I was camping with an old friend recently and he told me he couldn’t remember the last time he and his wife didn’t go to bed at the same time. I thought for a moment and then I said, “I can’t remember the last time my wife and I did go to bed at the same time.”
He gave me a concerned look, almost as if Mel and I were sleeping in separate rooms, or perhaps even separate homes.
I can’t really remember when Mel and I started going to bed at different times. Early in our marriage we almost always went to bed together. This was back when I was a little more willing to stay up late. But now, in my late 30s, with a full-time job at the university and a part-time gig writing, I get up early. Like really early. And I’ve gotten to the point where if I’m up past 10 p.m., I’m kind of pissed off about it.
Not that I won’t stay up late if I need too, because I will. I’ll stay up with sick kids, or to finish a project, or help with Mount Laundry, but unless I absolutely have too stay up, I go to bed pretty early.
Right now, as I write, it’s just before 6 a.m. I have the house to myself. This is my time and I enjoy the quiet of the mornings. As a teen, I never thought I’d say something so “peak dad,” but going to bed good and early is like sleeping in, only in reverse — and a lot less sexy.
My wife Mel, on the other hand, is a total a night owl. I don’t even know when she goes to bed anymore because I’m sound asleep by then. Eleven o’clock, midnight, later… it’s up to her. She watches movies, grades papers, and generally just does her thing. That is her time. If she has to get up early, she’s about as grumpy as I am when I have to stay up late.
There was a time that it drove me bonkers the way she stayed up late. We’d have to get up early for this or that, she’d complain about how late she was up, and I’d ask why she didn’t come to bed at a decent hour. But then, on the flip side, we end up staying up late because of a sick kid, or some other parenting situation, and I’d get all moody, and she’d give me an epic eye roll.
Then, slowly, that all stopped, and suddenly instead of arguing about when each other go to bed, we just started supporting each other. I go to bed at 10 p.m. (or earlier if I can get away with it). If one of the kids comes crawling out of bed asking for a drink of water or because they are missing a sock or who knows what else, Mel handles it. She gives me the cover I need to keep the schedule I prefer. And in the mornings, when the kids get up, I take a break from my writing and get them settled. I get them breakfast while Mel sleeps.
In so many ways, it’s almost like we are two co-workers on opposite shifts. She’s on nights, and I’m on mornings. And I know that doesn’t sound romantic at all. It sounds more like a work schedule. But the reality is, when you have young children, there are few things sexier than having someone willing to manage the kids so you can sleep. Right now, after years of getting little to no sleep because parenting sucks that way, I’ve grown to value nothing more than sleep, and the fact that Mel and I are able to give that to each other is pretty wonderful.
I would love to fall asleep next to my wife. And I assume she feels the same about me. And I wouldn’t mind waking up next to her. But at the same time, the opposing sleep schedule we are on works pretty well for us. It’s supportive, and we are comfortable with it. We see each other plenty during the day. And I don’t know if it will always be this way. Perhaps after the kids leave, I’ll become a night owl like Mel. Or perhaps she’ll begin to enjoy the early mornings like I do. Either way, we have learned to accept who we are and what we prefer, and rather than trying to change one another, we’ve simple learned to work together so that each of us is able to get the sleep we need when we need it.