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Sex with Dr. Jess


May 30, 2021

Could Separate Beds Save Your Marriage

Reports continue to reveal that despite having more time for sleep since the pandemic’s onset, our quality of sleep is suffering. Disruptions to routine, stress, physical inactivity, anxiety and hyper vigilance can all interfere with sleep, but your partner may also be a culprit. Jess joined Gill Deacon to discuss the potential benefits of a “sleep divorce” on CBC’s Here and Now. Check out the summary of the interview below.

How common is it for couples to sleep apart?

For Canadians who don’t tend to have a spare East wing, most couples say they’d rather sleep together. And one Ryerson study found that 30-40% of couples sleep separately (but their sample wasn’t representative because they were surveying clinic clients who had sleep issues which might drive you to sleep apart). Other estimates say that it’s just below 25% of couples who opt to sleep apart in North America.

A big part of it depends on location and privilege. If you have money, you’re more likely to have extra beds or even a spare room. Sleep arrangements are culturally and environmentally influenced. Co-sleeping with kids is common in some regions and some research suggests that we’re more drawn to sleep together in colder climates.

Why are they deciding to sleep apart? 

brett-jordan-VtYDR80yGhY-unsplashEven though we want to sleep together and we believe we sleep better together, overall we sleep better alone. Brain scan and movement research says we’re more disrupted with partnered because each of their disturbances creates a disturbance for us too.

So when you consider the costs of a poor night’s sleep, increase in stress, a decline in empathy, conflict resolution, energy, patience, gratitude, diet, attraction, humour, and exercise. Chronic poor sleep is connected to lower quality of life similar to chronic conditions like heart failure & depression. It makes sense that people are willing to give it a try.

What are the potential benefits of sleeping apart?

According to sleep researchers, the benefits to sleep are simply a better night’s rest. People who sleep together experience less REM sleep and more physical movement throughout the night.

Some also say there’s a sense of mystery & magic and potentially more sex, because you have to go out of your way to create intimacy. Maybe you make a point to snuggle while watching TV, or hold hands in the car. Physical affection is essential to human development and intimacy. We know that touch promotes healing, lower blood pressure, connection, lower stress levels, so if you do sleep apart, you have to be thoughtful about how you plan for physical closeness. One study found that those whose sleep/wake patterns are mismatched spend less time together & have less sex.

Are you seeing more couples opting to sleep apart during these uncertain times?

Yes. We’re already spending every waking minute together, so I’m hearing from couples who accidentally sleep apart (falling asleep on couch) or opting to do so because they don’t have the chance to miss each other anymore. Again, not everyone has a spare room, but some people are loving the space. I have to admit, I’m not one of them, because I count on my partner’s body heat, but it works for many couples.

I can see some people being very off-put by this idea. If you don’t have the space or the desire to sleep apart, how can you manage sleep disruptions that your partner causes?

Let them know what you’re experiencing with a soft start-up:

I love being close to you. It feels so good. And I’m having trouble sleeping because small movements and noises wake me up.

I’d love to sleep in the spare room one night next week to see if I have a better sleep. And of course, we can cuddle before bed like usual or I’ll want to climb into bed with you in the AM.

If you’re on the receiving end, remember that this isn’t personal. It’s okay that you snore or toss in your sleep. And you don’t have to assign value to specific activities (e.g. sleeping together means you’re in love).

So what’s the verdict? Should we be considering sleeping apart?

karim-ben-van-h-X7ncJrJTc-unsplashSure! Consider all of your options. I wish we did this more in life and in relationships rather than settling into the default or seemingly most common arrangement because we conflate prevalence with desirability.

Keep an open mind. There is no one size fits all approach. You can mix it up. Sleep together some nights and not others. Whether or not you sleep in the same room is not a universal indication of relationship quality, so be honest about what you want and why you want it and make sure you’re creating opportunities for physical closeness and connection outside of the bedroom.

Listen to the interview on CBC here.