Ah, if sleeping together was as romantic as in our dreams. But he's a night owl -- not sleepy until 2 a.m. and snores like a bear when he does hit the bed. She's a fidgety sleeper, up and down all night. These habits drive their mates to distraction. Most nights, someone has migrated into the next room, just to sleep in peace. Is this a bad move? Does sleeping apart hurt or help a relationship?
The idyllic image of a couple sleeping like spoons, night after night, is a thing of myth, says George H. Williams, PhD, an Atlanta psychologist and marital therapist. "That rarely happens. Sleep patterns differ widely for almost every couple I've ever seen. Even when they're devoted to each other … they may need to sleep apart."
Turns out, lots of couples are sleeping apart. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey found that 31% of couples are changing their sleep habits because of a mate's sleep problems:
- 23% sleep in separate beds, bedrooms, or with someone on the couch.
- 8% alter their sleep schedules.
- 7% wear earplugs or a sleep mask to ensure that they get a good night's sleep.
Also, 38% said that their partner's sleep disorder has caused problems in their relationship; 27% reported that their intimate relationship has been affected by sleepiness. Another interesting tidbit: 34% of women said they required eight hours or more of sleep, compared with 18% of men.
The Sleep Myth
"There's nothing at all wrong with sleeping apart," Williams says. "But it goes against everyone's myth that we should all sleep cuddled up together -- that's our ideal vision. And most people want to get back to that ideal."
"Sleep is about sleeping," says Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a sex therapist and author of WebMD's Sex Matters message board. "If you're not getting sleep next to your mate, you're not going to be happy, pleasant, or easy to get along with. And if there's resentment because someone isn't getting enough sleep, there's not likely to be sexual intimacy."
Whatever the problem -- snoring, the night owl, or the restless sleeper -- it's better to acknowledge it, then do something about it, Weston tells WebMD. "If they're close to getting the amount of sex that each wants -- and they need to sleep in separate rooms -- then they're OK. After all, a lot of couples don't just roll over and initiate sex. They're a lot more conscious about their negotiations on sex. And if someone is sleeping down the hall, it's not a big thing to say, 'Let's fool around before we sleep.'"
Sleeping apart can be good for a relationship, she says. "It does not signal the end of a relationship at all. In fact, it can be the beginning. If one person has been sleep-deprived, they begin to feel more interested in sex. If you've ever slept next to a person who snores, you have to cope with waking up several times during the night. It does not create good will in a relationship."