20/09/2016 11:56 PM AEST | Updated 21/09/2017 3:12 PM AEST

It's Okay To Sleep Apart

"Will our marriage be over if my husband and I sleep apart?"

Again and again when I have been a guest "expert" on radio call-in programs on couple bed-sharing the issue of whether it's okay to sleep apart has come up. The typical caller who asks about that has not been getting a good night sleep for a long time because of partner snoring, tossing and turning, stealing covers, restless legs, moaning, bed hogging, reading in bed, watching TV in bed, or restlessness.

Callers are often afraid to sleep apart, afraid that it will undermine the marriage and afraid of what others will think (including their children) if the others learn they are sleeping apart. Also some callers think that if you are a couple you are supposed to share a bed. Their friends do it. Their parents did it. Their sisters and brothers do it. The characters in TV dramas and sitcoms do it. Then too, some people continue to share a bed because they feel safer sharing a bed. Some share a bed because they like the physical intimacy, because they like the chance to talk to each other, and because it just feels right. But still they are getting terrible sleep and it's wrecking their daily life. They have trouble getting up in the morning. Their lack of sleep affects their thinking, their work life, their memory, their driving, their parenting, their mood, and everything else. They want desperately to get a better night's sleep. And they think things would be much better if they slept apart from their partners. But they are also afraid of what sleeping apart might cost them. So they keep on sharing a bed, hoping that tonight will be much better. But usually it is not.

You Have to Figure It Out for Yourself

I have interviewed many couples about bed sharing, and I know the research and therapy literatures about couples. But I can't tell you what to do. Everyone's situation is unique. You have to figure it out for yourself, and you have to talk things through with your partner. Judging by what people tell me, it's hard to know how things will go until they try it out.

It Ordinarily Is Okay to Sleep Apart

I think it's ordinarily okay to sleep apart. I have interviewed many couples who do it at least some of the time. They may miss something about sharing a bed, but one or both of them is sleeping better. Their relationship is still intact and may even be doing better as a couple than when they were trying to share a bed all the time.

It's Not Necessarily Either/Or

For many couples, sleeping apart versus sleeping together is not an either/or thing. That is, many couples share a bed at some times but not others. One man whose wife snored very loudly would start out each night in bed with her, and then after she fell asleep he would go to another room to sleep. An older couple who often slept apart but who were concerned about what their adult kids would think slept together on the nights that their adult kids stayed with them. Another couple's bed sharing was primarily in the morning, when the husband would come to join his wife in bed for a little while. Another couple made appointments with each other, planning for nights they would sleep together, but most nights they slept apart.

Try It and See

If one or both of you is not sleeping well and if sleeping apart seems like it might help, I'd say to try sleeping apart and see what happens. It might take a week or more to give sleeping apart a fair test. And I think it usually helps for the two of you to discuss the issues that come up. For examine if one partner is feeling abandoned or is missing the intimacy, talk things through. See if there are ways to reassure the partner who feels abandoned. And see if there are ways to restore the feelings of intimacy. As part of the process of working out how and when to sleep apart, you might want to plan for some time together in bed. And you might keep on experimenting with different possibilities. Sleeping apart some or all of the time can mean that one or both of you will get much better sleep.