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Community Episode 2: Filing For A Sleep Divorce? (Listener Question)

What do you do if your sleep problem is lying right next to you?

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Sleep divorce… it sounds serious. But for some, it’s the only way to stay in a relationship. Studies show that when one partner’s snoring or tossing and turning keeps the other person up, the relationship suffers. But breaking up the marital or couple’s bed can be seen as taboo, and scary. Because, after all, couples are supposed to sleep together and enjoy it, right? But what if sleeping separately is the key to a happy relationship? Before you run for the spare bedroom, listen in to our sleep expert.

Learn more and submit your own sleep questions at www.vox.com/areyousleeping

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Read Community Episode 2 Full Transcript Below

[MUX IN: THEME MUSIC]

Photo credit: Sela Shiloni

KATE [VO]: I’m Kate Berlant and this is “Are You Sleeping?”, a podcast from the sleep experts at Mattress Firm and Vox Creative.

Sharing a bed can be nice. Cuddles, pillow talk, the comfort of knowing the one you love is nearby if, you know, anything should go bump in the night. So, it’s especially hard when the person who shares your bed is also the one causing you to lose precious sleep.

Today, we have another question from you, one of our listeners, and this one’s a toughie. How do you know if it’s finally time for a so-called sleep divorce?

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JESSICA: Hi, this is Jessica, and my partner has the worst sleeping habits. He snores like a bear and thrashes in his sleep, which keeps me up all night almost every night. And I’ve been told the best solution is to sleep in separate beds, but I’m not willing to lose that intimacy of sleeping in the same bed just yet. Is there anything we can do that doesn’t involve separate bedrooms?

KATE [VO]: Huh, yeah, I mean, the idea of sleeping in separate bedrooms is taboo for a lot of couples and it can bring up feelings of shame, and rumors of a relationship on the rocks. So, I totally get that it can be scary to even talk about. So, first of all, just thank you for your question, Jessica.

Luckily, we’ve got our sleep expert, Dr. Shelby Harris, here. And she’s a cognitive behavioral therapist in New York, who treats all kinds of sleep issues. So, Shelby, first of all, what do you think of this thing called sleep divorce?

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: I personally hate that term because it’s very negative.

KATE: Yeah!

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Shelby Harris

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: And it makes people feel like they’re giving up on their relationship. I look at it the opposite way. I see them as investing in their relationship because they’re going to be less resentful towards one another, feel better during the day because they’re both actually sleeping.

When I tell people as a psychologist, sleep separately, it’s going to make your life so much better. You can see the weight, like, lifted off their shoulders. It’s really amazing.

KATE: Yeah, so, snoring is super common. And I’m guessing that means there are tons of people out there who are just like Jessica, who are struggling to sleep through all of that noise.

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: The first thing I always say for things like that is, you know, good luck trying to sleep when you have, [mimics snort/snoring], like happening constantly throughout the night and it’s not easy to habituate or get used to that kind of noise because it comes and goes at varying times and anyone who tries to power through it, good luck.

[MUX IN: Snoring noises]

KATE: Yeah, now in our high tech world, there are all kinds of sleep hacks that deal with snoring, like, noise-canceling headphones or sound machines or even these funny-looking shirts with balls on the back to force snorers to sleep on their side. But I’m sure for some people, the solution is even more complicated than that.

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: If that’s still not enough, right, and if there’s pauses and gasps in the night, that needs to be evaluated, right? Because that can lead to longer term health consequences. In many cases, it’s sleep apnea.

We’re talking about someone’s long-term health. We’re talking about a relationship, a couple that wants to invest in keeping each other healthy, ideally. So if the person who’s being bothered by the sleep comes at it as, “I notice that you’re not breathing at night at times, and it worries me and I want to make sure we can keep you as healthy as possible. Can we please try and at least go and get a sleep study?”

But then, there’s the other flavor of people that I tend to get where the significant other is, “I don’t snore” or “it’s not a problem” or they’re not willing to do anything about it.

KATE: Yeah.

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: This is all you. You’re just too sensitive to it, it’s about, then it’s more of a respect issue, right? Then it’s much more of a couple’s issue, that why is this person not valuing their health and valuing my health in this relationship? What is going on here in the longer term? And that’s definitely a discussion that I think needs to be had and sometimes people need to end up in couples therapy for stuff like that.

KATE: Wow.

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: And finally, when we get to the divorce part of it, right? I think if you’ve tried everything and you just can’t sleep through it yourself and the other person just making the noise, then I personally will recommend to people to sleep separately.

And it doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex, you can’t cuddle. Do all those things that you want to do to have time together before you actually choose to go to sleep. And then when it’s time to choose, when you choose to go to sleep, you go to your separate spaces.

KATE: It sounds like heaven.

DR. SHELBY HARRIS: Because you slept better. And it really can be a lifesaver.

Sometimes I hear people say they’re having more sex, and then the biggest thing is that, “I just have more energy. I have more time to do things during the day because I’m not so tired.”

When they’re sleeping separately, what I most often hear, if it’s a choice that they both made together, that’s the key: Our relationship is definitely improving because we’re not mad at each other, there’s less resentment.

You will feel so much better for it in the long run.

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KATE [VO]: So maybe a sleep divorce can prevent a real divorce. And I like that. Because we all need our sleep to be happy partners.

Thanks to Doctor Shelby Harris for her expertise, and to Jessica, for her question.

Do you have a question or story for us? Head over to VOX DOT COM SLASH ARE-YOU-SLEEPING, and drop us a note — we’d love to hear from you.

We’ll see you in two weeks with a brand new, full-length episode of “Are You Sleeping?”.

KAMERON: Sleeping in the car like all the time, it’s not comfortable, no. Every part of your psychic, just feels raw and you’re kind of just not, you never feel comfortable. You never feel relaxed.

“Are You Sleeping?” is brought to you by the sleep experts at Mattress Firm and produced by Vox Creative. Don’t forget to subscribe and share with people who might enjoy the show!

“Are You Sleeping?” is an informational podcast and does not substitute medical advice. Contact your doctor if you’re seeking medical advice on your sleeping habits.

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