Picture the scene: it’s 2am and you’re clock watching. You could probably drift back off to sleep, salvage some semblance of energy for that full-on day in the office tomorrow, if it weren’t for one not-so insignificant detail – your partner. Whether they’re snoring, fidgeting or breathing too loudly (we’ve all been there), the fact is, if you were slumbering solo you wouldn’t be awake right now. Sound familiar?
In our sleep-obsessed age, the pressure to rack up eight hours of the good stuff has never been higher, so it’s unsurprising that more Millennial couples than ever are choosing to ‘sleep divorce’ – agreeing to get their shut-eye in separate beds for the foreseeable. A recent study* in the US found that 43% of Millennials are doing just that, while in the UK, research by the National Bed Federation found that one in six couples who live together now sleep apart, with over a third having done so for over five years.
If those figures surprise you, it’s likely due to the fact that the happily sleep-divorced among us are liable to keep said sleeping arrangements to themselves. Separate beds doesn’t sound sexy and it’s something many associate with an older generation. The late Queen and Prince Philip reportedly slept apart throughout their marriage; a long-standing upper-class tradition. And there’s no denying there’s a degree of privilege involved – a good sleep divorce hinges on the luxury of a spare bed, after all.
This year, though, sleep divorce is trending. On TikTok, the hashtag ‘separate beds’ has 2.6 million views, while ‘sleep divorce’ has over 950,000 views. One viral TikTok video features user @matt_and_abby discussing why she opted for a temporary sleep divorce at 24, after having a baby. The clip divides opinion in the comments section, with some users agreeing that separate beds should be normalised, and others declaring that relationship-wise it spells the beginning of the end.
So, will a sleep divorce make or break your relationship? A 2016 study** found that sleep issues and relationship problems are often linked. Dr Allie Hare, a consultant in sleep medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital explains, ‘after a bad night’s sleep we are less emotionally stable – more likely to be grumpy – and our capacity for empathy also declines.’ The occasional disrupted night’s sleep is totally normal, but if you find yourself unable to sleep on a near nightly basis and you believe that your relationship is suffering as a result, it might be time to file for a sleep divorce.
‘Sleeping in separate beds isn’t an easy decision to make and ultimately comes down to what suits the habits and sensibilities of different couples,’ says Dr Hare. ‘You have to weigh up the inevitable intimacy you gain from spending the night with your partner with the consequences you face physically and mentally if doing so frequently disrupts your sleep.’
*A survey of 2000 adults by the American Academy Of Sleep Medicine (AASM)
**Paracelsus Private Medical University In Germany