Good News: You Don’t Have to Sleep With Your Spouse

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Therapists and sleep scientists say it’s OK for couples to sleep apart, a reversal of a long-held marriage tenet

By Elizabeth Bernstein – WSJ

Ever tried to get a good night’s sleep with your partner snoring or tossing around restlessly next to you?

You’re gonna like this: Therapists and sleep scientists say it’s OK for couples to sleep apart as a growing body of research shows the striking importance of sleep. It’s a reversal from the long-held marriage tenet that once partners move to separate beds, the romance is dead.

Sleep is “essential for a healthy body, mind and relationship,” says Wendy Troxel, clinical psychologist, sleep scientist at Rand and author of a book on couples sleeping. “It’s important to prioritize it.”

Therapists have a caveat. If you and your partner do move to separate beds, you need to find a way to continue to be intimate, both emotionally and physically. Co-sleeping provides important benefits for a couple, such as emotional closeness and opportunities for cuddling, sex and conversation. Partners who sleep well together should stick with it.

In the beginning of their marriage, Mark and Paula White shared the same bed. But neither of them was getting a good night’s rest. Paula is a night owl who keeps the TV on, even when she’s asleep. Mark keeps a fan running at the foot of the bed and happily wakes up at 3 a.m.

Once, he flipped over in his sleep and accidentally punched her in the face. Another time, his snoring and “garlicky breath” made her snap and scream: “I can’t breathe! You’re taking my air!”

That was 32 years ago. Since then, the Whites have mostly slept in separate rooms, even choosing separate beds on vacation.

“We’re better people and we have a better relationship because we get better sleep,” says Paula, 60, a business owner in New Albany, Ohio.

When we sleep well, we stave off a host of physical- and mental-health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and depression. Our relationships improve, because we’re less irritable, less frustrated, and better at communication and problem-solving. When we’re cranky, we tend to take it out on the person closest to us.

Better sleep can boost our sex lives, too. One of the main reasons couples stop having sex is because they’re too damn exhausted.

“This is why couples say one of their most satisfying sexual experiences is when they go on vacation,” says Sari Cooper, a certified sex and couples therapist in New York. “They get time to rest.”

Here’s how psychologists suggest you can successfully sleep apart.

Have a conversation

Don’t stomp off out of bed. It could make your partner feel rejected. Both people need to be OK with the arrangement for it to work.

Choose a time when you are both well-rested. Don’t talk about this in the bedroom.

Ask your partner: Are you sleeping OK? Explain that you want both of you to sleep well. Be reassuring that this is about sleep and not attraction.

Don’t blame. Use “I” instead of “you.” Try: “I get cold at night,” not “you are a blanket hog.”

Keep it targeted. This isn’t the time to talk about everything wrong in your relationship. “Stay focused on how you can be a better partner if you are better slept,” Rand’s Troxel says.

Try it part-time

This doesn’t have to be a full-time arrangement. You can sleep apart during the workweek, or take a break when one person is in a bout of insomnia.

This temporary approach is especially helpful when one partner wants to sleep apart and one doesn’t, Troxel says.

Plan regular intimacy dates

When you sleep in separate beds, there are fewer opportunities for spontaneous sex or even just snuggling. “You need to be intentional about creating the seduction, flirtation and planning to make it happen,” says Cooper, the sex therapist.

Pick a day when you know you will be most relaxed and plan to go to bed an hour earlier. (You’ll want energy!) Build the anticipation beforehand. Send a flirty text or leave a note on your partner’s bed.

And remember: Not all intimacy has to be sexual.

Get in bed together for a little bit each night

Cuddle. Watch a movie. Engage in pillow talk. Then say good night and head off to your separate beds.

“You can shoot for the best of both worlds: time awake in bed together and good sleep,” says Zlatan Krizan, a certified sleep scientist and professor of psychology at Iowa State University.


The Whites, who have been married 33 years, sometimes watch a movie in bed and snuggle. When they want to be intimate, they plan a date night or simply visit each other’s bedroom. Sometimes Paula tells her husband, “I’ll leave the red light on for you tonight.” Both spouses say sex is more pleasurable now because they aren’t so tired and tense.

They have one bedtime ritual they never skip, though. They go upstairs together, kneel on each side of Paula’s bed, and say their prayers. Then they kiss good night and head off to their own rooms.

“Now, when we’re together, we know it’s going to be quality time,” Mark, 61, says.



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