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

Guest post by TorchyBlane

“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.

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

  1. Several couple friends of mine sleep separately and my husband and I do, also. I am a light sleeper, and my husband snores and moves around a lot. Plus, we prefer different kinds of mattresses. We are so much happier having gotten a good night’s sleep. It’s NOT weird. I think more and more couples are doing this. And we still have a healthy sex life.

  2. Thank you for writing this! My insomnia started as a kid, sometime around late elementary/early middle school when I was homeschooled and slept on the couch a whole late, staying up late and falling asleep in front of bad movie marathons (I’m still way better at falling asleep with the TV on than laying down in bed with the lights off… that’s like a recipe for becoming instantly wide awake for me, and my husband just goes right to sleep). I have bought ear plugs (because the sound of him breathing/very lightly snoring keeps me awake), I frequently open a window during winter because if it’s too hot I can’t sleep, and I’ve tried counting sheep and focusing on my breathing (which the ear plugs help with; you can still sort of hear things but if you breath deeply then all you hear is your own breathing, and the sound of your breathing blocks out the faint external noise!), but basically I’m at a point where when insomnia hits, I get up, read Savage Love, noodle around a few specific websites, work on budget planning if money is stressing me out, and end up sleeping on the couch–most comfortable couch ever. My husband mostly understands, and feels a little bad, but the couch system works pretty well. Now that I have a more active part-time job, I’m exhausted enough to sleep more often, too; so all that nonsense about exercising helping insomnia may have a little bit of a point (it doesn’t hurt, anyway).

  3. I really enjoyed this post. I am (usually) the one asleep, and it is so great to hear what the other side is like. I am the one who goes to bed early for work, my partner comes in to say good night. Most of the time (but not always), I fall asleep right away, and he is the one up in the other room probably trying to tire his mind, before he lays in bed for a few hours, finally falling asleep at 4 am or something of that sort.

    Sometimes I wake up and say “hi” when he comes in the room. I barely know I’m doing it, and then I fall asleep again. I never really understood why he doesn’t want me to do that, but now I do.

  4. Did you end up getting separate beds? I am looking for articles and any info that I can give to my gf. We have been living together less than a year and she is just starting to experience my insomnia. It comes and goes. I haven’t had it this bad in more than a year, but in the past couple of weeks, it’s been bad. I am looking for a good way to explain it all to her, so we can have a conversation where she gets what she needs in terms of sleep, I can do my best to get what I need, and neither of us end up feeling bad about it.

    Thanks!

  5. My girl friend and I are good sleeper and she normally dose off as soon as it’s 10-11pm every night and wake up as early as 7-6AM.Recently she lost her job which got her depressed and I have been around to support her financially,emotionally n spiritually as well.I’ve encouraged her to be strong and hopeful that better job awaits ahead for her since she lost the job just because the boss want her ass but she refused.She’s a single mom and today she cried so much cause of her love for the job though I talked to her to never cry again since am still there for her that I will continue to cover all the bills,food and shopping, like I do since I met her though she’s now resenting the anger on me since she cannot sleep all the night,slamming d door and telling me all sorts of bad words which she used to tell me when she didn’t get what she want not because I am the cause but simply cause she feel that I don’t care for her,don’t love her,don’t need her anymore,telling me off until I woke up though we have had several fights that falls through day and nights sometimes and whenever she didn’t get what she want,the next thing is open the door and go back to her house which I rented and pay for her badmouthing and saying that I never value or treats her well nor even make her vital to my life even though I told her at the start that I don’t like to sleep and wake up at the middle of night nor couldn’t sleep 6 -7 hr cause if I fail to sleep well throughout the night,I will have serious headache that wouldn’t let me do anything.I have wanted to break up with her but I have reason she will take her life if I do.Pls It seem like am trapped because I used to have me time and enjoy my life as a single young man but since this girl came into my life,I now have to be unhappy mostly 6 days a week.I have been enduring this for 8 months but the latest insomnia is the thing I couldn’t agree anymore because I have told her to stop worrying about anything concerning the job that I will do everything till she gets another job and will continue to do my best even after she get the job cause I do love her precisely but I need happiness and less finger pointing to be able to handle my own disturbing life challenges.Pls help me .I need serious advice on this urgently.

  6. “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.” – This is a large part of the problem, doing all these stressful things right before bed. Find yourself a good fiction book and read that instead, and get all this other stuff done earlier in the day/evening.

  7. Thanks for the perspective. In my relationship I’m the asshole who falls asleep in five minutes, except I also sleep very heavily. My partner is a terrible insomniac and it’s taken years for me to accept it has nothing to do with me.

    I’ve just accepted that he only stays over once in a blue moon, and that I just shouldn’t ask if he got any sleep because the answer is always no.

    Any advice for partners of insomniacs?

  8. Hey so question for those with insomnia. There’s a girl I fancy and Wondering what I might get her as a gift. Either A) an actual gift, perhaps a bed warmer. or B) A sleep mask with two holes cut out of it. Maybe both?

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