Snoring – how a sleep divorce saved my relationship

By Royal Assent – why spending the night in separate beds can have surprising benefits.

Admitting your bedroom habits can be embarrassing – especially when it comes to the subject of sleeping in a different room to your partner.  

Both my kids are over 18 now, but there’s definitely a raised eyebrow when they see a few of my things in the spare room.  

But things could be about to change now the Daily Mail has revealed King Charles and Queen Camilla sleep in separate bedrooms, due to the monarch’s back pain.

Sleeping apart can spark concerns that something is wrong in the relationship, but sleep scientist Russell Foster has said it can be a positive move.  

Speaking at the Hay Festival recently, Foster said: “So many people say, ‘I slept with my partner for 50 years, it’s the end of our relationship.’ No, it isn’t. It’s the beginning of a new relationship, where both of you ideally would be happier, more responsive to each other, less impulsive, and less irritable,” he concluded. 

Woman covering ears as partner snores next to herCredit: Shutterstock/Dragan Grkic
A snoring partner can be frustrating

Why I sleep in a separate bed

I can personally vouch for everything Foster says. 

Sleeping in separate rooms is commonly referred to as a ‘sleep divorce’, and it’s on the rise with the over-50s. A quarter (25%) of retired people surveyed by the National Bed Federation admitted to sleeping in separate beds.   

Funnily enough, my girlfriends don’t raise an eyebrow when I tell them this happens, and a couple of them even agree they do the same. Although it’s important to note, I haven’t fully decamped to the spare bedroom (which I’m lucky to have, because child number one is just finishing uni).  

My routine goes something like this… 

  • 10pm – snuggle and fall asleep together in main bedroom. 
  • 1am – shush partner a couple of times then gently push him onto his side (not always easy as he’s almost double my size). 
  • 1.15am – put earplugs in as he once again rolls onto his back. 
  • 3.30am – wake with a start at the sound of a roaring ‘train’ in my ear and with a silicone earplug stuck to my lip. Concede defeat. Take comfy pillow into spare room and remove ticking clock from the wall (must take this out of the bedroom once and for all). 
  • 3.40am drift off into blissful sleep, fully star-shaped on the spare bed. 

Couples sleeping in separate beds is nothing new

What’s interesting about the news from Foster at the Hay Festival is that this trend isn’t new. Between 1870 and 1970, many couples slept in separate beds because it was seen as healthier, with doctors warning that sharing a bed could lead to disease (enough to put anyone off, quite frankly). 

Lancaster University professor Hilary Hinds describes in her book A Cultural History of Twin Beds that having separate beds used to be celebrated as a sign of a modern and forward-thinking couple.

If you’re a fan of the TV series The Crown, you’ll have noticed it’s tradition for the royals to sleep apart, too. Now the Daily Mail has revealed that King Charles and Queen Camilla have three bedrooms – one each and one they share to spend time together. 

A royal source tells the paper the couple sleep apart because of the King’s health – he suffers from a bad back, adding: “His Royal Highness has a room with a double bed, decorated to his own taste, then Camilla has her own room with a double bed, decorated just the way she likes it.” 

But if you aren’t a royal, then most couples share a bed. Sleep expert Dr Joshua Roland explains this is most likely because that’s our time for “warmth, safety and bonding with our partner”.

And also, because most people don’t have the luxury of a spare room.

Senior woman asleep in bed on her ownCredit: Shutterstock/Halfpoint
For many years couples slept separately

Is sleeping in separate beds bad for your relationship?

“My parents slept in the same bed when I was growing up,” says Rebecca Frew (Saga Exceptional team member and co-writer of this piece). “But as soon as my brother and I moved out, they suddenly had a lot more room.

“They’d both had restless nights due to the other snoring over the years. So, when my dad suggested sleeping in my old room one night when he had a cold, they both woke up and agreed it was the way forward for them.” 

Bridget Frew (Becky’s mum) says: “The following morning (having slept in separate rooms), we had a chat and agreed we’d both had a wonderful night’s sleep.”   

‘A good night’s sleep makes our relationship stronger’

“That was 15 years ago,” adds John Frew (Becky’s dad). “Aside from the odd night when we’ve had guests or been on holiday, we sleep separately. We’re lucky to have the room and it’s a great way to halt an actual divorce, due to lack of sleep.”

He adds: “Having hit our sixties, we’ve found sleep becomes far more important than anything else to enable us to function throughout the day.” 

Roland agrees that there are benefits to sleeping separately: “Mood is generally improved with a better night’s rest. It can be frustrating if one partner is consistently disrupting the other’s sleep, so sleeping apart is one way to combat that issue,” he says.

Bridget and John Frew together at Chichester HarbourCredit: Bridget and John Frew
John and Bridget Frew enjoy the positive benefits of sleeping separately

If sleeping apart isn’t an option

Of course, not everyone has a spare room to go to, so we’ve got some great expert advice to help you rest better and some sleep hygiene tips.

So, whether it’s separate beds or just some mindful breathing and a dark room – we really hope you find your best sleeping arrangement. 

Separate beds shouldn’t mean separate lives

Approaching the conversation with your partner about sleeping in separate rooms can feel daunting, but the Frews’ advice is: “Make sure you still have that time to speak with your partner like you would usually in bed before you go to sleep. We’ve been together 46 years and never go to bed without having a chat and a kiss goodnight.”  

I heartily agree with them. And, as they say, it’s not just the non-snorer who benefits from you sleeping apart from each other. My partner says he is much more relaxed if he knows I’m not in the bed when he feels he’s having a “snory” night.

“It’s lovely falling asleep together,” he explains, “but knowing you don’t have the pressure of waking up the other person, that does help my sleep too.”

“Talking to each other is key”

“Ultimately, it’s important you both agree it’s something you’re on board with, and make it work for your situation. As Lou is always telling me – it’s all about communication.” 

Roland echoes this by saying: “Talking to each other is key for any relationship.  Trying to come up with solutions that allow all parties to get the sleep they need through open dialogue is important.”

When you start the conversation with your partner, you might find they’re feeling the same way.

Lou Dearden

Written by Lou Dearden

Updated:

A journalist and editor since the ‘90s (when lunches were considerably longer – and louder) she’s written for The Guardian, Total Film, Glamour, Sky and Vogue. She’s also collaborated with huge brands like ASOS, Barclays, House of Fraser and Tesco. Having cut her teeth in the food and drink industry, she’s been lucky enough to visit vineyards and Michelin star restaurants – as well as much less salubrious, but no less fun destinations. And as editor of a film magazine for six years, she’s interviewed stars like Michael Palin, Sandra Bullock, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn.

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