When we were first married, my husband and I slept peacefully together, cuddled skin to skin, usually with our legs intertwined and my ear pressed against his chest. His heartbeat lulled me to sleep many a night, and I couldn’t imagine sleeping any other way.
By the time our children were born, sleeping together uninterrupted became a rare commodity. I was either nursing a baby, comforting a sick toddler, or watching late-night infomercials in the living room when insomnia got the best of me. When I finally did crawl into bed, the last thing I wanted after being grabbed and pulled by children all day was to be touched. I scooted to the far edge of the mattress, my back to my husband, and fell into a deep sleep.
Our sleeping habits gradually changed as the kids grew older. My husband went to bed several hours before me while I stayed up to finish projects that I couldn’t complete during the day with our kids’ busy schedules. It didn’t bother me that my husband and I were on a different sleeping routine. He needed a solid eight hours, whereas I had could survive happily on five. More importantly, the frequency of intimacy never wavered—we just took advantage of whatever moments of privacy we could grab. Sex wasn’t part of our nightly bedtime routine, and we were OK with that, as long as we connected during the quiet moments when our kids were not home.
The Empty Nest Bed
Once we became empty-nesters, I thought our newfound privacy would be the rebirth of our newlywed days, spending blissful hours of sleep cuddled together on a queen mattress. But we were not the same people we were 35 years ago, and that queen mattress was mighty small for a couple that wasn’t the same size they were on the day they got married. I had become a sheet hoarder, my husband, a mattress hogger. We wrestled in our sleep, banging elbows and knees and waking to pee every few hours. We woke each day more tired than we were when we went to bed.
Our sleep patterns were further complicated when I started menopause. I woke at all hours amid night sweats that left me unbearably hot and uncomfortable on damp sheets. Being the light sleeper that he was, my husband woke when I did to find me adjusting the thermostat or sitting under a fan.
It was around this time that my husband developed Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a condition that causes an uncomfortable sensation in the legs with an intense urge to move them, whether awake or asleep. Every night as he started to drift off, his body twitched like a fish out of water and shook the mattress so hard at times that it startled me awake. Medication alleviated the length of his twitching, but not the frequency. I found myself lying in bed, timing the intervals between his muscle spasms before nudging him to stop. If that didn’t work, we’d take turns sleeping on the couch so that at least one of us could get a good night’s rest.
My husband also complained that I snored—loudly—whenever I slept on my back, which woke him several times during the night. My doctor attributed the snoring to my age and weight and suggested a few remedies, but none of them worked for me.
Whatever Gets You Through the Night
With all the twitching, night sweats, and the snoring, my husband and I dreaded going to bed together. We were unintentionally depriving one another of sleep with symptoms that we had no control over. In turn, the lack of rest made us irritable and impatient during the day, robbing us of any desire for fun or intimacy in our frequent state of exhaustion.
At that point, we decided that the best solution was to sleep in separate rooms. We still shared the same bedroom during the day, but my husband slept at night in the guest room. At first, I was appalled at the idea of not sleeping together anymore, but once I noticed the positive changes in or relationship, I knew we’d made the right decision. We no longer dreaded going to bed, and our daytime grouchiness disappeared almost instantly. We woke each morning well-rested and happy as we held hands and sipped our coffee on the patio. There was plenty of energy for afternoon walks, cuddling on the sofa, late-night movie marathons, and yes, intimacy. In fact, our sex life was more active than it had been in years!
It has been several months now, and although we no longer sleep together in the same bed, we have never been closer. My husband’s heartbeat may not lull me to sleep like it did when I was a newlywed, but I rest just fine knowing that we are only separated in our sleep, not in our hearts.