It’s now officially a substantial trend: a study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 25 percent of couples sleep in separate rooms. That’s one in four couples! Many who choose to sleep separately are reluctant to discuss it, but for most people, the decision to sleep in separate beds is a practical decision. It seems that sleep is elusive when you bed down with a partner who snores, tosses relentlessly, traipses to the restroom repeatedly, hogs the covers or is drenched in sweat each night.
One partner often retreats to a guest room, kid’s bed or the family room sofa while hoping that people won’t assume the worst about their relationship. By 2015, The National Association of Home Builders says that it expects 60 percent of custom-built homes to include dual master bedrooms for this exact reason. “It’s important for couples facing these issues to try their best to avoid being influenced by negative social stigma and [others’] judgment around sleeping apart and be as creative and innovative in finding solutions that work for them,” says Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona. And while sleeping in separate beds may solve some issues, it’s not always a perfect solution. Sleeping separately may mean you’re both getting better rest, but will it chip away at the romance or take a toll on overall intimacy? Some folks think that sleeping apart robs a marriage of its special connection.
Here’s how couples can combat living as roomies and keep close, cozy and connected even if they sleep in different beds:
1. Stay touchy-feely with each other. Even when couples don’t hold each other all night long, a lot of touching goes on while you’re falling asleep. Touch enhances the sense of intimacy and it also has a measurable biological effect: it stimulates the production of oxytocin, the hormone that deepens human bonding.
Separate-bed solution: “Make a real effort to stay touchy-feely during the day. Don’t just walk by each other; stop for a casual kiss or a loving pat. Hold hands on the couch and cuddle while you watch TV in the evening before bed,” suggests Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets (Cogito Media Group, 2010). “Couples need to make an extra effort if they sleep apart to consciously make up for the loss of loving touch. It’s not only important for holding onto the romance — touch is vital to emotional and physical health.”
2. Engage in pillow talk. You may have lots of focused conversations about your kids, the car, work and the dog, but there’s also intimacy in the kind of pillow talk couples engage in as they relax before falling asleep. Good marriages thrive on these private, unplanned conversations that may vanish when you start sleeping separately.
Separate-bed solution: Try to fall asleep together in the same bed with the understanding that if one partner disrupts the other’s sleep, that person will slip off to a different room during the night. The one who wakes up first can join the other for pillow chat in the morning. Lieberman suggests taking your pillow talk “to go” — while snuggling on a porch, in front of a fire, in the garden or in any cozy corner of the home — with candles, soft music, strawberries and whipped cream before retreating to separate sleeping arrangements.
3. Plan your romps between the sheets together. If you’re not snoozing together, you might end up having less sex. But psychologists say that many couples’ sex lives are enhanced by sleeping in separate rooms — in fact, it can even lead to greater desire for a partner or more frequent sexual encounters.
Separate-bed solution: “Instead of the ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ effect that sleeping together can bring — along with morning breath and bed head — you can present yourself at your most appetizing best,” says Lieberman. Women should forego their flannel pajamas for sexy lingerie instead. Light candles, take a bath or shower together, and invite your partner “over” to the bed he or she doesn’t usually sleep in. Create a “love nest” atmosphere and be spontaneous about where you will make love that night before you go to sleep.
4. Find other ways to sustain your emotional connection. It’s easy for any couple to get caught up in the daily grind and take each other for granted. If you’re not sharing a bed nightly, it may be even easier to miss each other’s cues for connecting emotionally.
Separate-bed solution: “Look for ways to be able to lie down together, even if it’s not sleeping with each other every night. Just some quiet time [spent] holding each other can help deepen your relationship,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness (Morgan James, 2009). Look for other ways to connect outside the bedroom, such as having at least one date night each week, engaging in a hobby or fun activity together — not just paying bills and doing household chores. Make breakfast dates (and keep them fresh) by planning a picnic on the floor, for example; other ideas could include eating on the porch or enjoying breakfast in bed together. “You shouldn’t sleep and eat separately — or it’s a recipe for disaster and divorce,” says Lieberman.