The Overnight Divorce

Why My Wife Sleeps in a Separate Bed from Me

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In the time I’ve lived with my wife, our beds have grown—from full to queen to the monarch of all beds, the California king. Recently, there’s been a reduction in the bedroom. It’s the same bed, although Janet hasn’t slept in it for a while.

We’re still happily married, except not between sleeping hours. A July 31 Field Notes column in the New York Times, entitled “Is it Time for a Sleep Divorce?” discusses this very phenomenon. Apparently, Janet and I are part of a widening trend.

According to Field Notes, it’s usually a matter of pragmatism, as with a snoring partner or maybe a night shift worker. There’s the concern of fragmented sleep for the other party, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, and stroke.

I happen to be married to a gold medal sleeper. While I’m no psychiatrist, I suspect that talent has to with Janet’s upbringing. She grew up in a tiny house with alcoholic parents. Sleep was perhaps the only refuge she had in such an environment.

Janet can sleep through anything, a boon to her recently when I went without REM sleep for 339 straight days due to a misdiagnosis. Somehow, during this year of sleeping dangerously, she had a knack for dropping off immediately, despite the many rude awakenings from her insomniac husband on the next pillow over.

It was actually longer than a year because by the time the doctors figured out what was wrong with me, I was taking a small medicine chest’s worth of prescription pills that didn’t apply to my circumstance—dangerous drugs, including Seroquel, an anti-psychotic often used for off-label purposes such as insomnia, Ativan, a habit-forming benzodiazepine to deal with the anxiety borne of not sleeping, and Lunesta, a Z-drug type of sedative.

I wouldn’t truly sleep until I weaned myself from all of this medication. Rehab was out of the question, at least as far as my insurance carrier was concerned. They wanted no part of that bill. So instead it was rehab, the home edition.

Thrown into this mix suddenly, as well, was a new addition to the bedroom, my continuous air pressure machine (CPAP) that I now docked with every night. My immediate task was to adapt to the mask, which would prevent my windpipe from collapsing while I slept, then wean myself from the trio drugs, which felt like they were killing me in a much slower way.

The CPAP half of the equation was easier. With the drugs, it was three consecutive withdrawals, each with a side dish of devasting rebound insomnia. I’d get off one drug, huddle up for a few weeks, then hunker down and begin withdrawal on a second drug, repeating the harrowing process. Then one final time.

In all, it took six months, and by then the bedroom had become my personal battleground. I was winning the fight, but it was definitely a war of attrition. Throughout this entire period, Janet had woken to take care of me, no matter the hour and circumstance. My champion sleeper of a wife had become somewhat rough around the edges—tired, fretful, forgetful. Living with me had turned her into a virtual insomniac.

“I think maybe we should sleep in separate beds,” I finally suggested. “Just for a little while. A month or so.” I blamed it on myself, mentioning how I was wrung out from my different episodes of calamity and challenge, which connected one to the next like railroad cars—the insomnia, the misdiagnosis, the task of adapting to the CPAP, drug addiction, and withdrawal. “I think at night, I just need some time alone.”

We would later learn from a psychologist who used to jump out of airplanes in the armed forces that my slog was like a war, and I was suffering from PTSD.

It’s now been longer than a month, but less than half a year. The invisible scars have mostly healed. According to the stats on my CPAP machine, I’m sleeping like a champion myself these days. I still feel like I need a bit more alone time, though. Does that mean I love my wife any less? Don’t be ridiculous.

Of course, there’s that other thing people wonder about that happens in the bedroom. Not that it’s any of your business, but there’s no problem in that department. I’ve discovered there are plenty of other rooms for that in our house besides the boudoir.

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