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,
I take it that “…breathes like an elephant,” wasn’t referring to snoring, but actual deep breathing. So what you’re essentially saying is that you are troubled when your husband can sleep when you can’t. I’m not sure envy or jealousy are effective routes to where you want to go, so rather than being upset about it maybe you can look to your husband for a lesson. Why exactly is it that he can so quickly fall asleep?
Let me begin by saying you’re in extremely good company. Based on my experience a very large percentage of at least first-world women 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 hire me to work on his insomnia but I have had lots and lots of women contact me about it. So what’s with this gender split?
Simply put, a lot of women talk or self-talk more than the average man. Like all things there are many exceptions, but there’s definitely a gender split when it comes to communication. It’s the women who generally wish their men would communicate more, not the other way around.
Women 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 you that it was healthy—but it really isn’t. There is less confusion in silence. Then actions speak louder than words. So you might criticize your spouse for not talking enough, but in fact all of that talking just leads to more and more complex issues, which then require even more talking to sort out. This is not a formula for peace of mind.
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. On average women 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. Men are generally less motivated to do that work, but that is in part because they are naturally a touch closer to enlightenment simply by virtue of having quieter minds.
Because men have historically been capable of affecting more actual change, they do not use their thoughts as much to battle the is-ness of things, which inadvertently creates a quieter, more peaceful mind. On average they simply do not spend anywhere near as much time “solving issues” in their own imaginations, they’ll say something out loud. 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. At least in today’s culture women often have their opinions disregarded, and so rather than a strong opinions they’ll be more inclined toward a stronger sense of right and wrong. There is a way things should be, and if they aren’t that way then a lot of women will give that subject a great deal of thought.
Come bed time men are more likely to lay down and, without stimuli, they feel no need to think about anything. (Insert your own jokes here.) In fact men will often find their wives insomnia inexplicable, and they’ll respond to it just by saying, “just go to sleep.” Of course that’s maddening to the people who don’t know what that means. They don’t understand the verb of it.
What is it to: just go to sleep? Well here’s your explanation: going to sleep is laying down when you’re tired and going quiet inside. After that, sleep will just show up naturally if you’re not constantly yakking to yourself. Otherwise it’s literally like laying there with a third person in bed who simply won’t shut up. If you’re busy thinking wake-time thoughts then don’t expect to sleep as well as the person who isn’t lying there dosing themselves with all kinds of wakeful chemistry generated by thinking awake-time thoughts.
You don’t solve “problems” in your head, you create them. There really is no such thing as a problem and nothing is really right or wrong. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” If you have fewer ideas of how other people should be then you obviously see fewer transgressions and you’re then also not inclined to discuss them as though they are problems versus, what is.
Can you see how this fits you? You think your husband is doing something wrong—something offensive to you by what—mocking you by sleeping? The 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 you’re tired if you just stop being awake. And again, the definition of being awake is to actively think about your day when it’s over. It’s dumping the chemistry for wake-time events into your brain when it should be being dosed with the chemistry for sleep.
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. You only have one thing to do. Go quiet. You have tiredness going for you. You have the dark going for you. You have being horizontal going for you. You have all of these natural signals that will help you tip your biochemistry toward sleep. And it’s not like sleep is unnatural. There are few things more natural. You 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. They just get the chemistry that comes naturally with being tired, darkness, and horizontalness—sleep. You really don’t need to figure out how to fall asleep. 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.
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. So rather than laying there making yourself angry or frustrated, 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 human being alive.
Have a great sleep!
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
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 overthinking, 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 finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.