Earlier this week, my partner slept until three in the afternoon. I had been up since nine in the morning. On top of that we went to sleep at different times.
When he came out of the bedroom, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Good morning” in spite of the late hour. Though his wake-up was particularly late that afternoon, this is how a typical “morning” looks for us. We both work from home 70 percent of the week, which means we can design our own schedules, and over the nearly six years we’ve been together, this is how we’ve chosen to spend our time.
But it’s not been without resistance. Growing up, we all received messages about what a partnership is supposed to look like and many of those images relied on a shared bed time.
Even when Lucy and Ricky were sleeping in separate twins, they were still pictured as going to sleep at the same time.
Sleeping together is a sign of intimacy, but my partner and I do not go to bed at the same time. We haven’t for nearly six years.
This often means that we do not look like a typical couple. Sometimes, people treat us — and our union — as immature (or on the rocks) simply because we do not fall asleep together. But that’s not true.
The way in which our culture defines a partnership has been changing, but we still seem stuck on that bedtime.
So here’s a short list why going to bed at different times may actually be better for you and your relationship.
1. Our brains may be designed that way.
I’m not a doctor, but Louann Brizendine is (a neuropsychiatrist to be exact). And in her best-selling books about the male and female brain, she explores all the ways in which our hormones influence our behaviors.
In The Male Brain, she devotes a few paragraphs to discussing sleep patterns, finding that the testosterone receptors in a man’s brain reset later at night, which then causes him to sleep later in the morning than female counterparts. So your husband staying up late to play video games may not actually be entirely his fault. His hormones made him do it.
Brizendine has been criticized intensely for work, effectively providing a “big, fat 262-page excuse” for men. But I don’t think that’s a whole story. Brizendine’s books do not provide excuses, but merely explanations as to why it may be difficult for a couple to go to bed at the same time.
Hormones are powerful forces that we cannot reason with, but we can change our behaviors and attitudes to the night-time departure and find new ways of being intimate other than sleep.
2. It helps your hormones.
Cortisol (stress hormone), adrenaline (fight or flight hormone) and oxytocin (feel good hormone) all influence us in the waking world, but they can also affect the good or bad dreams we have at night.
As another study found, sex — which releases oxytocin — may help women sleep deeper and better. Staying in the bed right after sex, though, is completely optional.
3. It’s better for your sex life.
Even if the science is wrong and we simply don’t know enough about our brains and hormones yet, intimacy in the sheets does not need to depend on sleeping together.
We rely so heavily on the euphemism “sleeping together” to prompt sex and structure our intimate life, but we don’t need to. We can prompt sex in other ways (by having a date night, for instance).
This type of prompting can be especially relevant for lesbian couples who have started to experience “bed death.”
Instead of lying in bed at night and waiting to fall asleep (and gradually watching your sex life slip away), schedule a time to connect. Change your routine.
If your sex life is boring, sometimes all you may need is to have different bed times in order to make your heart — and libido — grow stronger.
4. It’s improves intimacy.
This may seem like repeating the previous point, but it’s not. Sex is great and fun no matter the relationship you’re in (obviously), but breaking up your bed time is a true test of your emotional and intimate strength because you now no longer rely on the standard set time for intimate acts.
Everyone sleeps, so there’s always a prompt for romantic actions. But now that the shared bedtime is removed, it means you have to start getting creative.
When I’m not there in the morning to wake up my partner with coffee and “good morning” (no matter the time), I leave him coffee and a note.
He and I both make a point not get up too early or sleep too late in order to have a solid amount of waking time together, and a solid amount of time sharing the bed at night.
Sleeping alone is easy for me, but waking up without him in the bed is hard. And while he is used to waking up alone, going to sleep without me there affects him the same way. We find moments and routines that work for us, and we fall in love from there.
5. Sleeping separate is more economical.
My partner and I started to sleep separately more regularly — and keep it up — partly because our jobs demanded it. We’re not the only ones.
Those who engage in shift work, or the new “gig economy,” do not have stable bed times and do not always have the luxury of sleeping with their partner at night.
Instead of feeling bad about not having a shared bedtime if you take that extra shift, take it.
Make the money that you need in order to support your coupling, but also be sure that the other partner has the space and support to sleep.
Black out curtains, some melatonin, and a quiet room in the house, and you feel just as supported as having your partner next to you at night, and you have the extra work to fall back on as well.
6. It makes you more productive.
Because I know that my partner sleeps later than me, it means that I have three hours (roughly) to myself before he wakes up. So I use those three hours like a maniac and make sure to complete my most important tasks.
When I go to sleep at night, he unwinds and allows his mind to relax, but until then, he motors through what he needs to do (especially if it’s loud) because he knows I need to sleep.
Finding that rhythm takes time and it becomes even more interesting when you have kids, but it’s possible. The sun rising and setting does not signal productivity, only your actions do.
When I say “good morning” to my partner, in spite of the afternoon hour, I’m opening his day for productivity, like his saying “goodnight” to me is the signal to close for the day, even if the sun’s been set for a while and he’s not going to bed just yet.
7. It boosts creativity.
People never used to sleep eight hours straight. In fact, they used to wake up in the middle of the night, do something creative, and go back to bed.
There have been dozens of articles written on the benefits of too much or too little sleep and creativity, but what I think each one of these articles on “broken sleep” is getting at here is that alone time is necessary for creativity.
Waking up by yourself, and maybe sipping coffee as you slowly wake up, allows your mind to clear. You start to become imaginative. My best ideas come out in this way, while his tend to come out at night, since he’s a nighthawk.
There is science to back this up as well, but the point is still the same: Taking the time by yourself allows for creativity, but doing that during the day can be difficult. There is always something to do. But when the world — or that person who is your world — is asleep, then everything seems possible.
The way in which we define love is changing, but some of our actions still seem stuck in the past. Going to sleep at the same time isn’t bad or good, but merely incidental to the love that exists in a couple.
The last benefit of not sharing a bed time — especially for my partner and I — is that when we finally do share one, it’s still a new experience.
It makes every vacation that much more special, and each kiss snuck in the dark that much more exciting, and each moment of waking together that much more like falling in love.
Evelyn Deshane is a writer whose work has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Bitch Magazine, among other publications. Visit evedeshane.wordpress.com for more info.