Is sleeping in separate bedrooms a good solution?

When you’re young and in love, planning on building a life together, a little thing like snoring may not be on the top of your list of things to discuss before the wedding day. But the National Sleep Foundation survey found that nearly 25 percent of couples sleep separately as a result of sleep issues. For many of us searching for lasting love and intimacy, that doesn’t sound like a very romantic prospect.

But does snoring really affect marital happiness? The answer is, it can—but it doesn’t have to.

With some couples, snoring can cause real disharmony.

Snoring doesn't unilaterally affect all couples the same way. Some snorers are married to deep sleepers, who might not even notice. However, for the others, the nighttime drama can be grating.

Julie Bane, a comedian, was pestered by her husband for years about losing sleep over her snoring. Constantly having to shake her awake so he could sleep was exhausting for both of them. And the issue spilled into the day, too. “. . . It made me irritable because I wasn't sleeping well, and I'd be crabby the next day,” she remembers. Not to mention, the potential resentment built up from both of them constantly waking each other up. 

Snoring can push our partners away, causing friction and spoiling intimacy. Phil Reames, a financial planner, says, “We spent years with my wife nudging me in the back and telling me to go sleep on the couch. Finally, I had enough and said, sorry you are such a light sleeper, but if it bothers you, you go sleep on the couch.”

Ouch. 

While sleeping on the couch seems harsh, a new study from Ohio State University indicates that couples who get less than seven hours of sleep a night actually fight more. So, lying awake while your spouse snores could cause more than just frustration down the road.

But snoring doesn't have to take a toll on marital intimacy—whether you are sleeping together or in separate beds. 

Use this as a reason to team up and investigate the problem—together.

Choosing between losing sleep and sleeping apart can be difficult—but there is a third choice: to seek help together as a couple. If anything, having a spouse there to bring attention to repeated snoring, can actually help identify if there's an actual health issue that needs to be addressed. So why not work on this problem, together?

David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, says that trying different remedies to end snoring “may improve the relationship more than any type of therapy or couples’ activity.” Asking your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea or enlarged tonsils or adenoids causing obstructive sleep apnea may lead to a solution that doesn't just make sleep better, but can bring you closer, too. 

Bane, the comedian who struggled with snoring, decided to seek help by getting a sleep study. She was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and she notes, “My CPAP machine was a game changer. And my husband doesn't have to spend nights shaking me to stop snoring or go sleep on the couch.” She and her husband joke that the machine is their marriage counselor.

Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, MD, PhD, co-founder and chief medical officer of FusionHealth and Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s sleep medicine program and consultant for Mattress Firm, both suggest visits to a sleep physician who can arrange for further testing—most likely an overnight sleep study like the one Bane had. And in the meantime, there are a host of solutions available online, from acupressure rings to mouth spray. Regular exercise or reduced alcohol consumption may also help. Maybe you can even exercise together!

If sleeping in separate beds is the only option, make sure to find ways to prioritize intimacy.

Sleeping separately can have its consequences. Stacey Greene, author and relationship blogger, says that sleeping apart from her husband really damaged their relationship. “For a long period of time, I was not sleeping with my husband for other reasons. I feel that it was part of the reason he had an affair. Perhaps the cuddling, nighttime banter, and spontaneous sex were missing,” she explains. Although she has since mended her relationship, many couples still struggle between choosing to sleep together—and actual sleep.

That said, getting real shut-eye is crucial for your relationship's happiness, too, and sleeping in separate beds definitely doesn't mean the end of romantic passion.

If you've investigated other solutions as a couple, and it turns out that you're the rare case where snoring is inevitable, remember that there's all kinds of loving marriages that have worked around snoring—and yes, even sleeping in different beds. Bennett recalls family trips where his dad’s snoring kept the whole family up—consequently, his mother always slept in a separate bedroom. But, somehow, they made it work. “My parents are still married after over forty years together.”

Reames, the financial planner who struggled with snoring, also has a happy ending to his story. He explains, “In 2007 my daughter left for college. My wife took over her bedroom. We have had separate bedrooms for a decade. We both love it. Our kids are grown and gone, so we can have sex all over the house, any time we want.” And they celebrated their thirty-fourth anniversary last September.

Remember, no matter your snoring or sleeping situation, sometimes all it takes is a bit of humor, understanding, empathy, and a little humility (especially if you're the snorer) to combine powers and find the best way to get both the sleep and the intimacy your relationship needs.