My Partner & I Slept Apart For A "Sleep Divorce" & It Was Divine

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Sleeping in a bed with someone is the worst. Between the kicking, the snoring, the sweating, the flailing, the touching... I hate it.
I am aware there is another camp out there. A strange bunch of people. They are those who feel comforted lying in bed with someone; those who spend their nights entwined in their lover's arms, those roommates who fall asleep easily in bed with each other after binge-watching Netflix shows together, the friends who shrug happily and opt for the only double bed in the Airbnb on a group weekend away. These people are not right.
Which is why I find it weird that society dictates we sleep in a bed with our partner. I mean, I get that it's the "done" thing. But why?
Advertisement
According to this fascinating interview in The Atlantic with Robert Ekirch, who wrote a book on the subject, the reason people originally slept in a bed together was to save money. Spare a thought, if you will, for the whole family that had to share a bed, not only to generate warmth but because they could not afford more furniture. Back in the day, shared beds were also seen as a bonding experience, not just for couples but for friends, too. "Most individuals did not readily fall asleep but conversed freely," Ekirch says. "In the absence of light, bedmates coveted that hour when, frequently, formality and etiquette perished by the bedside."
You may be forgiven for thinking that by the 20th century, married couples favored two single beds, because that's what we see in old movies and in television shows like I Love Lucy. Nineties film Pleasantville, which spoofs a 1950s television show, even uses the arrival of the double bed to demonstrate the downfall of morality in the town.
Actually, single beds weren't quite as prevalent as all that. This misconception stems from a set of rules called the Hays Code, "moral" guidelines which were applied to American TV and film from 1930 to 1968. They banned directors and filmmakers from showing interracial relationships on screen (what), scenes of childbirth (even in silhouette), scenes with law officers (why?), and a man and woman in bed together, even if they were married. So, if you wanted a scene set in a bedroom between husband and wife, the answer was simple: separate beds.
Advertisement
Regardless of why we sleep in the same bed, it's definitely seen as something that couples should do. In the same Atlantic piece, Lee Crespi, a couples' therapist explains: "The main issue is if you’re not sleeping in the same bed, the perception is you’re not having sex and people are afraid to admit to sleeping apart."
The Scandinavians have a sneaky way around this. Anyone who's visited friends or stayed in an Airbnb there will be familiar with the whole one bed, two duvets thing. While it's not the perfect solution, separate covers mean that there is at least some semblance of sleep privacy, and unlike in the U.K., where I live, no midnight tussle over the duvet itself.
According to a not-very-scientific-sounding survey from a company called Mattress Clarity, I'm not alone in my skepticism. They say that over 30% of Americans would like to file for a "sleep divorce" from their partner. Of those who would choose to go through with it, however, 41% would not admit it to friends and family. Precisely, I assume, because of Crespi's reasoning above.
And so, bravely flying in the face of social convention, I decided to try a sleep divorce with my boyfriend, Ben. A little background: We've been together nine years and have lived together for two and a half, so we're used to sharing a bed. Nevertheless, we still complain (him, more than me) about each other's sleeping habits. He says I snore and flail about; I don't like that he gets up later than I do. So for a week, I waited until we were ready to fall asleep each night, then took myself off to the single bed in the spare room. (FYI, I'm totally aware how incredibly lucky we are to have a spare room, rather than one of us having to decamp to the couch for a week. My brother just moved out and we decided to take the hit in rent, rather than getting a new roommate.)
Advertisement
Anyway, sleep divorcing was glorious.
I could go to bed when I wanted; there was no worry of him coming in and waking me up. I slept the whole night through, seven days in a row. I got up and did yoga most mornings, and you know what was best? We were really nice to each other all week. It was like, because we weren't spending those six or seven hours lying next to each other every night, we appreciated the time we had awake together more.
Perhaps it was because we let go of some subconscious anger we were holding onto about how we impacted each other's sleep. Either way, it was like we were back in that stage of the relationship where you still want to make the other person feel great all the time, rather than the sitting-on-the-toilet-shouting-"Bring me more toilet paper, you dick" stage.

A post shared by Jess Commons (@jess_commons) on

After a week was up, I returned to our bed. And it was okay. Like, not horrible, but I found I did miss the single bed. We snapped at each other more during the day, and he was noticeably grumpier at getting his sleep interrupted by my (alleged) flailing again. My mornings, on the other hand, were far less enjoyable than my yoga mornings as I got ready while watching him sleep on.
So here's what we're going to do: If we want to sleep in the same bed, we're going to; if not, I'm heading for the spare room, no matter how many times a week I feel like it. And you know what, I'm okay with that, and I don't really care if others aren't.
Advertisement
Here's what Ben had to say...
"As a preface to this 'divorce,' I’ve long been an advocate for separate beds. How do I put this delicately... Jess is a strange bedfellow (snores loudly, moves around constantly, and attacks me with her 'restless legs') and I’m a pretty light sleeper. So as you’ve probably guessed by now, that week was utter bliss. I naturally woke up happier, earlier (I’m self-employed), and considerably less tired than usual. In comparison, the days since she moved back in have been... hell. Okay no, I’m exaggerating. But I did enjoy the week and wouldn't totally be averse to her (or me) spending the night next door every now and again."
Related Video:
Read These Next

More from Mind

Watch

R29 Original Series