I don’t know anyone who needs sleep the way I do, except maybe for our girls. Other parents are always shocked that Natalie and Sophie voluntarily drape themselves across their pillows at 8 or 8:30 in the evening, their small bodies purring from the liturgy of storytime and cannibal kisses. There they dream, one burrowed under the comforter like a dormouse, the other sprawled as carefree as a ragdoll, for eleven hours straight… and sometimes even then, they wake up with snarled voices betraying their need for an afternoon nap. The other parents’ faces take on the same free-fall expression we would get when friends found out our newborn was sleeping through the night and I would guiltily shuffle my postpartum exhaustion out of sight.

I see so much of my own internal composition in my daughters, and I would sleep for eleven hours a stretch too if not for these night-owl eyes turning bright and round under the influence of moonlight. My mind swivels at the end of a day in search of some small skittering amusement to pounce on, or I mellow into the luxury of time alone with Dan. No matter how tired I am or how pointless my diversion, I’m never quite ready to consign my day to the past tense, so my bed becomes a tide, pushing, pulling, rising, and eventually floating my feet out from under me.

In the morning, there is no tide—only the deep, watery warmth of sleep and my nocturnal feathers bristling against the alarm. Some days, I have just enough resolve to drag myself up and out into the faint pink of pre-dawn, knowing that every day started in quiet, with pen and lined paper and a sleep-dredged mist obscuring my usual doubt, is a day centered over who I want to be. Other days, I calculate the last possible minute I can snooze before lurching to get the girls ready for school. Once every so often, I sleep without agenda or alarm and wake at noon, discombobulated and regretful over the missed morning.

It sometimes strikes me as a great cosmic injustice that each day must start with waking up and end with going to sleep, though I realize that between the universe and myself, I am likely the one with her wires crossed. I am the one with the free-fall expression when friends describe rising at 6 on instinct alone or tucking themselves contentedly under the covers when the day’s chores are done. From my occasional dalliances with early-to-bed, I know that the mathematics of sleep don’t apply to me the way they do to others, that repressing my night owl does not turn me into a sun goddess any more than waking with the sky curbs my evening wanderlust. This is just the nature of my relationship with sleep—fiercely resistant, deeply dependent, tidal.


What is your relationship with sleep like?

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  1. i agree with the some days, you want to rise before the sunrise…others, you end up sleeping in till you regret it. 😛
    if i don’t work on a monday [i work part-time], i sleep in mondays. so that’s what i did today. not terribly so that i regret it, per se, but almost…..

    i do love the sunrise. but lately we’ve had cloudy days. : sigh.

  2. If I were left to my own devices, I would probably go to bed around 11:00. And I would probably wake up between 7 & 8:00. But. I am not left to my own devices. I have everyone else’s devices crossing my own wires. So. I end up staying up until 2:00 AM if I have a lot of work, which I very often do. And I must be up by 7, but often times I wake up with worry because I didn’t get the work done the night before. So I begin again at 5:30 or 6:00. This can go on for a week or so before I crash. Then I catch up with sleep and start again. It isn’t at all how I would work it, but it tends to work for now.

  3. I would also be one of those people who could sleep forever. But after the kids are in bed (if I happen to be at home instead of at work, which happens 2-3 times a week) that is the only time Haley and I have alone, so sleep gets put off. Which means I am up past midnight almost every night either working or hanging with my best friend. Sometimes I doze in the morning while the kids watch some cartoons, but mostly I am just tired.

  4. I have the exact same problem. I resist going to bed until I literally can’t keep my eyes open but once I’m in bed I find it very hard to get out again! My 1 year old has unfortunately inherited my sleep habits and hates going to bed but is very hard to wake in the mornings!

  5. Bethany, your writing is just wonderful! I especially love this sentence: “No matter how tired I am or how pointless my diversion, I’m never quite ready to consign my day to the past tense, so my bed becomes a tide, pushing, pulling, rising, and eventually floating my feet out from under me.”

    Sleep and I are friends right now. I’m basically getting enough of it. My 9 month-old still wakes me up too many times, but he settles again quickly. Wonderful nights right now are those that have 3 or 4 hour stretches of uninterrupted sleep – then I feel awash in dreams when I awake up.

    Love reading your writing!

  6. This is amazing. simply. amazing.

  7. Beka – I know, the clouds are hard. Still, I never regret getting up early. Except in those few minutes before coffee, of course. 🙂

    Megsie – Oh my goodness, can you please share whatever part of your being that allows you to operate on 4 hours of sleep? I would pay well [in eternal devotion] for that!

    Melissa – I totally understand. With young kids in the house, those hours alone with your partner are like gold. Sorry about the perpetual tiredness, but at least I can commiserate!

    Sarah – Fortunately, my kids have lucked out of my sleep genes, but it sounds like you have a lot of “fun” evenings and mornings ahead of you. 🙂 Oh, and thanks for commenting! A “Scottish girl living her dream in Umbria”? Sounds like a friendship in the making. 🙂

    Willow – You know, I always slept well when my girls were newborns, even while I was feeding them. They were so sleepy themselves, it was utterly relaxing. Thanks for your sweet words!

    Tiffany – Wow, I’m… completely honored! Thank you, sweet friend.

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