Is Sleeping in Separate Beds a Relationship Buster?

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
sleeping separately
Couples sleeping separately used to be expected in movies and on TV — think Lucy and Ricky Ricardo — but the trend is a reality for a lot of couples these days, sometimes for very good reasons. Everett Collection/Shutterstock

When a person gets married or moves in with someone else, the expectation is generally that they'll share a bed. However, a growing legion of couples are opting to stay married and sexually active, but do the actual sleeping part in separate beds, even in separate rooms.

Famous couples have fessed up that they embrace "sleep divorce," as it's commonly known. David and Victoria Beckham reportedly sleep in separate wings, Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Brad Falchuk have opened up about keeping separate beds and Donald and Melania Trump also have their own quarters. Even the late Queen Elizabeth and her beloved husband Prince Philip had private suites to retire to at night during their marriage of many decades.


A January 2023 survey of 2,200 Americans by the International Housewares Association for The New York Times revealed some startling statistics: One in five couples sleep, not just in separate beds, but in separate bedrooms, and of those couples who sleep apart, nearly two thirds do it every night.

These findings beg the question of whether or not such a practice is actually healthy for a relationship. The answer has a lot to do with intent, says licensed marriage and family therapist R. Hope Eliasof. "If for one couple it means we'll get a better night's sleep and be happier people, that's great," she explains. However, "if it means to me that you find me repulsive or don't like the way I smell, that decision is going to be different."


The Many Reasons Couples Sleep Separately

Don't prematurely lament the possible future loss of your bedmate, as it's a fairly rare practice. In fact, Sleep Foundation estimates that less than 2 percent of adults are in a sleep divorce situation. Still, for those people in such a situation, it's pretty significant. Here are some of the reasons why people choose to sleep separately:


Having a partner who snores is extremely likely to affect the quality of one's sleep, per a 2012 survey by Sleep Foundation. In fact, 47 percent of female respondents said that snoring makes a "big impact," compared with 26 percent of men. According to Psychology Today, "Snoring can put great strain on relationships. A snoring problem often creates not only tiredness but also frustration and resentment between couples. It can interfere with sexual and emotional intimacy, and can push couples to sleep in separate bedrooms."


Partner Movement

Some people barely move throughout the night, whereas others bounce around all over the place. For light sleepers, this can be a major obstacle that's tough to ignore. People who hog the covers also are unenjoyable to sleep next to (although some couples solve this problem by each having their own set of covers).

Different Schedules

Couples who keep dramatically different schedules may also choose to sleep in separate rooms. This prevents one partner from waking the other partner up at inopportune times, helping them to get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

The Needs of Children or Pets

Often, kids like to snuggle up to a parent to sleep, but three is typically a crowd in a sleep situation. As a result, some parents add a bed to their bedroom, or just sleep in a different room with a child. Similarly, some pet parents love to have dogs or cats to slumber next to, while their partner can't abide the extra weight, body heat or dander.

sleeping separately
Something coming between you? Preferences about animals and kids sleeping in bed with you may cause problems if not resolved.
VAKS-Stock Agency/Shutterstock


No small number of people suffer from insomnia, or the inability to get to and/or stay asleep. Chronic insomnia disorder due to stress or other factors affects 10 to 15 percent of the American population while varying levels of insomnia symptoms impact 33 to 50 percent of people. Obviously, anyone who tosses or turns or gets up and down all night is going to disturb the sleep of their partner.

Disagreements Over Bedroom Details

Some people can't get to sleep unless the bedroom is very cold, and others prefer to be toasty. Others need a ceiling fan or television on in the background to achieve sleep. If the partner has opposite needs, this can cause an insurmountable problem.

Relationship Issues

The old trope of sending a partner to sleep on the couch after a fight isn't that far from the truth. In fact, 25.8 percent of people who sleep separately report that it's because of "relationship issues."


Does Sleeping Separately Help?

Again, the benefits of a sleep divorce hinge on the intent behind the situation. If the couple is chronically angry with each other or otherwise unhappy, separate beds are probably not going to fix anything. Sleeping apart may also cause emotional problems, depending on the situation. For example, Eliasof says that "if somebody is a snorer, where they are unwilling to go and have a sleep apnea check to see if surgery could help, that could get the other partner very upset and angry."

To that end, she asks couples to discuss the solutions that they are willing or not willing to explore to positively impact their relationship. The partner who hears "deal with it" in regard to someone's snoring is less likely to look favorably on the sleep divorce situation than one whose partner has tried everything to fix the situation, but with no luck.


Those who don't mind the separate sleeping situation, however, do report benefits. In fact, more than half say that the sleep divorce helped their overall sleep quality and report an average of 37 additional minutes of sleep every night, compared to when they shared a bed.

How to Make Up for Sleeping Separately

Just because a couple sleeps separately doesn't mean that closeness and intimacy have to suffer. "We know that touch is good for people," Eliasof says, noting that people who sleep in the same bed are naturally more able and inclined to cuddle or have sex. Her advice to people who sleep separately is to still find time before bedtime to get close to each other, whether it's a cuddle on the couch or all-out intercourse. To keep things healthy, they should "have some physiological connection even before they go to sleep."

All couples, of course, should realize that a sleep divorce doesn't have to be permanent. In fact, 34.9 percent of people who slept separately and later reversed the decision said that they did so because "they missed each other." If it's been a while since you've shared a bed, though, Eliasof says to start slowly and "with limited expectations. If it feels good and easy, you build on that."