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Many couples who share a bed sleep great together. In fact, some recent research from Europe found that bed-sharing partners tend to enjoy significantly improved sleep, namely longer and more stable REM sleep (essential for things like learning and emotional processing). But for countless others, sleeping in the same bed with their significant other can be tough. Anyone with a sleep partner knows that snoring, tossing and turning, blanket-hogging, and insomnia on one or both sides of the bed can result in trouble falling and staying asleep. And ultimately this can take a serious toll on both the relationship and sleep (and by extension their overall physical and mental health).
Sure, these underslept and frustrated couples could consider dabbling in a sleep divorce—the practical solution of sleeping in separate spaces for the sake of adequate rest and sanity. But there might be another way to improve shut-eye without splitting off into different rooms every night: the Scandinavian Sleep Method. Here’s how this simple sleep style works, plus the pros and cons of giving it a try, according to sleep experts.
What is the Scandinavian sleep method?
Hailed for its purported sleep benefits, the Scandinavian sleep method is a popular practice originating from Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and is also common in other parts of Europe, such as Germany and Iceland. The basic concept: Partners sleep in the same bed together, but don’t share one, individual duvet or comforter. Instead, each gets his or her own blanket. Genius, right? (And if you’re really serious about trying this strategy, you’ll forgo a top sheet, too, like many Scandinavians do—though that’s a hot-button debate for folks here in the U.S.)
So, why does having separate duvets seem to be an effective trick? Studies have found that sleeping in the same bed with the same comforter as your partner can actually result in 30 percent more interrupted sleep. And it’s pretty telling that Scandinavian countries tend to rank as some of the highest in terms of sleep quality. For example, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden rank in third, fourth, and sixth place for sleep and overall quality of life, according to a Lifestyle Index by Sleep Junkie, whereas the U.S. ranks 87th in the lineup of countries with a balanced lifestyle.
How can you both benefit from the Scandinavian sleep method?
It eliminates potential sleep disturbances.
Simply put, the more opportunities for sleep disturbances in your environment (think: ambient light, noises, movement, and so on), the more likely you are to sleep poorly. And fragmented sleep can impact mood, increase daytime sleepiness, impair physical and cognitive functioning, and even cause more serious health problems down the line, like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Why are we so sensitive to the slightest moves in bed? Danielle Kelvas, M.D., sleep expert and chief medical advisor at Sleepline, explains that it all boils down to evolution. “When we lived as hunter-gatherers in the wild, we were most at risk from predators during sleep,” she says. “This is why many people experience anxiety or ruminations before falling asleep, or have such difficulty staying asleep. Even the slightest touch or nudge can be enough to wake someone, which is what kept us alive.”
That’s great if your kids wake you up to let you know they’re sick or there’s an intruder in the house—not so great when it’s just your spouse rolling over (and over) and pulling the covers away with them. The Scandinavian sleep method is a low-lift way to help reduce the common disruptions that arise when sharing a bed, says Zeke Medina, PharmD, certified adult sleep consultant with Live Love Sleep.
“Couples who sleep together using a larger sheet and comforter tend to move, roll, and yank the blankets from the other person in the bed,” he explains. “If you’re a light sleeper, this can cause you to wake up and be frustrated.” With a shared bed layer, you’re also more likely to be roused by movements like your partner getting up in the middle of the night or for their earlier wake-up time.
It helps you maintain the right sleep temperature for you.
Sharing a comforter can affect sleep temperature, which plays a huge role in how well you sleep. Being able to cool down in particular, Medina says, is essential for sleep quality and quantity. “If you get hot, your body will have trouble sleeping or staying asleep,” he says. “This can reduce your sleep quality and could interfere with daytime alertness.”
Since many couples have different sleep temperature preferences, using separate duvets can help each bed partner create their own personalized mini-sleep environment without disturbing the other’s. One partner, for example, could opt for a lighter quilt if they run extra-warm, while the other burrows down in a heavier duvet.
It’s the perfect compromise for bed-sharing couples.
At the end of the day (literally), if you don’t want to sleep in separate rooms, this is probably the most ideal solution to meet in the middle. “Sleeping next to your loved one with separate blankets seems to be a better alternative to something like a ‘sleep divorce,'” Medina adds, “in which you and your partner sleep in either separate beds or separate rooms.”
So, what’s the downside?
The Scandinavian sleep method may promote sound sleep, but some people find one drawback to be its effect on intimacy. If you do give it a try, you could overlap duvets slightly before going to bed or share one duvet until you’re both fully ready to nod off.
Making the bed might also become a slightly longer process, though hopefully that’s not a deal-breaker if your goal is more sleep (you can do it!). And the most obvious con is probably the expense of buying two separate blankets. Your budget is your budget, but Medina does reiterate that “it’s worth a try” if you’re serious about getting better sleep together without giving up and moving to separate rooms or beds.
Bottom Line: It’s probably worth it.
Ready to give the Scandinavian sleep method a try? It honestly couldn’t be easier: You’ll want to purchase two twin-size sheets and/or comforters—one for each bed partner. Opt for bedding that works for your individual preferences, factoring in your ideal level of warmth/blanket weight, favorite fabric, and even thread count. To take it one step further, remove any top sheet—or even sleep on two separate, but close-together mattresses, but many people simply choose to go with two individual comforters or duvets.
Ultimately, Medina says it’s definitely worth the investment and the few extra steps, particularly if you’re a light enough sleeper who’s roused by the slightest tug of the blanket or other movement.
“I’m moving to a Scandinavian sleep model myself,” he adds. “My wife is very cold at night, and I avoid comforters since I get hot very easily. The AC is set to a temperature that I feel comfortable in with just a bedsheet and thin quilt, [and] my wife sleeps with a bed sheet and comforter.”