Is it time for a SLEEP DI­VORCE?

If you’ve ever or­dered your other half to the spare room because he’s keep­ing you awake at night, you’re def­i­nitely not alone, says ex­hausted Tash Bell

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Be Inspired -

My hus­band Mat and I have been to­gether for 15 years, and in that time I’d guessti­mate that he’s ac­crued one full year’s more sleep than me, min­i­mum. Every day he looks younger, while I come down­stairs al­most trip­ping over the bags un­der my eyes. How did this hap­pen?

Get­ting to­gether in our late 20s, we slept in sync. Pre-ipads, pre-smart­phones, pre-kids, our night-time rou­tine was sim­ple: spoon, snore, re­peat. Then we had three chil­dren in quick succession, and the shock’s yet to sub­side. Af­ter years of spring­ing awake to feed ba­bies, quell tod­dlers and calm down five-year-olds I have the night-hear­ing of a bat and the re­flexes of a ninja – no one is go­ing to mur­der me in my sleep! On the down­side, I might just kill my hus­band.

Because no mat­ter how hard my head hits the pil­low each night, I snap awake the sec­ond Mat snuf­fles or snores. Pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures fail – my earplugs pop out, my sleep mask slips – and, bingo, I’m awake and re­sent­ing him. And I’m not alone. The 2018 Sleep Well­ness Sur­vey found a third of us never get the sleep we need, with a quar­ter of us blam­ing our part­ner for the prob­lem. Mean­while, the Bri­tish Snor­ing & Sleep Ap­noea As­so­ci­a­tion reck­ons 20 mil­lion peo­ple are sleep de­prived because their other half snores.

No sur­prise, then, that more and more mod­ern cou­ples are fil­ing for a ‘sleep di­vorce’, a term coined to mean re­tir­ing to twin beds or sep­a­rate rooms at

night. A new GH sur­vey* re­veals one in four cou­ples ad­mits to sleep­ing apart some­times, with snor­ing cited as the big­gest rea­son for driv­ing them to sep­a­rate beds. Factor in other in­tru­sions – kids, work, tech – and it seems ro­mance is out; we’re get­ting ruth­less about rest. Bed is for sleep – and sleep­ing alone. As my ex­haus­tion (and re­sent­ment) lev­els rise, I find my­self tempted. To keep our re­la­tion­ship go­ing, should Mat and I sep­a­rate at night?

He’s hor­ri­fied when I ini­tially sug­gest it – largely because my words come out wrong, and I ask for a sex di­vorce. ‘What?’ he cries, like a drown­ing man banned from wav­ing. When he un­der­stands what I am sug­gest­ing, he re­mains un­con­vinced. ‘Life’s busy, Tash, there are chil­dren ev­ery­where – the only time I get a clear view of you is in bed.’

A neigh­bour says she knows a cou­ple who tried it. ‘Great,’ I cry. ‘How did they get on?’ She ad­mits they’re di­vorc­ing. Grilling part­nered-up pals, I find only one who says she sleeps apart from her hus­band.

There’s def­i­nitely a twin-bed ‘taboo’; a so­cial pres­sure for cou­ples to share the same du­vet. But I’m at the end of my tether. ‘For one month,’ I an­nounce, ‘we’re trying a sleep di­vorce.’ Mat sighs, ‘Let’s not make it a real one.’ Here’s how we got on...


Bliss. Who needs a hus­band when you have Agatha Christie and a sleep mask? For three nights in a row, I read un­til late then sleep for seven hours straight – un­heard of for me. I’m look­ing bet­ter, feel­ing springier, and bounc­ing back to bed at night. It’s a shock to re­alise how much I’d pre­vi­ously braced my­self for a bad night’s sleep. Sure, my sleep still gets dis­turbed (na­ture calls) but who cares? In our spare room, I can flick on the light, watch catch-up TV – nights are fi­nally pleas­ant! Morn­ings less so. Mat’s feel­ing hurt – and knack­ered. With­out me to urge ‘lights out’, he ad­mits he’s gorg­ing on box sets. ‘There’s a rea­son men live longer when they’re mar­ried,’ he sighs, and the im­pli­ca­tion is clear: no one sends a man to sleep like his wife.


Our stand-off wors­ens. Every night sig­nals a new sep­a­ra­tion, and when we do re­con­vene? We’re up – and so are our de­fences. We miss the vul­ner­a­bil­ity fos­tered by the fond, fuggy mar­i­tal bed; the nightly nuz­zle – and any hope of a morn­ing em­brace. Luck­ily, being in sep­a­rate rooms doesn’t alarm our kids (aged 12, 10 and eight). They nod sagely when we ex­plain Mummy’s trying to get ‘ex­tra-spe­cial sleep in the spare room’, then take it take it in turns to climb in with me at 3am, claim­ing nightmares, night sweats and night coughs re­spec­tively. (Mat finds this much fun­nier than I do.)


Sex has gone out of the win­dow, fol­lowed by any kind of fun, as re­la­tions start to ape our bed­room ar­range­ments: ‘1930s for­mal’, I’d call it. Think Mar­got and Jerry Lead­bet­ter from The Good Life. We ask po­litely af­ter one an­other’s day; quiver at per­ceived slights. ‘We’re off on our sep­a­rate tra­jec­to­ries,’ shrugs Mat, ‘and can’t man­age to re­align.’ When you’re in a re­la­tion­ship, does the night per­form a dual func­tion: rest and re­set? I’ve talked to hus­bands who claim to love co-sleep­ing, but then they’re the ones snor­ing. Their wives prove more prag­matic. Many point out they have no choice (their ‘spare rooms’ long since filled with chil­dren) and al­most all saw their dis­turbed con­ju­gal nights as a trade: cold, hard sleep for in­ti­macy.

When both of you are busy by day, knack­ered by night, prox­im­ity is as good as it gets, or as one friend puts it, ‘Just about our last ves­tige of in­ti­macy is my hus­band brush­ing against me when we’re asleep.’ Mat is in­creas­ingly put out. One evening, I catch him un­pack­ing a gym fit­ness ball from Amazon. ‘I’m turn­ing our bed­room into a gym,’ he de­clares, ‘there’s noth­ing else go­ing on in here.’


A fraught work­ing week en­sues, with­out nights to of­fer com­fort. When the week­end does come, Mat spends most of Satur­day in the gar­den, Sun­day out in a ca­noe. You don’t have to be a psy­chol­o­gist to see he’s ‘re­mov­ing him­self’. Sparked by noth­ing, fanned by four weeks of miss­ing each other, I force a row be­fore I storm off to bed. Nor­mally, we’re calmed by the phys­i­cal act of shar­ing a bed. But now we’re free to re­treat to our sep­a­rate cor­ners. It takes 24 hours be­fore we’re rec­on­ciled enough to brush our teeth to­gether the next morn­ing. ‘Love,’ says Mat, ‘hap­pens in the mar­gins. It’s the mo­ments of gid­di­ness in each other’s com­pany – a look over your shoul­der, a shared joke – that cre­ates in­ti­macy.’ And that (he’s in­ti­mat­ing) is being lost.

Tash with her hus­band Mat

Their sleep sep­a­ra­tion taught Tash and Mat valu­able lessons

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