The agony of sleeping together when you have insomnia (and my Ozzie and Harriet solution)

Guestpost by TorchyBlane on Jan 9th

"Life with an insomniac" by: Anita DaltonCC BY 2.0

This post is about sleeping together. GAUCHE! Except, I mean, actual sleeping. As in closing your eyes, turning off your brain, allowing the worries of the day to melt into tiny, infinitesimal oil slicks on the calm sea of your beatific self-possession. Oblivion sneaks over you like the smell of a fart in a conference room, and before you know it you're flying to Magnolia Bakery for red velvet cupcakes in the TARDIS with Joseph Gordon-Levitt until, precisely eight hours later, you awake to the sound of early morning songbirds outside your window like a goddamn Disney princess.

Seriously, fuck those people.

I'm an insomniac. Not in the cool way. I'm not staying up because I'm punk and badass, or my thoughts are too deep to be constrained to your bourgeois daylight hours. I'm talking about the kind of insomnia that sees me refreshing websites that don't update at night, over and over, because I am too tired to concentrate enough to navigate to actual content. The kind of insomnia that can play Tetris for seven straight hours and never get past level ten. The kind where I've occasionally laid in bed actually crying because I want to sleep so, so badly.

This is my whole life, basically — certainly my life past puberty. When I took my GREs I hadn't slept in three days. I got the scores back and literally didn't even know I had taken the test, which was awesome because I drove to it. I have ground most of the enamel off my teeth because the mouthguard my dentist gave me keeps me awake. Everything keeps me awake. When the cat drinks from her bowl in the kitchen, the sound of her tongue keeps me awake in the bedroom.

And now I have a fiance.

If Disney had made a princess movie starring a 6'4" tattooed guy with a beard and glasses and enough muscle to pick up a couch with one hand, that princess would sleep the way my fiance does. When he has to fly at 5am, he'll say things like, "Well, we should leave the house at 3am, so I'm going to go to bed at 7:30 tonight so I have enough sleep." Then he puts his dinner dish in the sink, brushes his teeth, packs his suitcase, lays down in bed and actually does it. I've never seen him take more than five minutes to fall asleep — and I've had ample opportunity, as we've lived together for two years and in that time I've never once fallen asleep before him.

He's not a perfect sleeper (he's occasionally sleepwalked, and sleeps very lightly) but every time he wakes up he just falls right back to sleep. It's enraging enough to make me occasionally — usually around 5am when I'm just sitting in bed waiting for his alarm to go off — wonder if he'd nod off so easily with a mouthful of fist. (Spoiler alert: I've never actually punched him, but I think the answer would be yes.)

Being an insomniac is bad enough. Being an insomniac in love with a good sleeper is its own special kind of torture. Here's a nightly schedule:

  • 10:30. Fiance, who works an early schedule, goes to bed. I go in with him for cuddling, because I want him to at least associate some positive thoughts with me and bed, and we both know what's coming.
  • 10:35. Fiance falls asleep. I do the routine; make sure his blankets are good, refill his water glass, turn off the radio. That sounds '50s housewife, yes, but I know if I don't the guilt later will be enough to keep me awake even more.
  • 10:40. My night life begins. The first three hours are me trying to tire myself out. I do mentally taxing activities — writing, video games, money management, a fair amount of wedding planning. I try to make schedules and get a little ahead on work so my anxiety will have fewer anchorages to latch onto later.
  • 2am. I start trying to wind myself down with Sleep Literature tricks — yoga, directed thinking, breathing exercises.
  • 3:30. The tricks haven't worked, and I've thought of at least four things I still need to do. I figure, why not do them now, since I'll just obsess about them anyway?
  • 4am. Go to bed. Fiance is woken up by: me opening the door, me opening the pajama drawer, me getting into bed, every microscopic motion I make once I'm in bed. Some of the wakings are accompanied by him getting more blankets or getting a drink, which means he's awake longer and I feel bad. Sometimes they're accompanied by him asking sleepily, "You need anything, babe?" which just stab me in the heart already, why don't you.
  • 4:30am. Sleeping in here isn't happening; I've been lying as stiff as a cadaver listening to his breathing with my teeth gradually turning into cornmeal. Either I stay in this position, my muscles freezing in shape, for another hour until his alarm goes off, or I go lay on the futon. Most nights I go lay on the futon.
  • Sometime during the next day. Him to me: "Hey babe, I'm sorry if I wasn't much fun to sleep next to last night. What can I do? I hate seeing you sleeping out on the futon." And then my heart breaks forever.

Recently, I've gotten a job that gives me proper benefits, and as it turns out, we live in a region with a few really good sleep specialization centers. So I'm finally biting the bullet and getting some tests done — probably an MRI and I might sleep for a few nights in a university basement with Science Pads glued to my head. But gradually I've been wanting one solution more than anything else, even more than strong drugs (which is saying something, because I really want strong drugs): Separate beds, like Ozzie and Harriet.

I get my own blankets, I don't have to feel like every time I roll over I'm ruining his sleep, and we get to be in the same room every night in touching distance.

I finally sat the fiance down and discussed it with him. I had no idea how he'd react — I mean, how weird is that? This is literally a piece of furniture that is not made for adults. We would have to buy children's beds and probably decoupage over the vinyl Buzz Lightyear decals with pages from Dwell. Plus, there's the rejection factor. What if he thought I meant I didn't want to sleep with him, you know, in the Biblical sense, anymore? What if he thought it meant I was subconsciously disgusted by him? What if it made him resent me? What if this was the death knell that would be the end of all our joy, and I'd spend the rest of my life alone on my tiny twin bed, looking across the nightstand at what might have been?

His response? "Oh man, could we maybe get bunk beds? That'd be SWEET!"

I love this man. And I guess this will work out.

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About TorchyBlane

My name is Sarah and I am the editor of a weekly newspaper in Salem, Massachusetts -- yes, Salem, with the witches. It's a fantastically weird and welcoming place, and I'm grateful every day that I ended up here -- not least of which because moving to the Boston area introduced me to my wonderful fiance, Mike. Our favorite things to do together are write -- I'm a journalist and also a published sci fi short story writer, and he's an aspiring young adult novelist halfway through a five book series of steampunk girl detective adventures. We also love cooking extremely elaborate things, and every year we throw a 'Meat-a-bration,' with dueling grills where everyone tries to outdo each other with exotic meats.

http://tribe.offbeatbride.com/members/torchyblane