Can Sleeping Apart Help Your Relationship?

Find out whether you might benefit from separate beds.

ByABC News
February 14, 2014, 11:32 AM
In this stock image, a couple is pictured sleeping in bed.
In this stock image, a couple is pictured sleeping in bed.
Getty Images

Feb. 14, 2014— -- A recent episode of Good Morning America profiled Arianne and Nate Cohen of Portland, Oregon—a married couple that sleeps in separate rooms. Now, chances are, your first reaction to that scenario is something along the lines of, "well, their marriage is doomed." But actually, experts say that's not the case at all—and that the arrangement is way more common than you think.

"I see lots of clients who sleep in separate bedrooms and have better marriages as a result," confirms Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Denver, Colorado, author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong and Loving Marriage and founder of the marriage skills website In Arianne and Nate's case, she likes to read at night while he likes to play guitar, so they use their alone time for their hobbies. The couple told GMA that they sleep better and they've gotten closer.

Here's why the separate beds thing is more beneficial than you'd think—and how to determine if it could work for you.

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Better Sleep, Better Outlook

The first order of business is to understand the primary draw of sleeping apart. The main reason couples do it—and why Heitler says it's okay—is if they have completely different sleep habits, and those differences are preventing them from getting a good night's sleep.

Maybe one person snores, for instance, which keeps the other person awake, or maybe one has restless leg syndrome, where they kick in the middle of the night. It could even be a seemingly small thing, like one person prefers to sleep with the hallway light on, whereas the other requires total darkness. Whatever the case may be, the bigger issue is that sleep disturbances due to differences like this can create big relationship problems.

"The danger with not sleeping well is that couples often start to resent each other," Heitler explains. "One partner will start to see the other as a physical manifestation of the fact that they can't sleep at night, and grow bitter and angry toward them. What's more, duos often become more irritable and fight over silly things." When people are well rested, she says, they're better able to solve problems and approach life with an even temper. And both of these qualities can help improve your relationship.

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Your Pillowtime Plan

Now, we can practically hear what you're thinking next: But what about separation anxiety? Or FOMO? Isn't it bad to not have the opportunity to cuddle and have sex at night? The answer, in short, is no. Think about it: Unless you're declaring your love for each other in your sleep, all of the good stuff that you associate with sharing a bed—the cuddling, the pillow talk—happens right before you go to sleep and right when you wake up.

Heitler's solution: Develop a morning and nighttime routine so that you can still work those closeness hours in without sacrificing quality sleep. That is, bookend your cuddle time around your actual sleep time.

"I know couples who cuddle together in a shared bed at night, or read, or have sex—and then, right when it's time to go to sleep, they separate, and one goes into the guest room. In the morning, they wake up at the same time, and get back into the same bed to cuddle or be intimate for a bit before going about their days," Heitler explains. She describes another couple who cuddles on the couch every night before bed, and then splits into their separate bedrooms.