Why Sleeping Apart From My Partner Works for Me as an Introvert

A highly sensitive introvert sleeps apart from her partner

Introverts need plenty of alone time and space to recharge — and for me, that includes when it comes time to sleep, too.

Just as highly sensitive introverts need plenty of time alone to charge our batteries, we also need solid sleep to replenish our energy reserves. Sensitive to our environment, we tend to be light sleepers — we hear pretty much everything, and we’re easily woken by the tiniest things (like when our cell phone lights up from a message notification or someone walks into the room). Factor in our almost-always racing minds, and a deep night of restorative sleep is often elusive for us (even when we’re utterly exhausted).

As a highly sensitive introvert, the only place I can sleep is my own bed. I refuse to do red-eye flights because there’s zero chance I’ll catch any zzzs; no matter how amazing the destination, I’ll be a mess when I arrive (I envy those who can sleep anywhere, at any time; how much easier life must be). It’s ironic how hard it is for me to sleep, given that sleep is the thing I love the most. Plus, we highly sensitive types may need more sleep than the average person due to all the overstimulation in our lives.

Even at home, I’m unable to fall asleep unless my bedroom is completely dark and quiet. Though I live in a tranquil suburb, surrounded by trees and little else, I have not one, but two sound machines running all night, providing layers of white noise to mask any subtle noises I might hear, despite the high decibel ear plugs I sleep with regularly. My bedroom is already dark, but I cover my eyes with a face mask to guarantee no light will creep through.

I’ve been married for almost 10 years, and I’ve slept alone the entire time. Another person’s movements, however slight, prevent me from getting the rest I need, so I have my own bedroom. When it comes to sleep, I know I’m high-maintenance. There’s no way around it. Still, I don’t feel it’s fair to impose my habits on my spouse, who has zero issues with sleep. So sleeping apart from my husband works best for me as a highly sensitive introvert

My Path to a Solid Night’s Sleep

While we were dating, I had less trouble sleeping next to my now-husband. Perhaps it was the thrill of being newly in love. (More likely, it was the Ambien I took at night to be able to sleep by his side. Without it, slumber evaded me, and I wanted so desperately to be “normal.”)

I’d been unable to share a bed with my partner in my previous long-term relationship, too, so we’d resigned ourselves to separating at night, and I always wondered if this contributed to our relationship’s demise. (In retrospect, it didn’t: We had plenty of issues totally unrelated to sleeping apart.)

Not long before my partner and I got engaged, he began snoring. Coupled with his preference for falling asleep with the TV on, our cosleeping arrangement was doomed from the get-go (my need for complete and utter silence wasn’t imagined, but I’m sure it was a pain for him nonetheless).     

At first, we tried to turn off the TV when he began to get drowsy, so he’d be able to quickly fall asleep. That worked out well for him, but as soon as he was off to slumberland, the snoring kicked in, and my struggle began. 

To this day, it takes me at least 30 minutes to fall asleep. As a highly sensitive introvert, it can be challenging to quiet my overactive mind at the end of the day. It isn’t easy for me to unwind even in the quietest environment, so forget about a noisy one. Lying next to my partner, and nudging him to change his position in futile attempts to stop the snoring, I’d ultimately give up and move to our guest room. Doing this every night robbed me of 1-2 hours of sleep, and I woke up feeling less than stellar. So, as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to decide it was better to just start off my night separately so I could get the deep rest my body craved. Soon, the guest room became my room.

With both of us getting sufficient rest, sleeping apart was a no-brainer. I could control my environment the way I needed to — and have my very own introvert sanctuary — and my husband could do the same. Both of us were happy and well-rested. Still, for several years, we had the nagging sense something was wrong with our relationship, and that ultimately, we would work out our different sleeping preferences and compromise enough to share a bed at night. 

As it turns out, it wasn’t so easy, though we certainly gave it the old college try. Highly sensitive introverts need plenty of alone time and space to recharge our batteries. Eventually, my husband and I came to accept the fact that I need space at night, too — but it’s an indication of different sleep requirements rather than deeper marital issues. If anything, ensuring I get the rest we need makes disagreements less frequent. And my extroverted husband now prefers his own sleeping space, too. 

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Sleeping Apart Is More Common Than You Think

If you’re a highly sensitive introvert and can’t share a bed with your partner, please understand there’s nothing wrong with you. As Judith Orloff, MD, writes in The Empath’s Survival Guide, “Sleeping with someone else can be overrated. Most of us spend our childhoods sleeping alone, and then we’re expected to share beds as adults. That’s a hard transition… It’s an expectation created by society that hurts those of us who don’t fit into this stereotype. Give yourself permission to sleep in separate beds, have separate mattresses pushed together, or separate rooms if you need that.” This is also great advice for highly sensitive people and introverts.

Over the years, I’ve encountered surprise and concern from friends and family when they hear about our sleeping arrangements. It’s something I used to loathe speaking about, but as I’ve become more comfortable with the reasons behind it (sleep is a basic need, after all), I discuss it more openly. What I’ve discovered may come as a surprise: My husband and I are far from alone in this decision. 

Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley says that, ideally, couples should sleep apart for optimal sleep. A study he conducted shows sleeping with a partner causes up to 50 percent more sleep disturbances. In addition, more and more couples are choosing to sleep apart for a variety of reasons, and it’s certainly nothing to feel ashamed about. In fact, research suggests a whopping 30-40 percent of couples sleep separately. 

Sleeping apart is perfect for highly sensitive introverts, so if you prefer to get your zzzs solo instead of with your partner, don’t be embarrassed. Instead, embrace your truth and take comfort in knowing you’re receiving a multitude of health benefits from all that good rest. Plus, you’ll have that much more energy the next day as you face all the stimuli that come your way as a highly sensitive introvert.

Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?

Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEARClick here to learn more.

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