It’s been a longstanding tradition of the English upper class and recent studies show almost one in four married couples already do it; now some mental health experts say sleeping in separate beds could help couples improve their relationship as more people seem open to the practice for a variety of reasons.
"People are losing sleep. They are waking each other up, and there is this resentment that begins to build in a relationship," Jill Lankler, a New York clinical psychologist and life coach, told USA Today. "If you don't address that, obviously your relationship is going to suffer, your work suffers. It's this cascade."
In 2007, the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms published a study that found that women are more likely to be disturbed by the man’s presence in bed than men by a woman.
Lankler explained in her interview with USA Today that for spouses seeking to address issues such as snoring, restless leg syndrome or struggling with different work schedules, having separate beds can be a practical solution. But many couples may still worry about how sleeping apart might affect issues such as intimacy.
She noted that while sleeping in separate beds comes with a risk of affecting intimacy, it is also an opportunity for couples to be more intentional about having a healthy sex life.
"You actually get to carve out time," Lankler said. "You get to do it in a way that is intended and not sort of expected."
Jessy Warner-Cohen, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, explained in an interview with The Well that prioritizing sleep is one of the healthiest moves anyone can make.
“Sleep is important to maintaining overall health, including emotional health,” Warner-Cohen said. “Chronic sleep deprivation puts you at risk for car accidents, weight gain, poorer immune response, increased blood pressure, diabetes, as well as depression, irritability, anxiety and forgetfulness.”
A 2017 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology also suggested that lack of sleep could lead to marital tension.
"We know sleep problems are also linked with inflammation and many of the same chronic illnesses. So we were interested to see how sleep related to inflammation among married couples, and whether one partner's sleep affected the other's inflammation," Stephanie Wilson, lead researcher on the study, said at the time.
Some 43 couples in the study provided blood samples and said how many hours they had slept the previous two nights. Researchers then had the couples try to resolve a topic that sparks conflict in their marriage and took blood samples after the discussion.
"We found that people who slept less in the past few nights didn't wake up with higher inflammation, but they had a greater inflammatory response to the conflict. So that tells us less sleep increased vulnerability to a stressor," Wilson said.
Couples were also found to be more likely to argue or become hostile if both partners had less than seven hours of sleep in the two preceding nights. For every hour of sleep lost, the researchers noted that levels of two known inflammatory markers rose 6 percent.
"Any increase isn't good, but a protracted increase that isn't being addressed is where it can become a problem," Wilson said. "What's concerning is both a lack of sleep and marital conflict are common in daily life. About half of our study couples had slept less than the recommended seven hours in recent nights."