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Sleep has always been one of my very favourite activities. For me, it is magic: to be transported almost instantaneously from the present to the future. To go to sleep tired with cares and awake refreshed with the world transformed.
Naps, whether for a few minutes or a few hours are something I look forward to and take advantage of as often as possible. I’ve been teased by family, friends and colleagues for my naps, but I know they are just jealous.
For most of my life I’ve assumed that all human beings regard sleep like me. They may not enjoy it to quite the same extent, but everyone must gain deep satisfaction from it.
I’ve also thought everyone had a routine similar to mine. That is, going to sleep around the same time each night in a cool, quiet and dark room. Of course, I’ve not always done this myself, such as when I lived in university residence, and when I travel. But these occasions were, for me, the exception.
When I got married my long-held belief was shaken. My wife, Sue, wanted window blinds that – to my eyes – barely darkened our bedroom. Moreover, she always found the temperature too cold in our bedroom even when set to tropical heat. How could I, or anyone else, sleep?
She thought nothing of going to bed at widely varying hours from day to day, or staying up all night.
Lastly, for her, sleep is something to be grimly tolerated rather than relished.
There was little scope for the two of us to compromise. A room is either hot or cold, and either light or dark.
Sue finding our bedroom too cold meant she sought to keep warm by staying close to me. Going to sleep, we would start on Sue’s side of our king-sized bed. By morning, I was pushed to the very edge of my side.
Sometimes in the middle of the night I would somersault over Sue, finding – like the first settlers on the Prairies – a vast expanse of open space on her side. But by morning, I again was crouched at the very edge – on her side.
Relentlessly pursued in my sleep, night after night and year after year, this was not a recipe for restful sleep.
When our twins were born six years ago, my hopes for resetting our sleep patterns were high. I was certain the children would have the innate sleeping behaviour I associate with all – well, almost all – human beings.
I imagined the regular naps Claire and Alexander would take, and that I would join in. I envisioned an evening sleep routine like mine, in dark, quiet, cool bedrooms.
Furthermore, I thought Sue’s sleeping pattern would change as well, as she at last would see that humans have instinctive sleeping habits similar to mine.
Sadly, the reality has been nothing like what I expected. I never had a chance to nap with the twins when they were infants, as that was my only time to catch up on chores.
When I did sleep with them overnight, I realized babies do not “sleep like babies.” Children, at least my children, make a wide variety of noises, such as snoring, gurgling and coughing, not to mention the occasional scream, when sleeping. This, combined with erratic movements, such as suddenly kicking out a leg or tossing an arm, did not make for a restful time for me beside them.
Last summer, as we piled into our car after a day at the beach or amusement park, Claire would be asleep before the door closed. Sue would pass out as soon as we hit the highway. But Alexander would sit wide awake for an hour until we reached home, while I fought my drowsiness. “How can he be my son?” I thought.
These days, bedtime is a battle zone, largely because Alexander needs far less sleep than the typical child his age. He stopped taking naps as a toddler. Now, he needs only an hour more sleep each night than his father. Soon he will sleep less than I do, I expect.
His sister, being a hyper-competitive creature, refuses to go to sleep before her brother – even though she needs almost two hours more sleep than him.
Since Sue and I view sleep so differently, it has been difficult to reach agreement on a routine for the children.
She will continually change the twins’ pillows, which to me is a no-no. My pillow is sacrosanct and I even travel with it.
But not all the developments around sleep in our home are disheartening. For once in my life, technology has come to the rescue.
This past Christmas, I bought Sue an electric blanket that covers half our bed. This has worked like magic, as when it’s turned on she never strays from it. And when I want her nightly pursuit of body heat, I need only turn off the electric blanket.
Finding a way to keep our bedroom both dark and light may be more challenging, but I’ve not given up.
As for my children, I have given up.
Alexander will never appreciate and savour sleep as I do. Claire likely will always view sleep as a competitive activity.
As I reflect on the sleeping habits of my wife and children, I face a stark conclusion. Maybe my own sleep routine, which I’ve been trying to impose on my family, is peculiar. Let me sleep on that.
Thomas Klassen lives in Toronto.