How to make a sleep divorce work – from putting sex first to speaking up

FED up with his snoring – or maybe he’s fed up with yours?

Can’t stand the constant duvet wars? When it comes to getting some quality shut-eye, it turns out that Her Maj may have the answer. 

While the Queen will never divulge the secrets of her 73-year marriage to the late Prince Philip, fans of The Crown have a theory: illicit affairs and scandal aside, one of the most surprising revelations in the show was the monarch’s sleeping arrangements.

While the Queen got ready for bed with the Duke, they retired to separate bedrooms. And recent research suggests the royal couple were ahead of their time, as these days, almost half of couples choose to sleep apart for an average of four nights a week.* So should you split up (for the night)?

Why sleep is wrecking your relationship

Arguably, getting enough shut-eye is the Holy Grail when it comes to your health and wellbeing.

From stress to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes, missing out on the gold standard of eight hours a night can take its toll. And it’s no surprise that our relationships can be the first things to take the hit.

In fact, research by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that those with insomnia are four times more likely to experience relationship issues, and 14% of adults said poor sleep led to more rows.

“Sleeping well is essential to everything we do in the daytime,” says Professor Margareta James, psychologist at Harley Street Wellbeing Clinic.

“After a good sleep we are more energised, can concentrate better and have an improved quality of life, which also includes our relationships. We tend to be more patient, engaged and attentive when we’re not tired or irritable.”

So maybe it’s time to prioritise those Zzzs!

What IS a sleep divorce?

The Queen and Prince Philip aren’t alone in their love of a solo night’s kip. Gwyneth Paltrow has credited temporarily living apart from husband Brad Falchuk as “preserving the mystery”, while Helena Bonham Carter revealed living next door to her then husband Tim Burton led to “chosen” intimacy.

“The term ‘sleep divorce’ has been slowly growing in popularity over the last few years. It is when couples choose to sleep apart, in pursuit of better quality sleep, health and relationships,” explains Dr Guy Meadows, founder of the Sleep School.

”While it is a common choice for older couples due to health issues, it’s also becoming more widespread in younger couples,” he adds. Research by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that snoring (41%) was the main reason for a sleep divorce, followed by too much tossing and turning (25%), enjoying the extra space (19%), and being a light sleeper (19%). 

Why it will sort out more than your sleep 

Historically, when one half of a couple is banished to the spare room or sofa, it’s generally in a bid to cool off and reflect, post-fight, but when it becomes a routine, is it the death knell for a relationship?

Not necessarily, according to life coach, relationship expert and author of How To Be Happy In Life And Love, Pascale Lane.

“Some do this as a permanent routine, while others will have a couple of nights apart to play catch-up, or sleep separately during the working week and together at the weekends,” she says.

“It is an emotive subject for many people who believe that sleeping apart means the end of intimacy, emotionally and sexually. The reality is every couple varies. The problem arises when you have different opinions within the same relationship, as there are times when insecurity slips in, with one partner taking the need for space as a sign of rejection.”

Where to start? 

While a good night’s sleep sans duvet wars sounds too good to be true, Pascale warns that it’s not an agreement to be entered into lightly. It pays to be cautious in order to avoid complacency.

The key? Being open and honest.

“We need to remember that everyone comes into their relationship with their own story, based on their own experiences of family life growing up, in terms of their parents and wider environment,” explains Pascale.

“Sleeping separately will be a lot easier for those who are secure in themselves and their relationships.

“It ultimately comes down to communication – talking to each other about the pros and cons of sleeping separately and ensuring there is a good level of affection and intimacy, as well as sexual connection, will be so important to reassure a partner who is feeling anxious about separate beds.

“If the couple aren’t committed to working hard at keeping their love alive, they can easily fall into the trap of complacency, which is something that all couples need to be aware of, regardless of their sleep status.” 

But there is another big bonus, too. Believe it or not, a sleep divorce could be just the thing you need to reignite your sex life.

“Surprisingly, sexual intimacy actually becomes a lot more exciting when you sleep apart, as it gives an extra thrill factor, which can take you back to your early dating days, and creates an added spark that may have dulled over the years,” says Pascale.

If it’s good enough for HRH… 

How To Make A Sleep Divorce Work

Relationship expert Pascale Lane shares her top tips to consciously uncouple at bedtime…

1. Speak up

Communication can easily be the first thing to slide. By chatting about your feelings with your partner, you can be sure to address any insecurities before they snowball into a bigger problem.

2. Be sensitive

It’s important to make sure nobody feels rejected. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling. Suggest you try just a couple of nights apart and reassess a few weeks later. 

3. Put sex first

Make sure you are both on the same page with intimacy. This could be prioritising sex or just making time to be connected – try eating dinner together, cuddling up or holding hands. 

4. Ignore the doubters

Some people may raise an eyebrow, and others will be jealous, but if sleep divorce is what keeps your relationship healthy, people’s opinions are irrelevant.

5. Mix it up

Whether it’s the weekend, or two or three nights a week, make some time to sleep together. Work out what is best for you as a couple and keep revisiting so that you are both happy with the situation.

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