It drives me absolutely crazy!!! Every night I have to listen to my husband’s deep breathing. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and I’m left up for hours trying to sleep while he breathes like a sleeping elephant. Help!!!
Dear Sleepy Spouse,
Here’s hoping you had a good sleep last night. Since you don’t make note of any snoring. For the sake of my reply, I’ll take it that “…breathes like an elephant,” was in reference to the pace of his breathing as deep and slow.
Since all he is doing is pretty enviable sleeping, what you’re essentially saying is that you are troubled when your husband can sleep when you can’t. It’s not that what he’s doing, it’s how it contrasts with what you’re doing. It’s like his sleep is mocking your insomnia.
You feeling that way is understandable as an initial reaction, but I’m not sure envy or jealousy are effective routes to the peaceful state you seek. Rather than being upset about his sleep, may I suggest that you look to your husband for a lesson. Why is it exactly, that he can fall asleep so quickly?
There is a clue hidden in the fact that you’re in extremely good company. Based on my experience a very large percentage of female partners find it very difficult to fall asleep and, based on my practice, a very large percentage of those also have husbands who can drop off to sleep quickly and easily the vast majority of the time.
I have never had a man have me work with him on his insomnia, but I have had lots and lots of women contact me about it. So what’s with this gender split?
For whatever historical and culturally varied reasons, on average women talk or self-talk far more than the average man. Like all things there are many exceptions, but there’s definitely a gender split when it comes to communication. Most of us experience it as the fact that women who generally wish their men would communicate more, not the other way around.
While it’s slowly changing, society still does leave more household and family management to women, so it makes sense that more women would have their language centres engaged much more heavily in daily living.
And I know pop psychology from the 60’s through the 80’s told us all that lots of talking was always healthy —but it really isn’t. Every word is a departure point. Just listening to someone read the novel Ducks, Newburyport rather artfully demonstrates that there is more peace and less confusion in silence.
Actions ultimately speak louder than words, so a spouse of either gender may be criticized for not talking enough, but in fact each word is like a potential departure-point in understanding.
In the end, if we were truly paying attention to the evidence around us, we would realize that much of our talking just leads to more and more complex issues, which then require even more talking to sort out. This is not a formula for fostering peace of mind. There was a reason that, following his enlightenment, Thomas Aquinas took a vow of silence.
What this translates to is that women are often engaged more heavily in self-dialogue as a means of analyzing, understanding and reacting to events outside of themselves. Unfortunately, the distinction between rumination and meditation is rarely drawn, so the analysis often leads to little more than paralysis.
On the upside, on average, I have found that the women who see me are much more interested and invested in their spirituality and their psychology, so they tend to be much better students when I’m imparting enlightened living.
For women, society itself is quite taxing, not to mention their historical role in handling more of our child-rearing. So they are more motivated to get some relief. But because they’re responsibilities are often more focused, that allows them to have quieter minds, which leaves men (again, on average) at least currently less motivated to do spiritual work.
Because men have historically been capable of affecting more actual change in their lives, they do not feel compelled to use their thoughts to battle the is-ness of things. That willingness to accept what is often a better situation, inadvertently creates a quieter, more peaceful mind.
On average, men do not spend anywhere near as much time internally debating or attempting to resolve ‘issues’ in their own imaginations. They’ll feel empowered to just say something out loud and be done with it.. Where this impacts sleep is by habit of thought.
Men are taught to perceive that it is okay to have a strong opinion so they are also okay with other competing opinions. When they run into someone who feels the opposite way, in a subtle way there was already an acceptance that opposing opinions would exist, and so those competing views are taken less personally and thought about less often.
That said, with the good intentions of ‘getting in more touch with themselves,’ many men now undertake internal work. Unfortunately, while their intentions are good, many have fallen prey to rumination over mediation.
The result has been, since the new millennium, I’ve seen a significant rise in the number of men who are experiencing anxiety, over-thinking and associated insecurities. Having been taught to ruminate, many modern men now struggle with sleep as much as their partners do.
At this point it’s worth asking, what is it to ‘go to sleep?’ Going to sleep is laying down when you’re tired and going quiet inside. After that, sleep will just show up naturally if we’re not constantly yakking to ourselves. Otherwise it’s literally like laying there with a third person in bed who simply won’t shut up.
If we’re busy thinking wake-time thoughts in bed, then we should not expect to sleep as well as the person who lays there peacefully engaging sleep, versus dosing themselves with all kinds of wakeful chemistry generated by thinking awake-time thoughts.
So can you see how this fits you? You think your husband is doing something wrong —something offensive to you. You are bothered by his sleep. A person you love, being able to sleep, maddens you? Can you see the spin of your resistant, comparative thinking?
His deep breathing is called relaxation. It’s nice that he doesn’t snore don’t you think? And of course you’re going to be awake if you’re laying there trying to sort out your life or asking yourself why you’re not already asleep. Would you fall asleep if someone next to you was talking non-stop? So why’s it different when it’s you inside your own head?
The reason your husband’s asleep is because he climbs into bed with the very simplistic idea that he only has one thing to do: fall asleep. And doing that happens naturally when we’re tired if we just stop being awake.
Again, the definition of being awake is to actively think about our day when it’s over. It’s dumping the chemistry for wake-time events into our brain when it should be creating the quiet, low ground that allows the chemistry for sleep to flow towards us.
You can’t lay in bed and think about tomorrow or earlier today and hope to go to sleep. Sleep happens in the now, so you have to quiet all of those other conversations so that you can listen for the quiet of present moment.
Don’t psyche yourself out. Don’t check in with the clock like a scoreboard. We only have one thing to do. Go quiet. We have tiredness going for us. We have the dark going for us. We have being horizontal going for us. We have all of these natural signals that will help you tip our biochemistry toward sleep. And it’s not like sleep is unnatural. There are few things more natural. Us getting in the way of the sleep is what’s unnatural.
Do babies have trouble falling asleep when they’re tired? Nope. Why not? Because they don’ t know words yet so they can’t use them to build ideas about the past or future which contain fearful, worried, angry or even excited thoughts.
Babies have to learn to find sleep. They battle over the line between wake and sleep for while before they figure out the state of mind and the associated brain chemistry that comes naturally with being tired, it being dark, and our own horizontal comfort.
The point being, you really don’t need to figure out how to fall asleep. You learned that very early in life by keeping your parents up. Now you have to learn how to stop keeping yourself awake.
It’ll take time because you’re currently addicted to your thinking patterns. Changing rooms etc. might help you change thought patterns, but since you’ll eventually want to move back into your bedroom you might as well just stop over-thinking while you’re still there.
At first it’ll drive you crazy to tell yourself to stop talking to yourself because that’s just more talking. You’ll start over and over and over and over and over. But if you just keep redirecting yourself back to a quiet mind that is empty, within a month or so you will have built the off-ramps in your brain and going quiet will be easier. It’s this practice most people simply won’t do without guidance.
Eventually what will happen is that you’ll start associating your bed with sleep and not insomnia. Sleep is what will rush in to fill the space where you used to talk to yourself. So your husband isn’t special or crazy —he’s functioning entirely naturally. He just never started talking to himself in bed so he doesn’t have to stop it. You did, so you do.
Stop all of the thinking. Stop all of the judging and planning and self-flagellation. Just go quiet. Maybe even use his breathing as a rhythm to focus on. Most of the world group-sleeps and it helps to listen to others sleep if your mind isn’t battling the sounds rather than flowing with them.
Tonight, rather than laying there making yourself angry or frustrated over his peace, instead be quiet and let yourself be peaceful, and you too will find that sleep is just as natural for you as it is for any other person.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.