Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Does Your Relationship Need a Sleep Divorce?

Why sleeping apart might be good for you...and your marriage.

Research from Toronto's Ryerson University recently revealed this shocking statistic: 30-40 percent of couples sleep apart at night.

And we're not just talking about people heading for divorce. Many of these couples enjoy healthy, happy marriages. They just happen to not share a bed.

I know, it's all very Fred and Wilma Flintstone, but bear with me a moment...there may be good reason for the trend.

It seems that sleep quality actually improves for many people when they're sleeping in separate beds. Canadian researchers have recently found this to be true, backing up earlier findings by British scientists.

We think we sleep better when we're cozying up to our partner. We're programmed to believe it's the best thing for our marriages. And when a couple isn't sleeping in the same bed, we're sure it's a sign the relationship is in trouble.

But maybe all that thinking needs to change.

Because when researchers studied brain activity in the lab, they found that couples who slept in the same bed didn't enter the deeper stages of sleep as fully as people who slept alone. People who sleep with a partner tend to be woken repeatedly by sound or movement. Basically, sleep quality can seriously suffer when you sleep with a partner.

This is especially true, of course, if your partner is a snorer or has sleep apnea, if she gets up frequently to go to the bathroom, or if he suffers restless sleep and spends much of the night tossing and turning.

Sleep quality is a cornerstone to good health. A multitude of studies show the harms that come from chronically poor or insufficient sleep (like obesity, heart disease, and depression). Not to mention the adverse effect on productivity, sense of humour, and appearance. Is adhering to social norms worth putting our health and happiness at risk? Sleep experts are suggesting an alternate model: the couple who enjoys a full, loving relationship during waking hours, but when it's time to go to bed, they retire to separate rooms.

It's an interesting idea...but is it unromantic?

Personally, I think this could be a beautiful thing for many people, and I suspect that healthy, happy, well-rested individuals have a much better shot at a long-lasting marriage than people who are suffering and sleep-deprived but are afraid of the social stigma. That said, I don't think it's for everyone.

So what do you think? And is this something you would consider? ­­