A Room of One’s Own: Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms

Young African American woman waking up at home. Portrait of happy black girl smiling, enjoying a large king size mattress all for herself.

Key Points

  • Sleeping in separate bedrooms is peculiar to Americans, but common in other places and times.

  • If your partner is disturbing your sleep, sleep deprivation is harmful to your health and potentially to the relationship.

  • A snoring or otherwise disruptive sleeper might have a sleep disorder that needs treatment.

  • Sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms is a possible solution, but do it mindfully.

American fans of the British TV show The Crown have learned many exotic facts about British aristocracy, one of which is that sleeping in separate bedrooms is completely normal for them. Seeing the late queen and her prince consort enjoying a (mostly) happy marriage in their adjoining boudoirs may have you wondering if sleeping apart really works.

If your regal-like routine is already to sleep apart from your partner, then you're not alone. According to a 2023 survey for The New York Times, one in five American couples sleep separately, in different beds or different rooms. Read on to find out more about why, and what the experts say about whether nighttime de-coupling is a good idea.

Is It OK To Sleep in Separate Bedrooms?

Despite the aura of taboo around it, a substantial minority of American couples sleep separately. In a Better Sleep Council (BSC) survey of more than 500 partnered adults, the BSC found that 9 percent of them slept in separate bedrooms, and the number increased with age: 16 percent of those over 55 did so, compared to just 3 percent of those under 35.

Even among the 91 percent who shared a bedroom, many separated for part of the night. Responses to the survey included:

  • "I only sleep in the bed with my partner for our alone time together, and then I get up and go sleep in a recliner."

  • "If he starts the snoring routine, he is sent to the sofa."

  • "When feeling restless, I throw a blanket on the floor and lie there till I get sleepy again."

Woman rests peacefully on her side of the bed

Some 32 percent of respondents overall said that snoring disturbed their sleep, and 40 percent said their partner's tossing and turning did.

Is avoiding those problems worth sleeping separately? Experts say it might not be ideal, but conflict from sleep deprivation and fighting over the bedclothes is often worse for the relationship than sleeping apart.

Dr. Meir Kryger, a sleep specialist at Yale's School of Medicine, explains, "For a lot of couples, sleeping apart can be the best thing for their relationship. […] There's no research that suggests that couples who sleep apart for the purpose of better sleep have any less of a romantic connection than couples who share a bed."

Experts also note that young children sometimes call for changes in sleeping arrangements: Babies are less likely to die of SIDS if they have an adult sleeping in the room with them, for instance. Such changes needn't disrupt the relationship, especially since they're usually temporary.

With that said, you want to make sure that separate sleeping isn't covering up other problems.

Sleep Disorders That Disturb the Marriage Bed

If your partner is a pain in the neck to sleep with, it could just be the way they are, or it could signal something more serious. Several sleep disorders can make sharing a bed difficult, so consider these before moving out of the bedroom.

Man sleeps on one side of the bed without a sheet

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a common problem and a frequent subject of jokes, but it could be indicative of sleep apnea, a much more serious condition. The condition is more common with age, which is one possible reason older couples are more likely to sleep apart.

If your partner is a window rattler, it's worth visiting a sleep specialist to test to see if they have sleep apnea. Even if they don't, the specialist also has methods to treat the snoring itself, which could make both your nights more restful.

A caveat: Treatment for sleep apnea often involves bringing a breathing machine (CPAP) into the bedroom, and it also makes some noise. So you might end up sleeping separately anyway, but at least you've addressed your partner's health concerns.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a phenomenon that, like sleep apnea, gets more common with age. As the name implies, RLS gives sufferers an antsy feeling in the legs, which they describe as crawling, itching, aching, tingling, or throbbing. It can strike at any time but is more likely in the evening and nighttime hours.

RLS may have different underlying causes, so consult your doctor on how to address the problem. Sometimes it's as simple as taking iron supplements.

Night Terrors

While nightmares happen to everybody, night terrors are a different phenomenon. Vivid dreams usually happen at the REM stage of sleep, but night terrors happen at the deepest stage, NREM Stage 3, which occurs right before REM. Most sleepers are dead to the world at that point, but some people show signs of distress and fear, including flailing. This, of course, tends to disturb whomever they're sleeping with.

Night terrors are fairly common in children, but they usually grow out of it. Adults who continue to experience night terrors often have underlying conditions like depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and general stress. Addressing night terrors may lead you to needed treatment for your mental health.

Woman awakens and sits at edge of bed stretching

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

In REM sleep behavior disorder, the mechanism that normally keeps people paralyzed during REM sleep breaks down, and they start acting out their dreams. Sometimes this just involves talking, but it might also involve movement — and if they're having a bad dream, violence.

For that reason, if your partner seems to be doing this, you want to get them treatment not just for better sleep but for safety. REM disorder also may point to an underlying condition, and certain drugs help treat it.

What To Try Before Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms

Whether or not your partner has a sleep disorder, there are more immediate ways to address co-sleeping difficulties. Depending on the exact nature of the root issues, some might turn out to have an easy fix.

Try a Bigger, Fancier Bed

King size beds are handy not only if your partner moves around a lot, but also if you have different tastes in mattresses. There are mattresses nowadays with adjustable firmness and temperature on each side, so you can more or less sleep in your own beds while staying adjoined. Such beds aren't cheap, but they're likely more affordable than a whole other bedroom.

Find Ways To Cancel the Noise

Admittedly, some snores cut through anything, but there are ways to cover more muted sounds. A good pair of earplugs or earbuds issuing white noise or relaxing music could help you get some shut-eye. Also, if your partner watches TV or listens to the radio while they fall asleep, they can do these things more discreetly with headphones or smaller devices.

A white noise machine used to cancel sounds in the bedroom

Target the Light

Another frequent source of co-sleeping disagreement is when one partner likes to read themselves to sleep while the other needs the place to be as dark as a tomb. An e-reader with a nighttime setting is an option, or if you're a print purist, a penlight that attaches to the book or to your head focuses the light on a small area. Sleep masks, while they take some getting used to, also help the partner who needs darkness.

Try Twin Beds

Ever wonder how twin beds got their name? It's because they traditionally come in pairs, so two people could share a room without sharing a bed. You've probably seen that if you watch TV and movies from the mid-twentieth century that feature married couples.

While the depiction of twin beds in the media stemmed from the societal propriety of the time, there really was a vogue for twin bed sets among married couples from the 1920s to the 1960s. If your bedding tastes are too divergent for a split bed to handle, this old-school solution offers a chance to set up your beds exactly the way you like them without retreating to separate rooms.

How To Sleep Apart Without Growing Apart

While some sleep disorders improve with treatment, most of them are chronic, so you might have to put up with them to some degree. Some differences in physiology or scheduling are just too much to overcome, even with separate beds in the same room. In that case, you may need a "sleep divorce" — but don't want it to turn into an actual divorce.

In order to keep your relationship healthy, try to separate mindfully to take care of everyone's needs — your partner's, your children's, and your own.

Woman kept awake by partner's snoring in bed

Find Time for Intimacy

Why is there a stigma around partners sleeping in separate spaces? For many, the idea of sleeping apart signals a sexless marriage — or leads to one. It's true that sex is less convenient when you don't automatically have eight hours alone on a comfortable surface, so you need to get more intentional about intimacy.

Psychologist and sleep medicine specialist Wendy M. Troxel explains, "For many couples, the times before falling asleep and after waking up can be important to a strong relationship. For example, if you’re an owl and your partner’s a lark, you could share some time together in bed before he falls asleep; when he does, you can quietly leave the room and then return at your natural bedtime.

"Or, when your partner wakes up before you, he could start his early-bird day and return to you later to wish you good morning — ideally, with coffee in hand. After all, a key to healthy relationships is knowing how to negotiate differences and find compromises, day and night."

Bottom line: Find a rhythm that works for you and your part, and be sure to prioritize intimacy. Even if you end up sleeping apart, you can make time before bed to cuddle, pillow talk, and more.

Be Conscious of the Children

The cultural association between separate bedrooms and sexless marriage is strong enough that even children pick it up. They might get worried if you just move into your separate spaces without explanation. It's important to counteract your child's worry in both word and deed.

Dr. Meir Kryger clarifies, "Some kids have even wondered if their parents' decision to sleep apart means they're not in love anymore. […] Children who observe their parents regularly holding hands, complimenting each other, or snuggling together on the couch will find any insecurities they've felt quickly abated."

Bottom line: Sleeping apart can have an adverse effect on the household if you're not transparent about your reasons. Reassure children that your and your partner's sleep routine doesn't signal a more permanent separation.

Man and woman kiss on bed

Do a Six-Month Check-Up

After you've moved to your separate rooms, check in with each other periodically to see how you're doing. How's your sleep? How's your relationship? Ideally, you both feel better, if sleep was the only problem with sharing a bed

However, be mindful of the possibility that the sleep issue was covering up deeper conflicts. Chronic hostility and frustration tend to amplify minor annoyances, which may have stoked your previous fights over blanket stealing or what have you. In that case, even if you solve the sleep issues, the deeper conflicts remain. Such issues are beyond the scope of this article, but couple's counseling can be beneficial.

Another possibility is the opposite: You really miss sleeping together, despite the annoyances. If that's the case, you have the opportunity to renegotiate your bedtime routines. Always being open to compromise for the sake of love. The Sleep Foundation reports in a 2022 survey that about 26 percent of couples end up back in the same bed after a period of sleep separation — chiefly because they missed each other.

Sleeping Alone Doesn't Mean Being Lonely

Whether you and your partner share a bed, share a room but not a bed, or sleep in separate bedrooms is a choice that only the two of you can make. It's also up to you to decide how long it lasts: It might be a passing phase due to illness, childcare, or conflicting schedules, and once it's over you can happily bed down together again.

Just remember that getting good sleep is very important to your health, and ultimately the well-being of both you and your partner depends on it.

Learn more about the relationship between good sleep and good health at Snooze.

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