It was 3 in the morning and I had just heard the most dreaded question of marital life…”Are you awake?”
Now I’m not at my best at that time. I blame biorhythms. Being woken then is like coming up from the depths of a blissful warm nirvana. It’s a relief that we no longer do night calls. Back in the day when the phone rang I really wanted to care and make sense, but on occasion I’m not sure I achieved either. It’s possible that I actually said, “Take two Panadol and don’t call me in the morning”. But I had a friend who was worse. When he got an emergency call one night he was so confused that he got up and walked into the wardrobe. Which would have been OK if it had been a walk-in wardrobe.
And so when I heard those three little words from my wife I knew that “No” was not the logically or relationally correct answer. The 3 o’clock worry, as we used to call it, always necessitated a cup of tea and about an hour of talking before it could be resolved. I learnt to be philosophical.
And for several years I did maternity as well. This also shot my sleep pattern to bits. You can imagine the adrenalizing effect of racing down to North Shore Hospital in the middle of the night, not sure if I was going to make it in time, and then waiting around for hours because the baby decided it had better things to do. Fortunately, at that stage of my life I could function on a couple of hours sleep, and often did, but it was never sensible.
Which gives me some sympathy with people who suffer from insomnia. In a way the easiest thing to do is to write a script for sleeping pills, but it’s often not the best thing. Short term they are OK, but over a period of time people often find them less effective and end up having to ratchet up the dose. In the elderly they are known to increase fall risk and may affect cognition. So be prepared for some reluctance about sedatives from your doctor. It takes more effort, but learning some pre-sleep routines and how to self-soothe if you wake during the night are better alternatives.
It seems like we just switch off when we go to sleep, but in fact a number of important functions do their best work on the night shift. The body patches up physical strains and injuries and it may be important for laying down memory as well. So better a natural sleep, if possible. You want to have some reserve for the nights when your partner has an important question to ask.