Should Couples Sleep in the Same Bed?
If you're a fan of period dramas, then couples sleeping apart might seem normal. The wealthy, mansion-dwelling gentry are often portrayed as having separate bedrooms, only to come together for intimate and sexual experiences. Today, this kind of behavior might seem...strange. Or, maybe not.
A survey from the National Sleep Foundation indicated 1 in 4 American couples choose to sleep in separate beds. In fact, a more recent poll of 2,000 adults in the United States, conducted by mattress company Slumber Cloud, found 46 percent of participants reported they would prefer to sleep separately from their partner. Further, 19 percent of the poll respondents also blamed their partner for their own insufficient sleep—harsh.
So, did the landed gentry of the past have the right idea?
Why do couples share a bed anyway?
Kyle Zrenchik, Ph.D., couples and sex therapist and cofounder of the All In Therapy Clinic, discussed the reasons why couples usually choose to sleep in the same bed.
"The majority of couples sleep together now because of a choice for closeness and intimacy," Zrenchik said. "While wealthy couples may have slept in separate spaces to portray propriety, the vast majority of couples have slept together since the dawn of man. Couples sleep together for various reasons beyond practicality: for a sense of bonding and closeness, security and protection, shared experiences—sex being one of them—and shared childrearing duties."
Ayesha Hussain, sexologist and relationship coach, weighed in from a polyamorous perspective.
"Couples sleeping in the same bed is mostly culture—which has changed rapidly over the years," Hussain said. "We are seeing a switch back to nonshared sleeping arrangements, especially with the rise of polyamory. Polyamory tends to show us where things are natural or learned, and sleeping together equating to healthy relationships is one [that is learned]. Polyamorous relationships, by nature, mean you are not sleeping with all of the people in your life every night. Unless you have a massive bed, that is."
Are attitudes to sharing a bed changing?
"Yes, there is a stigma attached to not sleeping in the same bed," Zrenchik said. "But people choose not to sleep in the same bed for perfectly valid reasons. Perhaps they are on different work schedules, or for snoring/sleep hygiene reasons, or because of an illness that requires machines and medical equipment that can be noisy. Also, sometimes it's just personal preference."
Sleeping in the same bed may represent the only place where couples get some quality time together away from family, children and work. However, Zrenchik added, "attitudes are changing, and separate sleeping arrangements are becoming more common."
"There are many benefits to separate sleeping," Hussain said. "Especially if the couple has differing natural rhythms, one or more of the couple has gone through trauma (which can make sleep difficult), or one person is a light sleeper/has sleep apnea, and so on."
People are becoming more aware of sleep hygiene and the health benefits of sleep quality. Sleep hygiene means having a bedroom environment and sleep routine that promotes regular, good quality and uninterrupted sleep.
"It could be true that each person may get a better sleep when sleeping apart," Zrenchik said. "Good sleep is crucially important, and ensuring people get good sleep may justify the challenges couples may face when sleeping apart. Also, sleeping apart during brief periods of conflict or relationship instability may give each partner some time to reflect on the future of the relationship."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that getting a good night's sleep is not a luxury, as insufficient sleep is linked with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. In addition, it's well-known that for some couples, being well-rested from sleeping independently increases energy levels, benefits their health and promotes a more active sex life.
What are the downsides?
Zrenchik explained that sleeping separately is not without its challenges.
"Spontaneous late-night sex is less likely to happen," he said. "Also, there is a lot of soothing and co-regulating that happens when both partners are sleeping that wouldn't happen if they sleep separately."
"Also, when it comes to considering children, kids may go to the same parent at night should they need something," Zrenchik noted. "This can lead to childrearing duties not being evenly shared, and that can create animosity and resentment [between] the couple. Kids, especially young kids, don't particularly care if their parents are in the same bed together. There is no substantial evidence to support that parents sleeping apart causes harm to a child's well-being."
How to maintain a healthy relationship
If you choose to sleep separately from your partner, it doesn't have to impact your relationship negatively.
"There are a lot of benefits to intimacy in the waking up and going to sleep rituals we perform," Hussain said. "These can still be achieved even if couples sleep separately. For example, whoever wakes up first goes to the other to give them a kiss or perhaps there's a goodnight ritual."
"Make sure you schedule time to cuddle," Zrenchik said. "Have regular sex as you usually would, and ensure you get time alone, just the two of you, to talk and bond. Parents need time away from the kids, and couples need time to talk without screens or distractions. If you don't do it in the bedroom, it needs to happen elsewhere."
If you and your partner believe having time together in bed is a vital part of your relationship, and you enjoy sleeping in the same bed, that's great. Some couples decide to have a 50/50 approach—sleeping apart during busy working weeks but together during the weekend. Be flexible and open-minded when considering what works best for your sleep hygiene.
Don't let an outdated stigma get in the way of your choice of sleeping arrangements. Where you and your partner choose to sleep is your decision. G'night.