If you watch re-runs of old TV shows like I Love Lucy, it's rare to see married couples sharing the same bed. Back then, it was as if two grown, consenting adults sharing the same mattress for who knew what kind of adult activities was some sort of shameful secret. Gasp! But now that times have changed and couples are expected to co-sleep, my dirty, shameful, bedroom secret is pretty surprising. My partner and I sleep in separate beds almost every night.
The choice to sleep apart happened over a period of years — years in which I couldn’t watch TV or ride in a car without falling asleep within minutes. To be honest, I was worried that maybe there was something wrong with my health. After all, what relatively young person can't stay awake for a 15-minute car ride? The truth was that I wasn’t sleeping at night for literal years, and my body was going on a sleep strike.
I finally put two and two together after getting really sick. I had actually been getting sick a lot, but it wasn't until I got struck down by a gnarly influenza plague that I had an eye-opening epiphany. You see, the only way I could actually get comfortable and fall asleep was by propping myself up on the couch while my partner continued to sleep in our bed.
It took about a week, but finally, I got better. And by better, I mean that I felt the best I had in ages. I had energy! I could stay up and watch a movie. Hell, I could do a double feature! Most shocking of all was that an ever-present mental fog that I hadn’t even realized was there had finally lifted. With that clarity came the revelation that I needed to sleep. That was what I had been missing. I was getting sick because my body was craving deep, undisturbed, and regular sleep that it had been denied — for a myriad of reasons — for years.
What I came to realize is that I'm a very light sleeper. Any movement or noise wakes me right up. It's one thing when you live alone, but when you sleep with someone who tends to snore (sorry babe!) it can make for some pretty restless nights. As it was, I would wake up all night long and prod him into a position I hoped would end the snoring. It didn't. Once I realize the effect this little nightly dance was having on me, it was clear that the time had come to be honest with myself and my partner about what had to happen next. I was going to have to start sleeping apart from them at least a few nights a week.
There are lots of reasons couples choose to sleep apart and, as it turns out, making that choice is more common than you might think. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll, “nearly one in four American couples sleeps in separate beds or separate rooms.” That’s right: Almost a quarter of couples have had to make the same decision my partner and I did. Yet, you rarely ever hear anyone talk about it. Why? My guess is it’s for the same reason I kept my sleeping arrangement secret from my friends: I worried if people knew we slept apart, they would think less of our relationship and they would judge us. Spoiler alert: They haven't.
While it’s a relief to know that our friends weren't looking down on us, I did still worry about the effect that sleeping apart would have on my relationship with my partner. There is an innate loss of intimacy that comes with not falling asleep and waking up together (presumably after eight hours of restful sleep). I was definitely concerned that my partner would think I was being selfish, or that they felt hurt or felt rejected but hid those feelings in order to be supportive. After all, a couple sleeping apart can't possibly be happy, right?
Well, according to NYC relationship expert Susan Winter, they definitely can, so long as the choice to sleep apart was mutually agreed upon and you “decided to do so for reasons that make sense for your relationship,” she told Elite Daily. For my partner and I, that was totally the case. Was it ideal to sleep apart? We both agreed it wasn’t, but ultimately the benefits outweighed the sacrifices.
That brings us to what sleeping apart did for our relationship, and how, despite outward appearances, it actually strengthened us as a couple. It started with my actually feeling rested every day instead of waking up already exhausted. It changed everything. Getting regular sleep created a domino effect of positive things that, taken together, had a huge impact on our happiness. For one thing, my health almost immediately improved. Years of no sleep did a real number on my immune system, and suddenly I didn’t have every single cold and flu out there.
In addition to my health, my attitude and general mood improved a lot. Without realizing it, all those nights of poking my snoring partner in the back led to some buildup of resentment and frustration that I didn’t even realize was there. By getting some sleep, I also got my empathy back and was a kinder, better partner for it. Much to my partner’s delight, I stopped being such a grouch all the time. I was actually in a good mood again and much less stressed out, which did wonders for the general vibe around the house.
The other thing that sleeping apart resulted in may actually surprise you: It made saying good night every night a really special time. Instead of just “hop in bed, roll over, and pray for some shut-eye,” we had to stop and take a moment to connect. To actually say good night, that we loved each other, and that we would actually miss one another — something that rarely happens when you live under the same roof. Sleeping apart gave that back to us.
Finally, the last way that separate beds made our relationship stronger is that it reinforced the fact that we're a team. While there are definitely benefits to our sleeping arrangement, it does get lonely sometimes, so we both agreed to work together to find ways to sleep together as much as possible — while still getting a reasonable amount of snoozing in. The whole process really reinforced the fact above all else, we're a united front, and our sleeping arrangement is only a very small part of what makes that true.
The fact is, my partner is my best friend, which is why on the nights we do snuggle up, we call them our “sleepovers.” This is both a silly and sweet thing, but it also means they aren’t routine. They're special, and they remind us why our choice to be and stay together is special, too. So, what do I think about sleeping apart now? Absolutely no regrets.
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