Is it Bad for Couples to Sleep in Separate Beds?

Sharing a bed can increase intimacy, connection, and the amount of REM sleep we get, but it isn't always a bed of roses. What do we need to consider when we are deciding whether or not to sleep in separate beds? Tara Thomas & Kia Handley discuss the pros and cons of separate beds.

[Full transcript below]


You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let's Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

Episode Transcript:

Kia Handley:

It wasn't always the case. Once upon a time two separate beds in the one room was how most married couples slept in the 1800s.

It was first said to be the, in thing for couples, the old twin bed by the 1920s, separate beds were seen as, and I quote "as necessary as separate dishes for every eater" by the late 1950s. And definitely by the mid 1960s couples were sharing a bed. And that kind of remains to this day. Or does it ? Must, you always co-sleep with your partner?

Relationship Coach with The Sugar Doctor,Tara Thomas, is here to unpack this this morning. Good morning.

Tara Thomas:

Good morning. Or is it, I mean, that's the question? Was it a good sleep last night?

Kia Handley:

I'm Fine. I'm on my own. The only person keeping me up is the dog... "As Necessary as separate dishes for every eater". Whereas the twin bed once what's changed, do you think,

Tara Thomas:

I'm not really clear on what the actual changes, perhaps it's greater openness to talking about sexuality so we can refer to a shared bed as being, you know, something that we do, but I don't really know what this sort of social changes are around why that has become the norm.

But I actually also think that there are a lot of people who do sleep in separate beds and perhaps feel weird about talking about it!

Kia Handley:

Because we do we see it with a bit of stigma if someone says, oh no, we don't sleep in the same room.

Tara Thomas:

Yeah. I think quite often what we make that mean is that the relationship is suffering and that's why they've gone to separate beds.

You know, that it's sort of the, the beginning of the end, you know, separate beds in different rooms. And, and, but that means that the relationship isn't going well, but I don't know that that's always the case.

Two sets of legs interlinked and facing each other on a bed, one set of legs is black and one is white.

What Factors Do We Need to Consider If We're Considering Separate Beds?

Kia Handley:

What are the considerations? What are the things we weigh up before we decide whether separate beds works for us or not?

Tara Thomas:

Yeah. Look, there are a couple of really important factors and they are almost they're almost opposing factors, I think at times.

So you want to think about your sleep quality, your objective sleep quality, which you can measure with, you know, all of the gadgets that we have these days. So you can look at your,uyour sleep patterns, the length of sleep,uyour heart rate, variability, your heart rate, look at all of those statistics and get a really objective idea of how well you're sleeping.

You also want to think about,the relational qualities and the sort of social qualities around the connection that you have with your partner opportunities for intimacy,

And also the Domestic Logistics, even just routines in your household, around kids or work routines, or, your waking and sleeping patterns, your chronotypes.

So there are all of these different factors that come into that. And because of that Kia, it's a really difficult area to study. And there's not really a lot of quality research that has been done to, to be able to let us know, you know, sleeping together is better or sleeping is not as good.

Because also you need to take out a lot of those variabilities to get good quality data in a research study. So, yeah, it's a tricky area and, and a lot of the, I suppose decision is really subjective. And according to what that couple thinks works best for them,

What are the Individual Factors?

Kia Handley:

It's really challenging as well, because each couple might be different. Like the individual in each couple could be different, but one might be like, no, I sleep so much better when you're in the bed next to me. And the other is like, I can not sleep next to you.

Tara Thomas:

Yeah, that's absolutely true. You know, you're looking at the individual factors. So you're looking at someone'ss

  • Chronotype, which is, you know, you're a night owl or a morning person.
  • Things like medications and health
  • whether they have disordered breathing, leg movements, sleep disorders,
  • as well as relational factors like you say, which might make one individual think, you know, I feel I feel more connected to you. I feel like we're more intimate and closer. I actually find it easier to get to sleep because there are a lot of social signals around safety and comfort that, that do improve sleep.

So, like you say even in one couple each individual can have a different experience of the quality of their sleep.

What are Some of the Benefits & Challenges of Sleeping Together?

Kia Handley:

All right. Let's talk through some of what we know are the benefits of sleeping together....Sleeping next to each other in the bed [laughs]

Tara Thomas:

There are the relational factors ofsleeping together. So when, when you have good sleep together, it also improves your relationship quality.

As we all know, when you have problems with your sleep, when you're not getting good sleep, we tend to be a little bit more irritable. We're not as great at problem solving. So when you sleep well, then your relationship improves and then your sleep improves and that is a reinforcing cycle.

One of the things that I did read that was interesting in some of the research that has been done on co-sleeping is that it increases the amount of REM sleep that a couple or that each individual in that couple has. And that that's the part of your sleep pattern that really improves your your memory consolidation, your procedural memory consolidation and, you know, there are all sorts of benefits in terms of having that increased problem solving or dreaming that does come with the REM sleep.

So, you know, even one of the benefits I think of sleeping together is just the alignment in your routine can help in the house with a smooth kind of transition between daytime and nighttime. You're not being kept awake by your partner doing other things. So there are a lot of benefits to sharing the bed.

Also the increased opportunity for intimacy and for sexuality, it's not a given, but you're in the same place, same time every day. And that can increase the likelihood of those things happening.

Kia Handley:

Are there other benefits that we see? of, sleeping together?

Tara Thomas:

Primarily that REM sleep and the relational quality, the depth of your relationship.

It also improves the the social, your social brain. So when people spend more time in connection with, with someone else during the night, then their social brain is boosted and they are better socially during the day. So those are the key sort of factors in, in the benefits.

And then in terms of some of the challenges of living together, I think we've all experienced it a bed partner who perhaps isn't as easy to sleep with. There's, you know, the differences in preference for environment there's the sleeping disorders. So whether it's sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, all of those things can really contribute to poor sleep and make it not so beneficial to be in the same bed.

Three women on their backs on a bed. They are wearing casual clothes and have their legs in the air and look like they are smiling and talking.

How Do You Talk to Your Partner About Sleeping in Separate Beds?

Kia Handley:

How do you approach this conversation?

Tara Thomas:

As an experiment, short answer as an experiment, I would think you, you want to approach it with a partner as an experiment in seeing the difference in your sleep quality, in your relationship quality and, and really look at what are the different elements that, and, you know, my emotional and relational needs that we want to have met while also optimizing your sleep quality.

So  I would divide it into three stages;

Pre sleep: So that's, the routines is getting ready for bed, doing whatever you need to do in your house. And then the part where you're in the bed, but you're not yet asleep. So that's the pre sleep section.

Sleep: Then you want to think about the sleeping, which is the actual act of sleep.

Post sleep: And then the waking routine. So what happens from when you wake up to, when you get out of bed.

Those pre and post sleep sections, the elements are really more about routine and relation because those are the things that you do together and that you get to pick, while what happens during sleep is not so much up to you to choose.

You can create the right environment, but but that's more about your individual you know, health and sleep times.

A tattooed couple on a bed. There is a plate of pancakes & berries on the covers.

Are There Creative Solutions if You Sleep in Separate Beds?

Kia Handley:

It doesn't always have to be saying goodnight, and going into your separate room and shutting the door and seeing them bright and early the next morning.

Like there are, there are more, I guess, personalized ways to work around it. Totally.

Tara Thomas:

You can get super creative. So you want to say, for example;

"I have a need for intimacy and connection or a desire for intimacy and connection. And I find that I get that in, in the pre sleep stage."

So you could do the pre sleep stage together you know, get ready for bed, go and hang out in bed, do whatever the thing is, whether it's reading or intimacy or sex or chatting. And then one of you could get up, perhaps one of you find that they're more creative in the night hours, or they like to relax and watch TV, or they find it harder to sleep. So you do that whole pre-sleep routine together. And then one of you gets up and goes and does something else. And the other goes to sleep.

You can do that in the, in the post sleep as well.

You know, maybe one wakes earlier gets up, goes and does a bunch of stuff, and then comes back to the bed and you do that post sleep routine and rituals. It could be eating breakfast or reading a paper or again, intimacy and sex.

So you really want to look at like, what specifically is it that I would miss if you weren't in the bed and you could even experiment with doing a couple of different things, you might have some, you know, every other day we sleep together. And then on those off nights, we sleep in separate rooms.

So you really want to look at how do we maintain both our relational connection, as well as the quality of that sleep, because sleep quality is crucial to longevity and health. Right?

Kia Handley:

Exactly. And, and as you said, just try it, you know, and then come back together again and say, nah, that didn't work for either of us.

What About Environment & Context?

Tara Thomas:

You also want to think about why you're doing that experiment.

You know, what are the sort of environmental and contextual influences, because sometimes you might be having bad sleep because you're having a stressful time at work. It might not be related to your partner.

Kia Handley:

You mean sometimes we can't always blame someone else? [laughs]

Tara Thomas:

Exactly. We're living through pandemic down here. So then you can point the finger. Yes, you can. But then I want you to check your objective, sleep quality while you're sleeping.

Kia Handley:

I don't need you and my fitness tracker yelling at me about my sleep habits. Thanks so much, Tara. Really interesting to talk through this with you this morning. Thank you so much, Tara Thomas Relationship Coach with The Sugar Doctor, our regular guest here on Mornings.


For full transparency you should know: This transcript has been lightly edited for flow, and to optimise the SEO on my website. That means that I have substituted some words or phrases so that the article is more likely to appear in a google search. In this article "separate beds" has been optimised. I only do that in a context where the meaning will remain the same.

This is a decision which I've made because SEO is one of the key factors in determining whether people do, or do not, read my blogs & articles, visit my website, and work with me.