There’s a scene in Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai’s new beau, Digger, dumps her off in the guest room on their first night together, explaining that he just can’t share a bed. At first, Lorelai feels rejected, but as she stretches out in her own bed in a room decked out with a big screen TV and an extensive video library, she realizes the whole sleeping solo thing isn’t so bad after all.
The plot may seem a little far-fetched to some, but the truth is, many people simply prefer sleeping in solitude, and there are any number of reasons a couple might want to sleep apart: snoring, different work schedules, or even your partner’s penchant for snuggling up with an iPad after lights out. And while tired old tropes persist of beleaguered husbands pitifully dragging blankets to the couch after some marital tiff, there are many perfectly happy married couples sleeping in separate bedrooms too.
“My husband and I made it one week in the same bed,” says Jennifer Adams, author of Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart. When the two moved in together, they realized their sleep habits were different and that his snoring was keeping Adams from getting the rest she needed. However, since the subject was taboo at the time, Adams was worried she was doing something wrong. “I would have loved to share a bed, and there was definitely a sense of failure. But I just can’t function on so little sleep.”
However, Adams quickly found she wasn’t alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly one in four couples choose to sleep separately. And The Wall Street Journal reports that one in three homebuyers shopping for luxury homes are looking for dual master bedrooms.
“Since my book came out in 2013,” Adams says, “the conversation about sharing a bed has really and truly changed.” Here are just a few of the reasons separate sleeping is not just permissible, but honestly kinda awesome.
Sleep hygiene is real, and it’s important.
Most of us have morning routines that don’t vary much from day to day: We get up, take a shower, brush our teeth… all of this is considered basic hygiene, the process we follow to be healthy, happy human beings.
But most of us don’t take our nighttime routines anywhere near as seriously, says Judette Louis, M.D., M.P.H. of the Women’s Health Research Network on Sleep and co-author of the guide Women & Sleep.
“It’s time we began thinking of sleep as a necessity, not a luxury,” she says. There are a variety of reasons couples who sleep separately may have made this choice. Some simply have different (often incompatible) nighttime routines that are causing one of them to lose sleep—or one just prefers to go to bed early. “In some cases, the discordance can simply be preferring different temperatures,” Louis says. “I started sleeping separately from my husband out of courtesy—I can stand getting woken up multiple times a night by work calls, but he can’t.”
Tossing and turning all night may not seem like a big deal, but not getting a good night’s sleep can actually have long-term health effects. A recent study from the Center for Disease Control found that 35 percent of American adults were sleeping less than seven hours a night, which has been linked to health problems like diabetes and hypertension and can also exacerbate mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
So if we stop ignoring all the things that are causing us to lose sleep (pinging cell phones, snoring, a partner getting up multiple times in the night), we can start paying attention to sleep hygiene—and that means we could actually live longer, happier lives together.
Women are more prone to sleep disturbances than men.
According to Louis, women actually need an hour or two more shut-eye than men, but often get less, since in many cases, they’re shouldering more of the household responsibility. On average, women do about an hour more household chores per day, and they’re often stealing that hour from the time they should be sleeping. Less time for sleep means that time is precious, so disturbances throughout the night become even more serious.
“Even in households where both partners work, women take on a lot of the responsibility, which can mean less sleep and greater difficulty sleeping,” Louis says.
Since writing her book, Adams has heard from hundreds of women who say that after long days working and handling household chores, their husband’s snoring was keeping them from getting much-needed rest. While 40 percent of adult men snore, just 24 percent of adult women snore, so if your partner snores (or you’re just a light sleeper), it’s no wonder you might find yourself hoping for your own private spaces to unwind and get some much-needed rest.
Couples who can be honest about their sleep needs are happier.
Adams says she has heard from many women whose partners downplay their snoring or insist that their partners use earplugs to drown out the sound and stay in the same bed—sometimes at the expense of a restful night’s sleep.
“Many women contact me because they are so frustrated that their husband won’t own the snoring, and it also tends to be men who are more reluctant to sleep separately because of what it says about the relationship. It always leaves me surprised that one person is prepared to risk the health of another person for a social convention,” Adams says.
According to Shadeen Francis, MFT, a marriage and family therapist specializing in sex therapy and social justice, the separate sleeping conversation is difficult because for many people—especially men—a partner asking for privacy can seem like rejection. “We don’t equip men to deal with feelings of rejection or insecurity,” Francis says.
But this struggle to remain in the same bed could actually be hurting the relationship more than it’s helping. A recent study from The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research found that couples who fought after not getting enough sleep had higher levels of stress-related inflammation, which can lead to a heightened risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and arthritis.
Yet Francis says that sacrificing sleep for the sake of staying in the same bed remains a source of conflict.
“One of the first things I ask couples in conflict is, ‘How much sleep are you getting?'” Francis says. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one partner should suddenly pack up their pajamas and move out of the bedroom with no discussion. Instead of treating separate sleeping like an absolute, Francis suggests approaching it as a negotiation.
“Relationship decisions should be mutual,” Francis says. If one partner is having difficulty sleeping, partners should work together to find out what would make the most sense for wellness. Maybe it looks like permanent separate sleeping, or maybe it’s three nights on and four nights off.”
But it’s still important to monitor sleep health.
Louis does warn against using sleeping separately as a means of ignoring bigger sleep issues. In the U.S., 40 million people suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders, and some, like sleep apnea, are pretty serious. So even if sleeping separately works for a couple, they should still monitor their partner for signs of sleep disorders.
“Any time lack of sleep is disrupting your life—making it difficult to work or function in day-to-day life—or even if your partner simply notices that you’re more irritable, it’s worth figuring out the problem and what can be done,” Louis says.
Emily Alford lives in Brooklyn, NY, and writes about beauty, food, and TV. Sometimes all at once. Follow her on Twitter @AlfordAlice.