On a recent episode of the new sitcom “The Odd Couple,” Felix and his new girlfriend, Emily took a big step: spending the whole night together. They had already been intimate but had never revealed their less-than-sexy overnight sleeping habits including drooling, snoring and using sound machines to catch some Z’s.
I laughed a lot at this episode because it rings true for me and many other adults I know, who have developed bedtime quirks as we have gotten older and the stress of our daily lives piles up.
Felix packs enough luggage for a week out-of-state to prepare for a night in Emily’s apartment. He reveals his sleep mask, a sound machine he says will play ocean noises and a humidifier. Tension builds when Emily reveals an anti-humidifier at her bedside and they negotiate over how to keep the bedroom air neither too dry nor too humid.
When she thinks Felix has fallen asleep, Emily pushes a chair up to her bedroom door. He hears the noise and asks what’s going on. Emily reveals she’s trying to keep murderers out of her bedroom. Later Felix grumbles about her asking him to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door and potential killers.
Felix and Emily’s nighttime neuroses and fear about revealing their eccentricities made me giggle because over the years I’ve developed my own seemingly high-maintenance nighttime rituals, as have my friends and relatives.
I’ve been using a sleep mask to drift into dreamland ever since I started working overnight several years ago. I don’t work the graveyard shift anymore but I’m addicted to the dark mask blocking out sunlight and streetlights.
Like Felix, I’m also obsessed with a sound machine, which I use to listen to the calming noises of seagulls and waves crashing on a beach. Also like the fastidious sitcom character, I plug in a humidifier every night to combat the dry, desert air that makes my nose stuffy.
Some of my friends who are mothers tell me they wake up at the sound of a pin dropping, probably because they’re used to keeping their ears on high alert for their children.
Other friends say they can’t make it through a whole night in bed, but often get lulled into sleep on a couch.
Many of us also rely on reading to fall asleep and catch a REM cycle and I’ve never met an adult who can comfortably nod off on their back, most have to lie on their sides.
Finding the perfect mattress to support the back has become like a science as people study their “sleep numbers” and try to find the right fit to tune out their snoring partner and keep their body temperature not too hot and not too cold, but just right. Like Goldilocks.
Just getting ready for sleep takes more preparation once you hit your 30s, 40s and beyond. I can’t stuff my face with sauce-laden pasta or rich seafood right before bed or I’m a bloated mess, who can’t doze.
Gone are the days of my teen and college years when I could fall asleep on any friend’s couch with just a thin blanket and beaten-up pillow or with my head grazing the ceiling in a dorm-room loft. I could tune out the sounds of friends’ drunken, late-night conversations, phones ringing and cats crawling over me.
I had no problems eating pizza, tacos, hamburgers or any other number of carb-heavy meals right before I went to sleep and snooze for at least eight hours.
Could it be our physical ailments are making it harder to fall asleep in adulthood? Or is it more psychological, as we try to take our minds off our growing to-do lists, which include paying bills, tackling difficult work projects and taking care of family members?
I’m no sleep expert, but I believe there’s no shame in doing whatever you have to do to up your sleep game even if it means drawing laughs or eye rolls from your partner. Recently I followed the advice in an online article to sit on the kitchen floor and read until I got uncomfortable, then go back to bed. It worked!
Sleep is apparently one of the most important things we can do to stay healthy so it’s worth trying all the tricks we need to drift off.
As for trying to hide sleep eccentricities from a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, I wouldn’t bother because everyone has their quirks. As Felix on “The Odd Couple” told his roommate, Oscar, his girlfriend, Emily, was a nut bag but she’d have to be crazy to date him.