Is Sleeping Separately Better For Some Couples?
The Rumor: Sleeping in separate bedrooms is a sure sign that a couple's relationship has gone south
Is that a Mack truck, or your snoring husband? If it's hard to tell the two apart, you may have considered sleeping separately from your spouse. Or maybe you do already. Chances are, when couples retire to separate bedrooms at the end of the day, it's usually because one partner is making a desperate attempt to finally get some good shuteye. However, if you want your bond to stay strong, it's probably best to sleep separately only as a last resort. Right?
The Verdict: Snoring -- not relationship problems -- is the top reason for separate bedrooms
Allow various classic sitcoms to illustrate. With six kids, when else could Mike and Carol Brady from "The Brady Bunch" find precious time to converse and connect, other than in bed? Same goes for Cliff and Clair Huxtable of The Cosby Show: They seemed to have their most tender moments when they were unwinding in their bedroom at the end of the day.
"Sleeping apart can contribute to the disconnect that plagues marriage and relationships," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. "It just makes it easier to avoid each other, when what's really needed is connection and contact."
According to The National Sleep Foundation Bedroom Poll, most couples (87 percent) do sleep together. And let's face it: Sharing a bedroom isn't just about sleep. It's also about having a space for intimacy and a safe place for communication and connection. "Cuddling up together and talking quietly is a great perk of married life," says Tessina. "Couples who know how to do that, and do it regularly, fare better than couples who don't."
So while relationship problems might not be the catalyst for sleeping apart, they can be one result of it. If you and your spouse have separate beds due to sleep issues, here are some things you can try:
Address the snoring. According to Robert Oexman, D.C., director of the Sleep to Live Institute, snoring is the most common reason why couples sleep apart -- and most snoring is benign (meaning, it doesn't present any health problems to the snorer). It can make sleep miserable for the snorer's bed companion, though -- and that's reason enough to seek a doctor's help. In many cases, an over-the-counter dental guard such as Pure Sleep or Snore Rx does the trick of pulling the jaw forward slightly, thus opening the airway to reduce snoring.
In extreme cases, your partner's snoring could be caused by sleep apnea. If so, treatment won't just help you sleep better -- it could save his or her life. "With sleep apnea, there's very loud snoring interrupted by pauses when they don't breathe," says Dr. Oexman. "These pauses in breath can last up to 90 seconds. Their oxygen levels drop very low, and if it's severe enough these people oftentimes can have heart attacks in their sleep early in the morning."
In those cases, a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine can help maintain air flow to the lungs. Or your doctor might determine that having surgery to remove enlarged tonsils will help with your partner's nighttime breathing.
Adopt new nighttime habits. Snoring isn't the only sleep disruptor for couples: pre-bed rituals can keep them apart, too. Eleven percent of people sleep with the television on, according to the Bedroom poll. "Make your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only," says Dr. Oexman. In other words, do your nighttime reading, Web surfing and TV viewing elsewhere. And buy separate bedding, too. This will stop the second most common cause of sleeping apart that Dr. Oexman sees: tugging at shared sheets and blankets.
Face nocturnal oddities. There are some rare but disturbing sleep habits that can make a sleep partner grab her pillow and head for the next room. Sleepwalking is one. Periodic limb movement -- which causes arms and legs to flail unexpectedly -- is another. And then there's REM behavior disorder, wherein sufferers' muscles don't enter the normal state of temporary paralysis, so they physically act out their dreams. If any of these conditions plagues your partner, have him or her talk to a doctor.
Sleep separately if you must. For some couples, separate bedrooms are the only answer to sleep woes. If that's the case for you, Tessina recommends that you and your partner "make an extra effort to connect every day, and to be physically close in whatever way is possible."