Snooze-Deprived Couples Rest Easy After 'Sleep Divorce'

by Hallie Jackson /  / Updated 

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Jack Mazewski snores so loudly that his children sleeping down the hall can hear it. The noise didn't bother his wife, Joanna, for the first few years of their marriage — until their kids were born.

"I became a light sleeper because you have a little more stress - two children, a mortgage, bills," said Joanna Mazewski.

Night after night, her husband's snoring kept her awake.

"She would poke me a few times," Jack said. His wife quickly corrected him: "I would say kick, not poke."

"I would end up waking him up in the middle of the night," Joanna added. "And then two of us weren't sleeping."

It made mornings a nightmare for the otherwise happily-married couple.

"The arguing would happen when we're not sleeping well," said Joanna.

Jack and Joanna Mazewski
Jack and Joanna MazewskiHallie Jackson / NBC News

At the end of their rope, the Mazewskis finally found a solution, just like an increasing number of couples in the United States: separate beds.

It's estimated one in every four couples sleeps separately at night — twice as many as fifteen years ago, according to the Better Sleep Council and National Sleep Foundation. It's a phenomenon often called "sleep divorce."

"For some couples, it actually works," said Dr. Wendy Troxel, "particularly if they're both getting a better night of sleep and they're able to function better in the relationship during the day."

Many people prefer the comfort of sleeping next to a spouse, but Troxel — a behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, pointed to studies showing couples actually sleep worse together.

"This could be sort of a phenomenon of basic physics," she explained. "You have another person in bed with you, so there's more likelihood of more movement and that can be disruptive of sleep."

Sleep deprivation can be a serious problem in romantic relationships.

"In a sleep deprived couple, they are more likely to engage in conflict and less likely to be able to resolve it effectively," said Troxel. Plus, a University of California-Berkeley study showed who slept poorly experienced less appreciation for their partners than people who got enough sleep.

For an increasing number of couples, "sleep divorce" is the clear solution - although it sometimes carries a stigma.

"We don't say anything because people think, 'oh, there’s probably trouble in their marriage,'" said Joanna Mazewski. "But the fact of the matter is, we try to sleep in different beds so we avoid that trouble!"

Sleep experts recommend a few key tips for sleeping apart - and staying happy:

  • Talk about it first. Pre-planning separate sleeping arrangements ensures one partner doesn't feel ditched when the other leaves the bedroom.
  • Schedule "together time" in the evenings. "That time before falling asleep is often the only time that couples have together to be away from these distractions," said Troxel. Creating space for intimacy doesn't have to mean just sex: cuddling and talking can help couples stay connected before they head to separate sleeping locations.
  • If snoring is the problem, schedule a doctor's visit. It can be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder, like sleep apnea.

For the Mazewskis, sleeping separately at night helps them feel better in the morning: "If it doesn’t work out for one person or the other," Joanna asked, "why suffer through it?"

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