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36% of couples sleep in separate beds: What does the way you snooze reveal about your relationship?

The couple that spoon together stay together [Photo: Getty]
The couple that spoon together stay together [Photo: Getty]

Flat on your back, curled up like a baby, diagonally across the bed, we all have a preference for how we like to sleep.

But what happens when you throw two different sleeping styles into the same bed?

From sleeping in opposite directions to stealing the duvet, there are a whole host of bad bedtime behaviours that could have a massive impact on your sleep and your relationship.

It’s little wonder therefore that recent research by Sealy has found that a whopping 36 per cent of cohabiting couples in the UK now regularly sleep in separate beds.

The top reasons for sleeping apart emerged as trying to escape a partners’ snoring (48%) or their tossing and turning (27%), preferring to have the bed to themselves (20%), or opting to share it with someone other than their partner.

In fact, 10% of those surveyed chose to sleep with their pet instead of their partner. Oh!

The truth is that when we sleep, our subconscious takes over and this means that the body language we use with a partner while we snooze can offer some valuable insight into what’s actually going on in our relationships.

“Our sleeping patterns adapt when we share a bed with a partner,” Erin Berman, sleep and wellness expert at Nectar Sleep. “And our combined sleeping pattern is an important component to a relationship.”

“Whether you sleep spooning or back-to-back, every position can uncover something deeper than surface level and tell a story about your dynamic,” Erin continues.

So here’s the science behind spooning or snuggling.

The Big Spoon

“Like Ying and Yang, big and little spoons are ultimately compatible,” explains Erin. “As one of the most well known sleeping positions, being the big spoon in bed would suggest your role in the relationship is to be protective and caring. You want your partner to feel safe and comforted throughout night, which is what your warmth and body proximity provide.”

The Little Spoon

According to Erin this particular configuration usually reflects the power dynamic of the relationship. “While the big spoon delights in offering safety and guidance, the little spoon delights in being comforted and looked after,” she explains.

What does how you sleep say about your relationship? [Photo: Getty]
What does how you sleep say about your relationship? [Photo: Getty]

The Tanglers

The honeymoon phase of the sleeping positions, the tangle describes the loved-up muddles you and your partner find yourself in – arms interlocked, and legs across each other. Aww.“Couples who find themselves sleeping like this have often recently just met, and this close body contact contributes to a release in oxytocin – the love hormone,” Erin explains.

But the cuteness only works with bed partners who also like to sleep tumbled together. “Tanglers are only compatible with each other,” Erin adds.


Unlike the tanglers, sleeping back-to-back provides minimal body contact between couples. “People who have been together for a longer period of time tend to sleep in this position and it suggests the two of you are in a relationship so strong, that you can support each other’s independence implicitly, be it in life or while sleeping,” Erin says.

Back-to-Back sleepers are compatible with either spoon sleepers and incompatible with Tanglers.

The Snugglers

These sleepers like their partner to take the lead in their relationship. “Being snuggled under your partner’s arm suggests a certain dependency on them, which is usually reciprocated and appreciated by your partner,” explains Erin. It might also suggest that you look to your partner as a safety net in life and the challenges you face.

The Snuggler is compatible with the Tanglers and is incompatible with a Back-to-Back and either of the spoons.

Back to backers are usually confident within their relationship [Photo: Getty]
Back to backers are usually confident within their relationship [Photo: Getty]

The flat-outs

As the name suggests, the flat outs, sleep flat out – be it on their fronts or backs. “Easy-going, they’re happy with their partner in the bed, or not, as they don’t interfere with each other’s sleeping patterns,”Erin explains. “This would suggest that in their relationship they are both relaxed, but safe in the knowledge that their partner is always there.”

Surprisingly, the Flat-outs are compatible with the Snugglers – whilst they sleep independently they’re more than happy to offer an arm.

The Separate bed-ers

Believe it or not sleeping away from your partner can actually work wonders for your relationship and sleep pattern.

According to Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert for Silentnight, there are two kinds of sleeper: a ‘sensitive’ type who wakes at the slightest noise, can’t sleep if they’re stressed and needs their side of the bed and own pillow, and the ‘martini sleeper’ who can nod off anytime, anyplace, anywhere. If you and your partner happen to be opposing types, then there may be times when ‘separate caves’ are needed.

“If you’re worried about getting enough sleep, don’t be ashamed to lovingly negotiate sleeping separately every once in a while,” says Dr Nerina. “The rest of the time, work on sleeping together but have a back up plan. Aim to communicate openly and honestly, but not at two in the morning!”

Dr Nerina says the key is communicating without naming and shaming. “Keep a sense of humour. If you really can’t sleep together, then don’t pressure yourselves to do so, just ensure you have lots of cuddle time and plan intimate moments. This can bring a whole other level of fun into the relationship.”

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