Good News: You Don’t Have to Sleep With Your Spouse
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Good News: You Don’t Have to Sleep With Your Spouse

Therapists and sleep scientists say it’s OK for couples to sleep apart, a reversal of a long-held marriage tenet

Mon, Dec 18, 2023 8:58amGrey Clock 3 min

Ever tried to get a good night’s sleep with your partner snoring or tossing around restlessly next to you?

You’re gonna like this: Therapists and sleep scientists say it’s OK for couples to sleep apart as a growing body of research shows the striking importance of sleep. It’s a reversal from the long-held marriage tenet that once partners move to separate beds, the romance is dead.

Sleep is “essential for a healthy body, mind and relationship,” says Wendy Troxel, clinical psychologist, sleep scientist at Rand and author of a book on couples sleeping. “It’s important to prioritise it.”

Therapists have a caveat. If you and your partner do move to separate beds, you need to find a way to continue to be intimate, both emotionally and physically. Co-sleeping provides important benefits for a couple, such as emotional closeness and opportunities for cuddling, sex and conversation. Partners who sleep well together should stick with it.

In the beginning of their marriage, Mark and Paula White shared the same bed. But neither of them was getting a good night’s rest. Paula is a night owl who keeps the TV on, even when she’s asleep. Mark keeps a fan running at the foot of the bed and happily wakes up at 3 a.m.

Once, he flipped over in his sleep and accidentally punched her in the face. Another time, his snoring and “garlicky breath” made her snap and scream: “I can’t breathe! You’re taking my air!”

That was 32 years ago. Since then, the Whites have mostly slept in separate rooms, even choosing separate beds on vacation.

“We’re better people and we have a better relationship because we get better sleep,” says Paula, 60, a business owner in New Albany, Ohio.

When we sleep well, we stave off a host of physical- and mental-health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and depression. Our relationships improve, because we’re less irritable, less frustrated, and better at communication and problem-solving. When we’re cranky, we tend to take it out on the person closest to us.

Better sleep can boost our sex lives, too. One of the main reasons couples stop having sex is because they’re too damn exhausted.

“This is why couples say one of their most satisfying sexual experiences is when they go on vacation,” says Sari Cooper, a certified sex and couples therapist in New York. “They get time to rest.”

Here’s how psychologists suggest you can successfully sleep apart.

Have a conversation

Don’t stomp off out of bed. It could make your partner feel rejected. Both people need to be OK with the arrangement for it to work.

Choose a time when you are both well-rested. Don’t talk about this in the bedroom.

Ask your partner: Are you sleeping OK? Explain that you want both of you to sleep well. Be reassuring that this is about sleep and not attraction.

Don’t blame. Use “I” instead of “you.” Try: “I get cold at night,” not “you are a blanket hog.”

Keep it targeted. This isn’t the time to talk about everything wrong in your relationship. “Stay focused on how you can be a better partner if you are better slept,” Rand’s Troxel says.

Try it part-time

This doesn’t have to be a full-time arrangement. You can sleep apart during the workweek, or take a break when one person is in a bout of insomnia.

This temporary approach is especially helpful when one partner wants to sleep apart and one doesn’t, Troxel says.

Plan regular intimacy dates

When you sleep in separate beds, there are fewer opportunities for spontaneous sex or even just snuggling. “You need to be intentional about creating the seduction, flirtation and planning to make it happen,” says Cooper, the sex therapist.

Pick a day when you know you will be most relaxed and plan to go to bed an hour earlier. (You’ll want energy!) Build the anticipation beforehand. Send a flirty text or leave a note on your partner’s bed.

And remember: Not all intimacy has to be sexual.

Get in bed together for a little bit each night

Cuddle. Watch a movie. Engage in pillow talk. Then say good night and head off to your separate beds.

“You can shoot for the best of both worlds: time awake in bed together and good sleep,” says Zlatan Krizan, a certified sleep scientist and professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

The Whites, who have been married 33 years, sometimes watch a movie in bed and snuggle. When they want to be intimate, they plan a date night or simply visit each other’s bedroom. Sometimes Paula tells her husband, “I’ll leave the red light on for you tonight.” Both spouses say sex is more pleasurable now because they aren’t so tired and tense.

They have one bedtime ritual they never skip, though. They go upstairs together, kneel on each side of Paula’s bed, and say their prayers. Then they kiss good night and head off to their own rooms.

“Now, when we’re together, we know it’s going to be quality time,” Mark, 61, says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

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Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

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Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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