Married, But Choosing to Sleep Apart
When my husband decided to move his office to the basement, it freed up space for us to have a guest room in our home. We repainted the walls and got some hand me down furniture to decorate it with. Two different sets of family members visited and stayed in the room over the holidays. They both told us the queen-sized bed was very comfortable.
We joked that the simple furnishings and sparse décor suggested it was not unlike a hotel room. Relaxing. Clutter-free. The room felt like an escape, but without going anywhere. My daughters said they were curious about taking a turn sleeping in there.
Then one morning I decided to ask my husband what I’d really been thinking about the room.
“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but do you want to sleep in the guest room this month?”
I wasn’t sure how he’d react. We’d recently learned of impending divorces of couples we knew. It made it seem like even happy marriages were more fragile than we thought. I didn’t want to damage ours.
He laughed out loud before replying, “I was thinking the same thing!”
I was both relieved and perhaps a tiny bit hurt by his response.
But we talked about it. Was it weird? Dangerous? A slippery slope? Just plain stupid?
We decided it was a little weird, but it probably wasn’t dangerous, as long as we kept the lines of communication open. We’d give it a try.
Here’s what we’ve discovered so far…
1) We Sleep More and Better
My husband was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea over a year ago and his quest to fix it had thus far been unsuccessful. We’d spent $1,500 on a mouth guard (not covered by insurance!) that was designed to push his jaw forward while he slept. He’d worn it a couple of weeks before discovering it was slowly cutting his tongue into three. He stopped.
Then he tried a C-PAP machine, which woke him up in the middle of each night with a massive stomachache, caused by the air he swallowed while wearing it. He sent it back, even signing a statement agreeing that the physician would not be responsible if he died as a result.
His inability to get enough quality sleep worried me.
Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of hypertension and heart attack. Not getting adequate sleep is linked to a higher risk of many major health problems, including obesity, diabetes and mood disorders.
I also knew we both slept better when we slept alone. We loved sleeping in hotel rooms with two beds, each on our own.
Which is why I’d suggested trying separate beds here at home.
And it worked. The readings on his sleeping time and oxygen levels were immediately improved. Had I slowly been killing him in my sleep?
I felt better rested too. Because, in truth, there’d also been a more selfish motivation for my suggesting we sleep separately. Which leads to the next discovery…
2) We Argue and Annoy Each Other Less
My husband and I prefer different bedtimes and waking up times. It is a rare night when we both go to bed at the same time and get up together the next morning. I learned very early on in our relationship that I could not and would not wait for him to go to sleep.
Almost every night, he came to bed later than I did. And he often woke me up in the process.
The nights he did get in bed when I did, he’d often want to continue working on his laptop while I was trying to fall asleep. I hated it. I’d even gone so far as accusing him of raising my breast cancer risk by forcing me to sleep by the light of his computer screen. I’d read a study about how women in brightly lit neighborhoods have higher rates of breast cancer. And another one about how the blue light emitted from the laptop at night makes it harder to get quality deep sleep.
Despite the fact that I firmly believed I was correct, arguing with your spouse is not the best way to end the day. Still, I was insistent on getting to sleep on time. I’d learned that getting enough sleep is non-negotiable to my productivity and well-being.
It went the other way too. Sometimes my husband would be exhausted and want to go to sleep early and I’d want to stay up reading in bed with the light on. Weekday mornings, my 6 am alarm went off and woke him up before he’d gotten enough sleep, which would annoy him (and make me feel bad).
Sleeping in separate rooms eliminated the sources of these arguments and annoyances. We didn’t wake one another up. We didn’t keep one another awake longer than we wanted to. No pleading to turn off the laptop or negotiating about the lights.
Less fighting, along with a little separation, lead to another discovery…
3) We Appreciate One Another More
One of the unusual, but not completely uncommon, circumstances in our marriage is that we both work at home. Even though we don’t work in the same room, we get to see one another a lot throughout the day. We have more alone time than most couples with children living at home.
The fact that we are together so much is important because it means we didn’t rely on the nighttime for intimacy. We had plenty of time with an empty house. If one or both of us were always gone all day, it would be different.
Maybe what we discovered was a little like “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
It made me think of a study I’d read which revealed that people‘s television viewing experience is enhanced by commercial breaks. The commercials disrupt the adaptation process of viewers’ pleasure, allowing their enjoyment to increase again each time the program resumes.
Some days our lives are a drama and others they are a comedy, but, either way, it made sense that our pleasure in living it together might benefit from regular interruption too.
And sleep is so much better than watching commercials.
Now in the morning, we are genuinely happy to see each other again. By the time we hug and kiss good morning, I’ve already had a productive hour or two of my day, which leads to another discovery…
4) Our Morning and Evening Routines Improved
Being in separate bedrooms enabled both my husband and me to organize our end of day and wake up routines exactly how we’d like them. I found that I was more consistent with writing down my gratitude list before bed, something I aspired to, but didn’t always execute in the past. I also prayed more often, something I often skipped before as I lay in bed anticipating when my husband might disrupt the dark and quiet of the room.
And as funny as it may sound, being able to turn the lights on in my bedroom when I woke up was a treat. It also made it easier to wake up before sunrise when I had to.
We slept better. We were happier. The positive results were undeniable. We were both loving the arrangement so much we wanted to share with our friends. But we wondered how it might sound. Until I made one more discovery…
5) We Aren’t Alone
By the time I’d come along, my grandparents slept in separate beds. Two twins, side by side. I’d never asked why, but now I understood what could have been some of the reasons. Was this arrangement more common than I thought?
I decided to do a little research. I discovered that a full 10% of married couples sleep in separate rooms and up to 25% sleep in separate beds. Often this arrangement is the result of one person’s snoring, differing schedules or other sleep problems. Bingo.
There was even a name for it: sleep divorce.
I had to admit, I didn’t love this name, but our previous sleeping arrangement wasn’t doing either of us any favors and it certainly wasn’t improving our relationship.
On the other hand, sleeping separately gave us real benefits…
Will we maintain these sleeping arrangements after the end of the month? Switch it to only the weeknights? I’m not sure.
But whatever nights in the future we do decide to sleep separately, we’ll do so happily.
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