My husband is working at a place where everyone wears masks. I am higher risk & retired… Should he be sleeping in a separate room from me?

Families Infection and Spread Staying Safe

A: When bed partners have varying degrees of risk of exposure and vulnerability to the disease, it’s worth discussing sleeping in separate spaces.

The Nerdy Girls call this COVID Bed Spread.

Here are some benefits to sleeping apart from other household members:

1.) REDUCED RISK OF VIRAL EXPOSURE (in both directions). Spending six or more hours of your night in close proximity to another person’s face poses a risk of viral exposure through respiratory droplets and shared air. Remember, many people are asymptomatic for a few days after they are infectious, so you may not know if you or your bed partner is infectious until it is too late.

2.) BETTER SLEEP. If your bed partner snores or tosses in the night, getting a quiet and still place to rest your head will likely improve your sleep, and bring with it a host of psychological and health benefits, including boosted immunity.

3.) BETTER RELATIONSHIPS. Dr. Wendy Troxel, Senior Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation, suggests that this nighttime separation can have a positive influence on daytime relationships for some couples. If you are sleep deprived, you are less able to see things from your partner’s perspective and more likely to engage in conflict. “Couples are experiencing more ‘togetherness’ than ever before, while at the same time experiencing increased stress levels due to the pandemic. This can breed tension and conflict in the relationship, which is made worse by sleep deprivation. For some couples, sleeping apart, even temporarily, can provide that needed sense of space, and can benefit the relationship, if it means both partners are sleeping better.”

4.) ALONE TIME. Sharing a household during a pandemic can sometimes feel like you never get any quiet time to yourself, especially for those of us with families. Even getting 20-30 minutes before falling asleep where you are all by yourself could allow you to meditate, read, stretch, or finish up some boring household tasks. Just try not to use that time doomscrolling on Facebook.

It should go without saying that if you (or your bed partner) are sick or have symptoms, the answer to this question is a resounding YES. Do not share a bed if somebody is sick. The CDC provides advice on what to do if you get sick and how to isolate from other household members.

Of course, if you and your bed partner are both low risk and are able to get sufficient restorative sleep while sharing a bed, continue practicing social distancing during the day, and rest easy knowing that you can snuggle up safely together at night.

Finally, we’ll note that there’s no one-size-fit-all strategy for couple sleeping arrangements. Talk openly with your bed partner about finding the optimal sleeping plan for your specific circumstances and needs.

For more reading about how couples sleep, check out Dr. Troxel’s forthcoming book.

Term Credit: We created the term COVID Bed Spread after an exchange on Twitter, rethinking an alternative for the phrase Sleep Divorce.

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