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Being married – or even in a relationship – does not mean you need to sleep together. Or does it?

Many people are calling for the normalising of couples sleeping apart. Photo: Kampus Production/Pexels

Many people are calling for the normalising of couples sleeping apart. Photo: Kampus Production/Pexels

Published Apr 25, 2022


Durban – Many personal aspects of romantic relationships should really be kept, well, between the sheets. But as the world changes and more people speak out about topics and subjects that were once taboo, another one has reared its head.

And the matter seems to be a simple case of black and white, right and wrong, and good or bad for those who have something to say about it. The ‘it’ we speak of, is the whether married or committed couples should have their own bedrooms and sleep alone.

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A few years back, there was even a name for the room to which one partner would either voluntarily move – or be banished to –once the time came to sleep. It was called the ‘snore room’, and those who advocated having one justified the decision for a number of reasons. These included one partner snoring and keeping the other awake; one partner being a restless sleeper and keeping the other up while they flailed around at night; or both partners having differing work routines which saw one waking up and getting ready for work earlier than the other.

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Whatever the reasons, having a ‘snore room’ started to become ‘a thing’, with many upmarket homes on the market even listing a ‘snore room’ as a property feature.

Fast forward a few years and it appears that couples in favour of sleeping apart no longer even make reference to their partner’s room being a ‘snore room’. It is simply a case of each person in the relationship having their own bedroom. And they say it should be normalised. In fact, the habit is often referred to as a ‘sleep divorce’.

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TikTok mom Viyan Zanko sums it up like this:

@mybabynvee #marriedlife #couplesoftiktok #marriage #separatebedrooms #normalize #husbandsoftiktok #wivesoftiktok #sleepingarrangement ♬ Married Life (From "Up") - Sergy el Som

Of course, there are those totally opposed to even the thought of sleeping away from their significant other, with arguments including that it breaks a couple’s intimacy; can cause partners to drift apart; or even simply that marriage was not designed for couples to sleep apart, no matter how difficult sharing a bed may be.

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Here is an opinion from divorce lawyer Dennis Vetrano:

@drvlaw #stitch with @LiddyLidds #divorceadvice #divorcetiktok #divorced #divorcelawyer #marriagetips ♬ original sound - Dennis Vetrano

Either way, the trend looks like it is here to stay, with more people speaking out about it on social media platforms and advocating for its benefits.

Why many psychologists or marriage experts do not completely disagree with sleeping in separate bedrooms, they do warn that relationships can break down if the habit or routine is not handled correctly. Some even believe that sleeping apart may do more harm than good, unless the reasons for it are due to disruptive sleep. This is because quality sleep is an important requirement for daily living, and the lack of it can negatively impact one’s life.

The importance of sleep

Dr Karan Rajan, a surgeon at the National Health Service in England, highlights some important health-related facts about sleeping on his TikTok channel, and explains why people should actually be sleeping alone.

@dr.karanr Sleep divorce #sleep #dream #schoolwithdrkaran #learnontiktok #BRITsMOVER ♬ Home - Edith Whiskers

Having the option to sleep apart can also reduce the amount of conflict between couples who are struggling to sleep as a result of one partner’s sleep patterns.

Advice from a psychologist

However, while there are many factors that may serve as a deal-breaker within a relationship, Johannesburg clinical psychologist Liane Lurie says snoring need not be one of them. In fact, it is important that the non-snoring partner separates the involuntary behaviour of snoring from the character of who their partner actually is, she adds, explaining that they are not deliberately doing this to harm or irritate their partners.

“Many couples have adjusted to a comfortable sleeping routine, only to find that an episode of sleepless nights suddenly alerts them to their partner’s problem. For others, a normal sleep routine was never established and restless sleep becomes the norm.

“It is important that the snoring problem is not ignored as it may signify a more serious sleep disorder that interferes with breathing. Disrupted sleep also plays a massive part in one’s mood and general day to day functioning.”

Despite their best efforts to remain in the same bed, Lurie says some couples do eventually opt for separate bedrooms, and these are often those couples that have tried adjusting sleep positions and are exasperated. And while it may seem like a good idea in theory, she says couples have to be careful that they don’t “simply go their separate ways at night like room-mates”.

“Intimate time spent cuddling, having sex, sharing a movie together all form part of a healthy relationship. Quality contact before you go to your respective beds is crucial.”

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Designing a ‘snore room’

When designing what is referred to as a ‘snore room’, Graeme Sparrow of Graeme Sparrow Architects in Johannesburg, says he tries to make the space as multi-functional as possible. This not only ensures that the room can be repurposed, but also that it adds value to the home in the event of reselling.

“I have been asked a couple of times to design second rooms off of main bedrooms, but this has not been specifically due to snoring – although in some cases I have thought it could be for this reason. It is traditional in South Africa that couples share beds, so people do not generally tell others that they sleep in separate beds.

“But times are changing. And people are also realising how important sleep is.”

The ‘snore rooms’ are usually big enough just for a bed, Sparrow explains, adding that he once designed a room off the main bedroom for a husband who used to leave early for work. This room allowed him to leave in the morning without disturbing his wife who would still be sleeping.

“I also designed a room for a mom who had three young children. They would often go through to her bedroom during the night and she would end up moving to one of their beds. Now she moves to this room to sleep, and is still close to her kids.

“Her room has a futon and a book shelf as she loves reading. It was basically also like a chill room for her.”

Sparrow has also designed his-and-her bedrooms where each partner had their own dressing rooms and bathrooms. However, there was a common lounge where they would spend time together or watch TV.

“There was also a large shower which joined their bathroom together.”

However, as mentioned by others in the industry, Sparrow says these types of snore rooms – or such rooms off the main bedrooms – are generally only seen in luxury markets.