Family vacations have always been a nightmare for me, not because I hate palm trees or beaches, but because of my strong dislike for sharing a bedroom with another person. This stems from my basal need for personal space, an essential insulating component in my daily routine that I hold dear.
Beyond my need for personal space, my dilemma extends to physical sleep itself, as I have an aversion to snoring and a need to sprawl out comfortably in my own bed. Any compromise on these points results in a sleep-deprived, irritable version of myself, making the entire vacation experience tense and unpleasant.
Now, for logistical and fiscal reasons, most of us are not going to have our very own private hotel room every time we travel. And, honestly, I can endure the inconvenience for a few weeks a year. However, the prospect of sharing a bedroom with a partner for a lifetime is something I find considerably less tolerable.
Sharing a bedroom as a couple has long been a tradition, and deviating from this norm often carries the implication of a failing relationship. Notions about what constitutes a healthy relationship can be somewhat rigid, failing to capture the nuanced realities of each bond. Many healthy, happy couples have separate bedrooms.
It is crucial to adopt a more open-minded stance on these matters and recognize that there are many reasons for why some couples might opt not to sleep together. With that said, it’s time we dive into exploring the potential benefits of separate sleeping quarters for couples, otherwise known as “sleep divorce.”
Despite the negative perception of separate bedrooms, experts conclude that there are many benefits to the improved sleep from sleeping alone. In fact, one 2017 study from The Ohio State University found that quality sleep improved communication between couples and reduced irritability. When running on less sleep, couples interacted in a more hostile manner with one another. Mood was again found to be linked with sleep quality in a 2010 study published in the National Library of Medicine which showed that happily married women reported lower numbers of sleep disturbances than those who are unhappy in their marriages.
This is relevant to college students — the demands and pressures of academic life emphasize the importance of quality rest, making the concept of a sleep divorce increasingly relevant for optimizing sleep and well-being in relationships. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, one senior at the University of Michigan described sleep divorce as a healthy arrangement for many couples, especially those still in college.
“A lot of us spend our whole lives having our own bedrooms and then we are thrown back into sharing a bedroom when we start living with a romantic partner,” they told The Daily. “It just doesn’t make sense to get used to having your own space and then suddenly not have it anymore.”
If those reasons still don’t sound compelling, consider the idea that these sleeping arrangements would not necessarily have to follow harsh guidelines. Maybe you and your partner sleep together on weekends, but on the weekdays you sleep separately to get well rested before work the next day. The schedule can be just as flexible or just as rigid as the couple wants it to be.
However, we should still be careful with these matters; sometimes getting better sleep manifests as an excuse to sleep apart from your partner and could reflect a deeper issue within the relationship. Plus, sleeping separately does come with some pitfalls. One 2022 study showed a positive correlation between sharing a bed, sleep and mental health. It found that sleeping together can lead to synchronization of heartbeats and touching while asleep releases oxytocin, a soothing hormone which relieves stress.
There is also the issue of diminished sexual intimacy. In an interview with The Daily, Business senior Ethan Abraham shared this concern.
“I’m personally not a fan of (sleep divorce),” Abraham said. “I think it’s unrealistic for married couples or serious relationships to omit the opportunity to sleep together on a regular basis from a sexual standpoint. It creates a sibling-like atmosphere.”
Another senior at the University who wished to stay anonymous took more of a middle ground approach to the issue in an interview with The Daily. At one point, she shared a studio apartment with her boyfriend for three months, while working 80 hours a week.
“Being in bed together at the end of the day was the only time we had together,” she said. “Sleep divorce isn’t something that I would ever do, but I understand why some people would want to do it if one person really can’t sleep.”
Unsurprisingly, there are mixed reviews of sleep divorce from college students, but the second anonymous student makes an important distinction between public and private life.
“What someone else does in their relationship is not hurting anyone, so people should just do what they want,” she said.
In general, it is important to remember that separate sleeping arrangements can work exceptionally well for some couples while not suiting others at all. Ultimately, the decision should hinge on what works best for the couple involved, and we should strive to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude toward each couple’s choices. Rather than assuming that separate bedrooms signify trouble, we should reconsider that it can represent a conscious, healthy choice made for the benefit of the relationship.
In short, sleep is an integral part of our health. After all, it is proven to reduce stress, increase heart health, improve athletic performance and sharpen mental function, among other things. For many people, sleeping with someone else can be difficult. From different temperature preferences to snoring and moving around, there are many components that make sleeping with another person harder than sleeping alone.
After the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship is over, it is harder to continue disregarding these frustrations. I would argue they are difficult to deal with even during the “young and super in love phase,” so I cannot imagine how I would feel a couple years down the line of a relationship. Sleeping apart is the simple solution that unfortunately goes misunderstood because of lasting social constructs.
The stigma surrounding separate sleeping arrangements should be replaced with a more relaxed perspective, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to what works best for couples. The path to a harmonious partnership lies in understanding and respecting the unique needs and choices of each couple, whether they share a bedroom or opt for separate sleeping arrangements. By embracing these preferences, we can foster stronger relationships and promote the well-being of all couples, one night’s sleep at a time.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist providing an assortment of social commentaries from a female perspective. She can be reached at email@example.com.