Are You and Your Partner Ready For a "Sleep Divorce"
Getting a great night of sleep is easier said than done. Whether you're wrangling your kids together or pulling an all-nighter for work, there are so many factors chipping away at the quality of sleep we need to lead healthy lives. But when this lack of sleep is coupled with sleeping on the couch to avoid your partner's obsession with keeping the television blaring all night, setting healthy sleeping habits is nearly impossible.
If your partner's snore is stronger than your white noise machine or you wake up freezing in the night due to a thermostat war, you might be well overdue for a sleep divorce. Relationships are a lot of work, but your sleep routine doesn't have to be. In the past few years, the sleep divorce trend has solved many lovers' quarrels. We spoke to clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Breus Ph.D. (also known as The Sleep Doctor), and Dr. Rebecca Robbins scientist and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, to learn about the pros and cons of sleep divorce.
What Is a Sleep Divorce?
As intimidating as it sounds, sleep divorce doesn't require any paperwork. It's an arrangement between couples to sleep apart to improve their sleep hygiene, which helps their relationship in the long run. Couples either sleep in separate beds, rooms, or adhere to a different sleep schedule. It could very much be that you're cranky because your partner actually put you on the wrong side of the bed!
For couples thrown off by the name, avoid using divorce when discussing it with your partner. "I really don't like this term. It implies that when people are sleeping in separate bedrooms that it is somehow affecting or saying something about their relationship," says Breus.
Robbins agrees that sensitivity on the topic is needed as every call for sleep divorce is by case. "If two individuals in a couple simply prefer sleeping separately, my colleague, Dr. Wendy Troxel has called for avoiding the term 'sleep divorce,' which is unfortunately extremely pejorative and can marginalize those that truly need to sleep separately."
Pros and Cons of Sleep Divorce
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults 18 through 64 to receive seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Though there are various conditions we can't control to improve our sleep, it's worth looking into the practice that can.
"For instance, in some relationships, one partner might be an owl while the other a lark, causing severe difficulties in aligning on the same bed and wake schedule," Robbins says. "Another instance is in the case of one partner having a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or REM sleep behavior disorder, which can be disruptive to a partner."
Robbins explains, in one study, researchers found that partnered women demonstrated improved sleep quality and continuity of sleep compared to unpartnered women. "Unfortunately, these associations disappeared after controlling for logical factors, like marital status and financial strain, which would suggest the absence of a true relationship between marital status and sleep. Further analyses revealed that those in longer-running relationships did demonstrate improved sleep outcomes over those in shorter-term relationships." In conclusion, the study found that long-term, stable relationships offer the best health and sleep outcomes, not marital status alone.
According to Robbins, this is in part because relationships help partners manage stress. Many couples catch up after a long day in bed, with partners acting as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. Another study hypothesizes that oxytocin could be a potential neurobiological factor linking close relationships with sleep and ultimately health for both individuals in the relationship. "Given that oxytocin can be released from kissing, hugging, and from sexual intimacy, it could be that the reason those in long-term relationships demonstrate better sleep and health outcomes has to do with this essential hormone," says Robbins.
Signs You Need to Sleep Apart
Everyone deserves a night of sweet, deep REM sleep. There are tons of tricks to sleeping better, from redesigning the room to using a sleep aid app, but if you tried everything and still end up wincing at the bag under your eyes, sleep divorce may be the solution.
"This is a great idea especially when we have couples where one person is snoring which keeps the other awake, or if one person is a shift worker, who has different hours, or people who have different chronotypes, where their genetically predetermined bedtime is different," says Breus.
It's important to do what works best for your relationship and workshop solutions even if it's not common among the other couples you may know. "No one says that you need to sleep apart seven days a week. Some couples will sleep apart five days a week, and then together on the weekends," Breus states. As long you prioritize love and agree on a plan, the experts say you should feel comfortable hitting snooze in peace.
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