I sleep hard. It’s rare I have the slightest trouble slipping into unconsciousness as soon as my head hits the pillow — and remembering a dream is just as unusual. On the weekends, my wonderful and patient girlfriend, Maddie, has to attack me several times before I’m persuaded to get up, and that tends to be around 10:30 or 11 in the morning. What can I say? I love bed. For some reason, though, I don’t love getting into bed.
It’s a bit like this meme, if you just replaced the shower with a mattress:
My habitual sleeping in, and Maddie’s early rising, are a natural result of our somewhat staggered rhythms; she always wants to go to bed first. No joke, a few months back we were out late at a party, and instead of telling me she was ready to head home, she handed me the drawing below. (She’s very talented.) This was not a negotiation.
More recently, chatting with my friend Noah, we both realized that our partners play an essential regulatory role in our patterns of rest. He had remarked that with his own girlfriend out of town for a few weeks, he was staying up too late, doing a whole lot of nothing. Clicking around on the internet, watching Netflix, generally avoiding bed. I told him it was the same for me when I spent a night without Maddie: At some point I would find myself snacking out of the fridge, then look at the clock on the stove and see it was already far past midnight. What the hell was I doing? Again, basically only staying up.
And I guess we aren’t alone.
I should note that Maddie never forces me to go to bed at the same hour as her. She knows I’ve got to putter around a bit longer, send a few more dumb tweets, all that jazz. And after reading several accounts of couples fighting over bedtime, I recognized how lucky we are to be chill on this issue. From the redditor driven mad by the girlfriend who insisted on lights out by 9 p.m. to the Yahoo! Answers guy who couldn’t understand why mutual bedding down was essential to his partner, circadian divisions have complicated many a relationship. “I really don’t like it because I’ve always liked staying up late at night and having peace and quiet time to myself just browsing the web or watching TV,” the latter wrote. “I’ve started just lying in bed with her until she falls asleep and then getting back up, but if she wakes up and notices I’m not there, she gets all upset.”
The pressure doesn’t stop there, either: Psychology Today says sleep alignment is the healthy choice; a Slate column declares it “the best part of partnered life.” You can even read up on tips for how to make your difference in bedtimes less of a nagging problem.
As you can see, this isn’t a strictly hetero or gendered thing. Sometimes it’s a husband who thinks the couple should call it a night already. Sure enough, the straight men of this position sound more controlling and less compromising, as in this bummer anecdote about a dude guilting his wife for slipping into bed at 11 instead of 10, like he prefers. But while annoying spouses and conventional wisdom are pushing us under the covers together, another sleep physician, David Cunnington, says this simultaneity is “biologically irrational,” considering our natural inclinations: “We hope the partner we choose isn’t too genetically similar to us, so we could expect they have different optimal sleep time and environments to you,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
I guess that means the next time Maddie is poking fun at me from the next room because my bedtime bathroom routine takes so long, I can yell back, “It’s my DNA, darling!” instead of “I WILL NOT BE MOCKED FOR REMEMBERING TO FLOSS!” It’s good that ultimately neither of us is really cajoling the other to sleep — too much of a parent-child dynamic there — but I’m thankful for the nudge in that direction, as without it I can turn into a zombie stalking the apartment well toward the wee hours.
It occurs to me that it’s so hard to go to bed when Maddie’s not around precisely because there’s no one waiting there for me, slumbering peacefully in a demonstration of what I’m supposed to be doing right then. Very helpful! She’s also great at reminding me to eat.
Honestly, how am I even alive.