I’m Considering Getting A ‘Sleep Divorce’

The process of making sleeping arrangements separate from one’s partner is officially called a ‘sleep divorce’ by experts. Given how close I was to an actual divorce this time last year, I wish there was a less cynical term for this agreement; but I’m not The Experts, am I?

I’m not sleeping well. The truth is, I haven’t had many good nights’ sleep since I got pregnant in 2004. Sixteen whole years!

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows how much value I place on my sleeping rituals. According to my father, there’s nothing I enjoyed more as a baby than sleeping. I remember being in pre-school/kindergarten and looking forward to recess and the coziness of the cot after a hard session of playing. I grew up sharing a bedroom with my sister until I left for boarding school and got my first taste of what it was like to have a room to myself. That’s when my commitment to sleeping well really took off.

I turned every dorm room and every apartment after that into a sanctuary with pretty pictures on my walls, mood lighting and calming scents. I was such a pleasant person to be around in those days – full of energy and witty conversation. My mind was sharp, my eyes bright. And it was all thanks to the great sleep I was getting in an environment that was uniquely my own! The two major life changes I experienced in the space of a year – child birth and marriage – altered my living circumstances (and therefore my personality)….and I’m not always sure it’s been for the better. The poor sleep I’ve been getting has had a direct affect on my mood and creative abilities, creating a vicious cycle of resentment and disappointment. Rather than just bitch about it, I’ve decided to take the next logical step: Finding another room in the house in which to eek out 9 hours of uninterrupted slumber.

A recent one-week getaway to Oudtshoorn revealed how essential this course of action has become. After casually mentioning that I’d like to take myself on a writing retreat, my husband arranged it for me. The result was 30 pages of manuscript, an additional 20 pages added to my screenplay and the vanishing of the under-eye dark circles that have been a feature since the birth of my first child. I returned from that excursion refreshed and eager to engage with my family. And then that night, I shared a bed with my husband (as one customarily does) and all my enthusiasm evaporated. The articles I’ve been reading about ‘sleep divorce’ say that it is not helpful or healthy to apportion blame, and that the polite explanation is that our “sleeping styles are not compatible.”

An estimated 1 in 4 American couples sleep separately from their partners, with an additional 31% expressing an interest in the arrangement. These are pretty significant numbers, which is comforting for me. It confirms that I am not alone or weird in my thinking. Convention has said that once a couple starts sleeping apart, it’s an indication that their relationship is headed for doom. I distinctly recall one sermon where a pastor said that the marriage bed was called one for a reason, and that it was an abomination for a wife/husband to sleep apart from one another. I was impressionable in those days, and that’s part of the reason I’ve suffered through nearly two decades of horrible sleep in order to ‘preserve my marriage.’

But the fact is, the crappy sleep I’m getting is only doing more damage to my union. Seeing my spouse wake up rested and ready to face his day while I have to spend an hour orienting myself before struggling out of bed has left me disaffected, and some days (like today), flat out angry. I feel like I’m dying. This is not healthy for anyone who lives in my house.

I woke up like this.

In researching some of the sleep divorce options, I’ve discovered that there are several ways to go about it. Some couples share a room, but sleep in separate beds. Others merely create a “pillow wall” to establish boundaries. Some occupy their own private rooms, while others split their time by cohabiting on some days and returning to their own space on the others. The latter is the method I’ve chosen. I’ll be sleeping on the pullout bed in the sitting room Monday – Friday and then return to our bedroom on the weekends, when my mental sharpness is no so critical.  

We’ve talked about sleeping apart before, and it’s not an idea that my husband has been warm to. He’s previously discouraged it. However, this is the first time I’ve committed wholly to the plan and it’s moving forward. To his credit, he’s recently done as much as he can to make our bedroom a place that we can both enjoy and hopefully remain in together – but he can do no more to stop his snoring than I can do to stop being Black. The aesthetic changes can never make the significant differences to make co-sleeping a pleasant reality, no matter how much we might want it. The grim/exciting reality is that sleeping apart is one of the adventures in adulting that no one ever talked us about and is one we will have to confront. Besides, if we were a proper African couple, I’d have my own hut and would only have to see my husband at night when it was time to eat or service him sexually.

The odyssey begins Monday, and I’m looking forward to it.

Hey! While you’re here, let’s work on a project. Can we come up with a better name for this venture? “Sleep divorce” just sounds…ugh. Neither of us is fighting over bedding assets in this process. I’ll just buy new sheets.