he realized this was “not a reflection on our marriage status.”

It’s possible to make a successful transition to separate beds without harming your relationship. For Emily, 52, sleeping in the same bed was wonderful — until it wasn’t.

Back in her early 30s, she faced the double whammy of pregnancy and her husband’s loud snoring, making her “dread everything about bedtime.” She started going to bed earlier, and he waited until later, leading to a gap of up to four hours. 

While her husband slept soundly, she never felt rested. She was angry and resentful, and he felt guilty — not a recipe for happiness. When they eventually moved into separate rooms, her sleep improved immediately — as did her relationship. 

The big question you’re likely wondering is: What about sex? When do you have sex if you’re sleeping separately?

In my case, the answer is simple: whenever we want. While there aren’t opportunities to roll over in the middle of the night for a quickie, there are mornings, evenings and weekends for getting it on. Plus, I’m not falling asleep at 8 p.m., exhausted, like I did when we tried sharing a bed. 

Others feel the same way: 52 percent of American couples have less sex if their sleep quality is affected by sharing a bed. That makes sense; if your partner is keeping you up at night (not in a fun way), you’re more likely to be annoyed than amorous. 

While Emily says she’ll never go back to sharing a bed, she’s had to be more deliberate about finding “touch time” with her husband to make up for not spending those hours close to each other at night. They give each other foot rubs while watching TV, and she looks for “little opportunities” to build connection with him, like a hug in the kitchen or a quick grope when she walks by him.