My Husband And I Are ‘Sleep Divorced’

Sleep Divorce
PeopleImages / Getty

The only time I sleep in the same room as my husband is when we’re on vacation or visitors have taken over our spare bedroom. It’s been like this for years. I didn’t know there was a term for it, but I recently learned that my husband and I are what some call “sleep divorced.”

It’s an ugly name for a beautiful, joyous arrangement. Well… joyous for me, anyway. Truth be told, my husband would prefer we sleep in the same bed. But I’ve been an unusually light sleeper ever since my first kid was born, and my husband’s snoring is so trumpetous, it peels the paint off the walls. This is an impossible co-sleeping arrangement.

My husband used to try to convince me to stay in the room. He’d say I could just wear ear plugs. I tried that, but it blocked out a whole 2% of the sound of his snoring (do those honestly work for anyone?). I tried wearing headphones with white noise, and that masked the sound of his snoring better than ear plugs, but it also blocked out every other sound, which made me too anxious to sleep. What if one of my kids woke up and needed me? What if the fire alarm went off and I didn’t hear it?

My husband tried various nose devices and mouth guards to help with his snoring. Convinced that sleeping apart would spell certain doom for our relationship, the poor guy was desperate for me not to leave the room. He had a hard time accepting that all I wanted was a decent night’s sleep. But we weren’t having less sex as a result of it, so who cared? We were asleep (or he was, anyway)—literally unconscious. What did it matter if we were in separate rooms?

Since sleeping separately was bothering my husband so much, I suggested he see a doctor to find out if a CPAP machine could help. Maybe he has sleep apnea and this could stop his snoring. Or maybe his allergies were making him snore and he just needed meds or there was some other solution we hadn’t come across on our many internet searches.

But, despite his willingness to try over-the-counter remedies, my husband didn’t want to talk to a doctor about potential sleep apnea—he said he didn’t want to wear one of those “mask-thingies” on his face all night long. So, until he could get past his discomfort with the idea of a sleep apnea mask, we were stuck in a heavy-snore situation, and I still couldn’t share a bed with him.

But, here’s the thing: Experts say there is no reason a couple can’t have a thriving relationship despite being sleep divorced. After all, who can be in the mood for sexual intimacy—or even just casual conversation—if they haven’t had a full night of sleep in weeks? I sure can’t do it.

If I’m not getting any sleep, every aspect of my life, including and especially my relationship with my husband, suffers. I’m not at my best when I’m overtired. I’m not even mediocre. I’m grumpy and short-tempered and generally unpleasant to be around. The bottom line is, I need sleep to function, and when I share a bed with my husband, I don’t get any.

And it’s not as if I’m unique in my needs. According to health experts, getting adequate sleep is vital to our physical and emotional wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can impair decision-making skills, reaction time, and even our ability to reason. It can lead to physical problems ranging from weight gain to heart disease to diabetes and can weaken our immune systems.

So, if the decision is between attempting to share a bed even though one partner isn’t getting any sleep or sleeping apart and allowing both partners a full night of solid rest… is there really a decision to make here? It’s obvious. Health should come first. This is a no-brainer.

My husband did eventually come around to the idea that sleeping in separate rooms was best for everyone. About a year ago, my daughter took a video of his snoring because she thought it was funny. She showed it to me and was laughing hysterically, and I told her we shouldn’t make fun of Dad’s snoring since he can’t help it. But when she mentioned to him that she’d gotten video of him snoring, he wanted to hear it. The look on his face when he heard himself was priceless. “That’s how loud I am? Holy shit, no wonder you won’t sleep in the same room with me! I’m surprised you even sleep in the same house!”

And so, we continue to sleep apart—the spare bedroom is always set up for me now, rather than my husband and I going through the same ridiculous dance every night where he asks if I’ll try to stay, I give in and say I will, then I lie down for an hour and listen to him snore while fantasizing about smothering him with a pillow. Ever since he saw that video of his snoring, he truly understands what I was up against when he was begging me to stay in the room.

The other positive outcome of the video my daughter made is that my husband now has an appointment set up in a few weeks to see an ear nose and throat doctor to get tested for sleep apnea. Who knows, maybe he’ll end up with a CPAP machine and we’ll be back to sleeping together after all. I hear those CPAP machines sound like white noise anyway.