Some years back I noticed my parents didn’t share a bed anymore. My initial reaction was concern. Did they no longer love each other? Was this some telltale sign a late-in-life split was imminent? When I broached the subject with my maman, she dismissed my concerns with a few funny and sarcastic comments. “Your dad snores, he farts and he steals all the blankets,” she smirked. “For the first time in years, I’m finally getting some sleep.” So there you have it. I was reading way too much into their separate beds. They simply wished to get better sleep.
The topic of separate beds didn’t come up again until a few years later when I was chatting with a newly married girlfriend. “My DH and I sleep in separate bedrooms,” she confided. “I’m such a light sleeper, I can’t sleep a wink when we’re in the same room, never mind the same bed. “What’s that doing to your sex life?” I asked. She rolled her eyes. “We have sex all the time. Sometimes in my room, sometimes in his, then each one of us goes back to their room to get some sleep. It’s kind of fun and exciting.” Seems so simple, right?
According to a 2015 study by the Sleep Foundation as many as 25% of couples report sleeping in separate beds and 10% of couples report sleeping in separate rooms. An earlier 2013 study, conducted by Ryerson University’s Sleep and Addiction (SAD) Lab, places that number more around the 30% to 40% mark. “People will say they sleep better [together],” Colleen Carney, director of Ryerson’s SAD Laboratory, told the CBC, “but when we actually monitor their brains we see that their brain is not getting into deeper stages of sleep because they’re continuously being woken up by movement or sound.”
And yet, sleeping in separate beds, or “sleep divorces” as they are often called, still get a bad rep.
What Is A Sleep Divorce?
Contrary to what the name might lead you to believe, a “sleep divorce” does not mean the couple in question is splitting up. Rather it means that for whatever reason – work schedules, sleep disorders or issues, these couples chose to sleep in separate beds or even separate rooms. Kids come into the family bed around midnight and kick and toss like ninjas all night long – time for a sleep divorce. Hubby snores so loudly the neighbors can hear him – a sleep divorce could save your marriage. Wife has sleep apnea* and every time she stops breathing you think she’s dying – ask for a sleep divorce. Have to get up before dawn and don’t want to wake up your partner – why not just get a sleep divorce?
“I think the idea of sleep divorce is an unfair term,” adds Carney. “People can have very good and satisfying relationships sleeping apart. Some people might be headed to divorce and then they actually sleep apart and find this new way to connect.”
Sleeping Together Separately
Until recently, sleeping in separate rooms was thought to be the lot of royalty, the rich and famous or for 1950s TV couples at a time when sharing a marital bed was deemed too racy for prime-time TV. Remember I Love Lucy? Lucy and Ricki (Lucille Ball and real-life husband, Desi Arnaz) slept in the same room but in twin beds separated by a night stand. Father Knows Best and The Dick Van Dyke show also featured married couples sleeping in twin beds separated by a night stand.
Some of the first not-married-in-real-life couples to share a bed on TV were Carol and Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch, Samantha and Darrin Stephens in Bewitched and Herman and Lily Munster in The Munsters. This was considered really progressive (for TV audiences, that is).
In reality, couples and families have been sharing their beds for centuries.
History of the “Family Bed”
The oldest known “bed” in the world was discovered in South Africa, and dates back 77,000 years. Layers of plant material were gathered into mats, which were periodically burned, probably to eliminate rats, mice or vermin. The bed was around a foot thick and 22 square feet, roughly the size of two California Kings pushed together, providing plenty of sleeping space for the entire family. Sleeping together meant keeping each other safe and warm.
As humans and their shelters evolved so did their sleeping arrangements. The first beds to be raised off the ground, as we know them, are attributed to ancient Egypt (3000 BC to 1000 BC). A raised bed made it harder for vermin or snakes to crawl in, and kept its sleepers off the cold ground. Mattresses also became much more comfortable and were made of woolen cushions.
By the 5th century, your sleeping arrangements were determined by your lot in life. If you were lucky enough to be rich, your bed was an opportunity to show off your status. The beds of the wealthy were raised off the ground and decorated with gold and jewels. This is also when four poster beds became popular and heavy drapes were hung from them, to keep the warmth in and bugs and vermin out.
Over time, bedchambers went from being a place you received guests and did business (14th-17th century) to a private space reserved for sleep (18th century). And since the 19th century, bedrooms have been mostly devoted to sleep and sex. The latter of the two happening less and less, if your bed is where your kids, pets and partner all sleep, snore, toss, turn and fight for space and the blankets.
When The Family Bed Keep You Awake
Somehow, your once private sleep and sex oasis has become the root cause of your sleeplessness. Your partner snores, the kids crawl into bed around 2 am every morning, the cat works her way from your feet up to your pillow and you wake up at the wee hours of the morning, shivering and teetering on the edge of the bed. At this point, no matter how much you love your family, sleeping apart sounds like heaven.
And the good news is, choosing to sleep apart no longer has to be your “dirty little secret.” More and more couples are doing it. In fact, some of your favorite celebrity couples are making solo sleeping “de rigueur.”
Famous Sleep Divorces
One of the most famous couples to have always slept apart is Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The pair slept in separate bedrooms for the entirety of their 73-year-long marriage.
Other famous “sleep divorcees” include director, Tim Burton, and his wife, actor, Helena Bonham Carter, who before they split in 2014, didn’t just have separate bedrooms but also chose to have separate houses. “He snores”, Bonham Carter told UK’s Radio Times in 2010. “We’ve tried lots of remedies that don’t work. He has a deviated septum and doesn’t want an operation.” That didn’t stop them from having two kids and being 100% committed to each other for 13 years. David and Victoria Beckham also opted to sleep and live in separate wings of the same house back in 2017. They credit the “sleep divorce” to the continued success of their 20+ year relationship.
In an episode of Kourtney and Kim Take New Year, Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick revealed that they don’t share the same bed because Disick’s not a good sleeper and that with their son Mason in bed, he can’t fall asleep.
Of course, it’s easy enough to have separate beds or even separate bedrooms when you’re filthy rich. But it hardly seems seem feasible for middle-class families or those living in small spaces in densely populated areas. Or does it?
Is A Sleep Divorce Realistic?
The average master bedroom is between 144 to 224 square feet. (10 x 10 to 14 x 16 feet). That’s big enough to accommodate a king size bed, or a couple of twin beds. Think about it. Wouldn’t a good night’s sleep be worth getting rid of that extra dresser? Or of the exercise bike you never use? You know the one in the corner that’s under that pile of clothes… Let’s face it, most women only wear 20% of their clothes, and even though that figure’s a little higher for men, isn’t time for a good purge? As for the exercise bike, get rid of that thing or start using it.
Top 5 Reasons A Sleep Divorce Could Be Right For You
1. You wake up exhausted every morning. Fighting for the blankets, headspace and silence is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
2. You look and feel hungover – all the time. Feeling like your head is as heavy as a ton of bricks and having blood shot eyes is not normal. Getting older does not have to mean feeling horrible all the time.
3. You’re quick to anger or to tears. Lack of sleep makes controlling your emotions a lot harder.A situation that might otherwise simply annoy or upset you can set off a shit storm of anger or tears when you’re overtired.
4. You’re hungry all the time. Lack of sleep leads to lower levels of leptin, the hormone that regulates energy and tells your body when to stop eating. So if you’re constantly hungry, it could be because you’re sleep deprived.
5. Your sex drive is non-existent. It’s hard to feel amorous when you’re exhausted. If you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, you’re overtired. Start getting more and better sleep so you’re up for it the next time the mood strikes.
How A Sleep Divorce Can Make You Happier
Now imagine this scenario. You stretch out in your bed, reaching for the four corners with your hands and feet. You breathe in the smell of clean sheets and feel their softness against your skin. There are no cookie crumbs, dog hairs or dirty socks at the bottom of the sheets. The room is quiet and cool. You lower the lights and put on a soft, soothing soundscape on your noise machine. You sink into your favorite pillow and slowly drift to sleep. You are comfortable, relaxed and peaceful. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?
A sleep divorce is not for everyone and might not be feasible due to space, sleeping arrangements, work, kids or lifestyle. But it’s worth considering even for a night or two a week. Being well rested will do wonders for every aspect of your life from your mood and complexion to your sex life.
To Sleep Divorce Or Not
As for me, when we’re in the same city, my partner and I sleep in the same bed …and yes, there are nights when our daughter and the dog crawl in with us. But since we share a King Size Purple mattress that’s so big and comfy, it’s the closest thing we’ve found to sleeping apart – together – I haven’t felt the need to get my own bed. Best purchase ever.
Are you among the 30 to 40% of people who sleep in separate beds or even separate rooms from their partners? What factors made you choose a sleep divorce?
*Note: Sleep apnea is a medical condition that can have serious long-term effects on your health. If you suspect you or your loved one(s) are suffering from sleep apnea, consult your doctor and have them set-up a sleep apnea test for you.