For many married people, nighttime means curling up in a bed shared with their spouse. But a growing trend of midlife couples choosing separate beds (12% according to the National Sleep Foundation) thinks this option may help them get better sleep and even alleviate marital problems.
“Few things impact the quality of your sleep each night more than your sleep environment,” said Meir Kryger, a professor of medicine at Yale’s School of Medicine and author of The Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest Is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life. “That includes who’s sleeping beside you and how well you sleep together.”
Having said that, many couples still fear the nighttime split thinking that might interfere with their intimacy. Why?
There’s a lot of pressure around the meaning of the shared bed, but this is largely a socially constructed belief system, not science-based. When sleep is measured objectively, people actually sleep worse with a partner. In fact, you might have to put up with someone who snores or changes sleep positions frequently or, especially during menopause, we are often the ones who would prefer being left on our own when dealing with hot flushes and insomnia.
Actually, sleeping in separate beds can create the opportunity to be more intentional about having a healthy sex life and it also can alleviate some of the pressure felt to be intimate when a bed is shared.
“Culturally, contemporary Western society holds the belief that happy couples sleep in the same bed and unhappy ones don’t“, remarks Wendy Troxel a senior behavioural and social scientist at the RAND Corporation and author of Sharing the Covers; Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep. “There are a lot of misinformed beliefs and downright myths about the coupled nature of sleep. This myth is so common, it even comes with a super judge-y name, sleep divorce, that perpetuates the idea that sleeping apart means your relationship is on the rocks“.
While sleeping together offers comfort and connection for some, for others it’s a source of frustration and contempt. But remember, the simple act of choosing to sleep in separate beds doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed.
Of course, the subject can be difficult to broach with a partner. Maybe discussing the new arrangements before taking the step towards sleeping apart is key to a happy night. Experts recommend staying away from the word “you,” as in, “You keep me up at night.” Instead, use the word “we” — “We don’t seem to have a completely restful night of sleep because we just have different sleep styles.” That way, you’re not blaming but explaining. When couples do this, their defences go way down and you can then schedule sex in your calendar and make it a priority without too much pressure.
Sleep is one of the most vital parts of our health and wellness. It’s about time for us to let these myths go on.