Sleep. The final frontier.
I’m a rough customer for the Sandman. I’ve never slept a lot, and I’m such a light sleeper that anything can wake me: a bird welcoming the morning, the cats practicing night ops, even Edna’s quiet, dreamy mumbling. If I get six hours I’m human; seven and a half and I’m a new man.
Edna is the opposite. Eight is not enough. We’re talking 10 hours to make her happy. Nine only gets a grudging smile. But she never gets that much shut-eye during the week, and rarely reaches it on the weekends.
Part of it is how much ‘work’ she has to do to get to bed. I just brush and floss, splash my face, and call it a wash. Edna? Edna has ablutions.
There is special face washing protocol and skin cream follow-ups. There is fluoride flossing and sonic brushing and gum health gargling. To help with her chronic sinusitis battle, asthma inhalers, nasal inhalers, and allergy medications are deployed. I won’t mention the nail clipping.
Worse is the reading. Edna can shuffle past a magazine only to have her nose twitch and her bunny slippers freeze as she catches some racy “Savage Love” headline. She’ll find herself half-undressed and sitting on the edge of the bed when she finishes the article, unsure of where she is.
That’s just an appetizer for the main course: those big, break-your-toe non-fiction books. Books that pull you under their hard, seductive covers, and don’t actually end…until you get to the end. Edna would gobble down one chapter after another—if it weren’t for the big, responsible buzzkill lying in bed next to her.
And we’re just talking about getting into bed, not actually falling asleep. Again, I’m no sleep saint. I have a mouth guard and various pillow supports for chronic athletic injuries (A.K.A., middle age)—but then I’m ready to saw some logs. Even after I’ve taken away Edna’s headlamp, however, she often has to ‘decompress’ from her job doing psychotherapy with kids. Some of the kids’ problems are enough to keep a guy up at night. (And they do! Especially when those problems are ‘shared’ at 1:00 a.m.!)
So cool you’re hot
We also struggle with the classic male/female temperature problem. Edna gets into bed with her hands half-frozen and uses three blankets (and then my ribcage as a hand warmer—Yeow!), while I run hot, usually only needing a single sheet and often waking in a sweat. This is around when my stomach begins complaining. Add Edna’s light sensitivity (even the alarm clock is too bright) to a kid who started to jump on us at 6:15 a.m. on the weekends, and it was getting pretty hard to stay in bed. Fortunately, we’ve been able to cook up a few tricks.
Sound. We now fire-up a rumbling old air filter, which happens to make the perfect white noise. In the summer, a couple of fans do the job. And I can’t even turn out the light without first stuffing in my earplugs.
Light. Edna uses ‘eye pants’ to complete her cocoon. Turns out that a single leg of athletic pants offers a better balance of weight and ‘give’ than those fancy eye masks.
Temperature. Sisters to the ‘eye pants’ are the fleece ‘hand socks’ (who needs gloves?), which keep Edna warm and protect my ribs from shocking ‘accidental’ encounters. We’re also using an oil space heater on Edna’s side of the bed in the winter, and second fan, blowing directly on me in the summer.
Yakity yak. We’ve instituted a ‘no talking about work’ rule—plus, to help avoid having to point out the rule, I always ask earlier in the evening about any stresses Edna might need to share. This has worked wonders.
Hunger. For years I tried to wait out my growling gut, tossing and turning for hours until sleep pulled me under again. But I’ve started to hack my body a little. I now eat a lighter dinner, then take a heavy dose of protein and complex carbs right before bed (yogurt or Grape-Nuts). After big workout days, I’ll even keep a thermos of milk next to the bed to shut my belly up.
When it all becomes too much: I now boldly go where I never went before: into my home office, which now has a day bed and an alarm clock. I’ll start out in the big bed, then move in the middle of the night if I need to. It’s brought me a lot more of those buzzy, blissful Zzzzs.
Our sleep program is a work in progress. Two frustrated pillow plumps for every sweet toss and turn. We’ve found no way to cut down on Edna’s ablutions, for example, but Saturday morning sleeping in has gotten easier now that Ed, Jr. can fly solo with Netflix at 6:00 a.m. Of course, this brings up the bad-parent problem of whether he’s getting too much screen time. But I think I’ll let that sleeping dog lie for another column.
Sean Toren loves living the full catastrophe in Minneapolis with his wife and son. He can be contacted at email@example.com with thoughts or suggestions.