Staff Perspective: To Share or Not Share a Bed - Understanding Sleep Divorce and Common Solutions

Staff Perspective: To Share or Not Share a Bed - Understanding Sleep Divorce and Common Solutions

The literature on sleep functioning has largely focused on individuals despite how common it is for a person to share a bed with another person, child, or pet. Previous research has found that people tend to prefer partners who have the same chronotype, and report higher quality of sleep on subjective measures when sleeping together versus alone (Richter et al., 2017). For example, results from qualitative studies have found that many couples report that sharing a bed with their partner is associated with feelings of comfort, warmth, security, and calm (Andre et al., 2021). A small number of studies have also found potential benefits of sharing a bed with a partner using objective measures of sleep noting increased REM sleep, better sleep efficiency, and more overall sleep compared to sleeping alone (Andre et al., 2021; Drews et al., 2020).

Studies have also highlighted the bi-directional relationship between sleep quality and relationship quality. For example, research found a reciprocal relationship between how many negative interactions couples reported during the day and their self-reported sleep efficiency (Andre et al., 2017). Within the literature, it is important to note some mixed findings about the benefits of co-sleeping or sharing a bed with a partner. For example, researchers have found gender differences with women experiencing more sleep fragmentation when sleeping with a male partner than by themselves (Richter et al., 2016). One reason for this finding may be due to males having higher levels of psychomotor activity while sleeping. Ultimately, we know that getting good sleep is not only important for an individual’s well-being, it has also been associated with important relationship qualities. For example, research has found that getting less sleep was associated with partners being more likely to engage in conflict, and decreased levels of empathetic accuracy during interactions (AASM, 2023).

Despite the noted benefits of sharing a bed with a partner, a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that a third of the respondents reported occasionally or consistently sleeping in another room to accommodate a bed partner (2023). This behavior, referred to as sleep divorce, can be triggered by a variety of circumstances. For example, behaviors like snoring, restlessness in bed, and going to the bathroom during the course of the night were associated with the perception of negative sleep disturbances. On the other hand, research has found that waking up a partner to talk or for sex was not negatively associated with a person’s perception of sleep quality. Ultimately, the frequency and severity of a partner’s behavior can lead to individuals pursuing a sleep divorce, or sleeping in separate beds.

Research has found that sleeping in separate beds can improve a partner’s sleep quality and reduce stress (Andre et al., 2021). However, research has also indicated concerns related to potential negative effects on a couple’s sex life, intimacy (e.g., becoming more detached from one another), and concerns that sleeping in separate beds is a bad omen for their relationship (e.g., the direction of the relationship is going in the wrong direction).

Ways to address factors contributing to sleep divorce

  1. Get evaluated and treated for potential sleep related problems: If partners are snoring, experiencing problems with restlessness, or other problematic behaviors (e.g., restless legs or teeth grinding) they may be suffering from a sleep related disorder or another underlying medical condition (e.g., having to frequently go to the bathroom during the night). Getting evaluated and receiving treatment may help with addressing these issues and reduce the need for a sleep divorce.
  2. Include a patient’s partner in the treatment of sleep related conditions: Research has found that including partners in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea has resulted in better acceptance and treatment adherence with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy (Luyster, 2017). Partner involvement has also been found helpful with adherence to cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia (CBT-I; Ellis et al., 2023). These results suggest that partner involvement can help improve treatment outcomes for patients, thereby possibly reducing the need for a sleep divorce.
  3. Consider using the Scandinavian Sleep Method to address temperature and blanket coverage issues: Another common cause for sleep divorce is due to the difficulties of partners have in adjusting to different temperature preferences (e.g., how many blankets or covers), and whether a partner ends up monopolizing the available covers. One way of addressing this issue is through using the Scandinavian Sleep Method which refers to using two separate duvet covers. This can help sleepers to regulate their respective body temperatures and result in less disruption (e.g., not monopolizing covers, less impact from the movement of a separate duvet cover if a partner gets into bed later or is restless). For more information on this technique, go to this link:

In summary, there are both distinct benefits and challenges that can occur when sharing a bed with a partner. It can be very important to resolve these sleep issues not only for the well-being of individuals, but also for the relationship as well.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Timothy Rogers, Ph.D., serves as the Associate Director for Training and Education at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Rogers earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Akron.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2023, July 10). Over a third of Americans opt for a “sleep divorce” [Press release].
Andre, C. J., Lovallo, V., & Spencer, R. M. (2021). The effects of bed sharing on sleep: From partners to pets. Sleep Health, 7(3), 314-323.
Drews, H. J., Wallot, S., Brysch, P., Berger-Johannsen, H., Weinhold, S. L., Mitkidis, P., ... & Göder, R. (2020). Bed-sharing in couples is associated with increased and stabilized REM sleep and sleep-stage synchronization. Frontiers in psychiatry,11, 583.
Ellis, J. G., Meadows, R., Alfonso-Miller, P., & Bastien, C. H. (2023). Partner Alliance to Enhance Efficacy and Adherence of CBT-I. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 18(1), 1-7.
Luyster, F. S. (2017). Impact of obstructive sleep apnea and its treatments on partners: a literature review. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 13(3), 467-477.
Richter, K., Adam, S., Geiss, L., Peter, L., & Niklewski, G. (2016). Two in a bed: The influence of couple sleeping and chronotypes on relationship and sleep. An overview. Chronobiology international, 33(10), 1464-1472.