Today's installment of You and Me, & Sleep: Tales of Love and Slumber is a very special extended episode! And unlike that D.A.R.E.-sponsored story arc of Saved by the Bell when Jessie Spano took too many caffeine pills, in this one - as in Part I - you might actually learn something, as Kate Johnson and her husband Stuart Newman delightfully weigh in on their conflicting bedtimes, and the compromises this nocturnal dilemma has wrought.
To put it another way, let me say that we are happy to present a very special bedtime story with heart and humor. And/or, in the immortal words of Jessie Spano, I'M SO EXCIIIIIITED!
My husband is a kind man, an affable, ebullient man, the life of all parties. And so it comes as a surprise when I tell people that after 10pm he shuts off, loses patience, becomes an impossible grouch. He’ll shake a frozen computer, crash dishes against each other in the sink, ward off music or the blue light of a cell phone as if they transmitted Hepatitis. (I am much the same way before 10am.)
At how many parties and dates would we shine all evening, joking, flirting. We’d come home after, me giggly and lipsticked and happy at last to have him all to myself, him somehow already brushing his teeth and setting the alarm clock as we unlocked the door to our apartment.
His late-night moodiness is in part because he wakes up early to catch his car share, which departs at 7:12am. (Within that car are the United Kingdom’s finest economists and statisticians; precision is important, and depreciation of the car is factored into the cost along with petrol and tolls.) Just seeing the clock strike 11 and knowing he’ll have less than seven hours in bed is enough to make him psyche himself out of a fulfilling, deep sleep. But even without the car share, he’s militant about maintaining good and proper sleep habits. It’s a touchy subject.
It’s appropriate that I write this now after midnight, after his Lumie lamp has long since settled him into slumber. On nights like this, without his good influence, I’ll stay awake until 2 or 3am, finding new things for my brain to do – organize my various clippings, paint a fennel, read manuscripts, eat peanut butter from the jar, wash the spoon. Eat more peanut butter, wash the second spoon. He’ll snort as I step over him on my way in, then look at the clock and mutter a reprimand. I’ll curse myself when I wake up the next morning wearing paint, having to function on normal business hours. But I’ll have fallen swiftly and easily into those few hours of sleep, and I’ll merrily repeat the process again the next night, without his good influence.
On other nights, I crawl into bed with him – at the same time, but inevitably delaying his intended bedtime with my pottering – for a chance to put my head on just the right spot of his shoulder and feel his hand stroke my hair until his whole body falls peacefully still.
And then I squirm around a little to nudge him awake for more hair-stroking. I start in on all sorts of anti-social behaviour –rubbing my cold feet against his warm but ticklish ones, seeing how long he’ll tolerate me clutching one of his ear lobes, or asking politely if I could, say, tap on his front teeth. This means, basically, that his last thoughts of me are of irritation, but I get my extra moment with him, sometimes even enough extra moments to tire myself out, too. Or to exasperate him enough for me to worry that unwanted earlobe-holding is grounds for divorce, and thus scare myself stiff and silent next to him. He seems to forgive me by the morning.
Theoretically, the solution for such a couple is a median bed time – to say, compromise at midnight – but that knocks both of us slightly off of our body clocks. Since he cares more about it, and seems to need (or, respect) a sleep routine more than I do, I try my best to work around it – which is less “working around,” and more choosing whether to sleep a lot or a little, depending on the day.
Still, I’m not good at it. I’ll want to show him that one last Beyonce video before bed. I’ll ask him to please squeeze each of my fingertips before closing his eyes. “No weird stuff tonight,” he told me recently, on the eve of a particularly stressful work day.
He’s informed me that my reward for letting him sleep is that if he’s with it enough in the morning, he makes me green tea. As an economist, he should know that this isn’t incentive enough. Green tea is fairly easy to prepare, even for me, even before 10am. We argue about it (his crankiness, my rage-inducing habits), and I asked him if we’ll ever solve this dilemma. He said no, but it’s OK, we love each other (before 10pm). I suppose that’s reassurance enough to rest easy.
My wife is a caring woman. She's charming, funny, intelligent. Yet these qualities are at their least acute in the three to five hours after sunrise. Whereas the mornings are my most productive hours, they are a daily drudge for her and one that she overcomes about every 24 hours or so.
It's not as though she loses her charm entirely - she often comes up with pithy, endearing one liners to let me know how terrible life is at that particular point - but she does find it difficult to see beyond the 20 minutes required to fully wake up.
For my part, I try to help. I let her slumber (I won't flush the toilet unless she's up and I readily get dressed in the dark), hold off on anything that requires her to think too much and I endeavour to make her green tea (her preferred morning stimulant, before moving on to coffee) before heading to work. Yet these are small efforts and learned behaviours that one might expect from a happy marriage.
On the other side of our sleeping hours, my wife must put up with my capricious temper, which rarely flares in public yet shows itself at home whenever fatigue sets in.
Our current working lives irritate the situation - my wife works from home for a New York-based company, so 10pm in the UK is her 5-o-clock equivalent. We may be in the same room in the evening, but we might not interact, as she is focused on her work while I start to zone out.
If she finishes in time for us to head to bed together, then she's ready to hang out and talk at the same time that I'm ready to sleep. She'll do her best to engage with me, while I'll do my best to convince her she's tired. She's not. Sometimes she'll bring her iPad to bed so she can read, while I curl up and pretend it's pitch black in our room.
My wife worries that we won't find the perfect compromise. We won't. She worries that it will strain our relationship and lead to frequent fights. It won't. We'll have mini battles and short discussions and the occasional serious chat to navigate through our respective sleep needs. Our situation will change (we don't yet have children) and we'll have to adapt and find solutions anew. But that's what you do to be with the person you love.
And so we live with incompatible sleeping patterns and we make it through. But I must dash - my wife just woke up.
Kate Johnson is a literary agent based physically in the UK and mentally in New York. She and her husband celebrate five years of unsynchronized marital sleep this month. @spinningkates
Stuart Newman is an economist who is physically and mentally based in the UK. He eagerly looks forward to the day when he might be on the same mental and physical time zone as his wife.
You and Me, & Sleep is an end-of-the-month mini-series from friends of Olympia Monthly, in which we chronicle tales of sleep, relationships, and conflicting bedtimes. We wanted to call it "Dynamite in the Sack"...but didn't. Read Part I, by Kathleen Rommel, HERE!