Feature

The spousal sleep disparity

He falls asleep. I run errands.

My husband has always liked to sleep. A lot. When we got together in college, I figured his typical noon-ish wake-ups were just a symptom of student malaise and a permanent hangover. If he spent the night at mine, I'd always get up before him, and I'd find it amusing to watch him snooze, mouth open, a trail of drool steadily ruining my pillow.

But when we eventually grew up and got jobs, he kept on sleeping right to the wire every morning — and somehow at the weekend managed to take more naps than our elderly cat. Still, it didn't especially bother me.

Now, our lifestyle is drastically different. We're woken not by alarm clocks but by the 6:30 a.m. screeching and pestering of our 6- and 4-year-olds. Of course, now more than ever, my husband ranks sleep at the top of his list of interests — and finally this whole sleepy side of him has gotten to me. I'm sure that given the choice between having significantly more money or more sleep, he'd take the ZZZs. Whenever he has a spare 20 minutes, he climbs into bed, puts his head down, and is instantly comatose. I'll hear his phone alarm ping at some point, but he'll nearly always hit snooze at least once. Eventually, I'll march into the bedroom and gently coax him awake by yelling, or jabbing my index finger into his jugular.

As for myself, I have never been a particularly good sleeper, but I seem to manage pretty well if I get close to seven uninterrupted hours, which is finally possible now that my kids are a bit older. I have never napped, not even when my sick 4-month-old was waking me eight times a night. And despite the growing stack of science on the importance of getting enough sleep — seven to nine hours for an adult seems to be the consensus — I still associate "over" sleeping with weakness and time-wasting. I know I am wrong on this, but I just can't shake the conviction that my husband's need for a lot of sleep makes him a bit pathetic.

When we had our first child, sleep became scarce, especially for me, as I was breastfeeding through the night. People told me to sleep when the baby did but I found this impossible. I felt drunk on tiredness and part of me actually quite liked that woozy sensation. Not sleeping, and talking about not sleeping, became part of my identity. Plus, there was also a lot to do when the baby napped — if I didn't want my apartment to look like a squat. I also wanted to shower and eat food, and these things took up all my available rest time.

But my husband, when he was around, either on paternity leave, at the weekend, or on odd vacation days, had no problem following our infant's lead and passing out when she did. Quite often, she'd nap on him. It irked me, deeply, and I couldn't quite articulate why. After all, he wasn't shirking his responsibilities and did his share of housework and baby stuff — and those sleep windows were technically available to me, too.

Now, our kids have both dropped their naps, but my husband has yet to lose his, which creates even more of an imbalance. Sometimes, we'll work our weekend plans around his need to day-sleep. Like a lot of women, I put pressure on myself to make constructive use of my time away from the kids. When it's my turn for time out, instead of snoozing, I'll go to the gym or run errands. If I'm feeling really generous toward myself and extra exhausted, I might watch a show on my laptop. Part of me feels like it is my job to deny myself rest — rest that is offered and rightfully mine. As a result, I always feel slightly tired and slightly neglected. I doubt I'm alone in this.

These days, being a great dad means paying into the family unit with equal amounts of child and domestic labor. Historically, though, fathers didn't really need to be that helpful at home or pitch in with the kids. That was the woman's job. Perhaps even men who shun chauvinist behaviors and do loads around the house still unconsciously believe that time at home — some of it at least — equals "time off." But mothers, even when they work outside the home, still see the house as a workspace, and don't have access to a place where fully switching off — and napping, potentially — is truly possible.

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