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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

After Marriage, Sleep is a Lost Commodity...

Most parents would tell you that sleep is never the same after having kids but, let’s face it, sleep is never the same after taking our wedding vows, period.

It’s funny how couples are portrayed sleeping together in the movies and on TV. They are usually shown with their arms wrapped lovingly around each other, lying peacefully, and, apparently, comfortably.

I don’t know about other couples but in my wife’s and my case, nothing could be further from the truth. Early into our marriage (and I'm talking honeymoon at most), when we tried to cuddle to sleep together, aside from losing sensation in my arm and shoulder, I usually started sweating profusely and, as we shifted to seek a more comfortable position, there was bound to be an elbow to the head or face. Making it worst, my wife would argue, was my heavy and loud snoring in her ear. And, that is where our sleep troubles begin.

It all started the first night we slept together. Despite trying desperately to stay awake until she was asleep, so as to not scare her away (it never works since as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m sound asleep), I kept her up for most of the night with my escalating snoring, which starts off as a deep breath and by the third inhale becomes a thunderous roar (and I’m not talking Helen Reddy or garden variety wild animal. I mean digitally re-mastered theatre quality surround-sound MGM lion roar).

In the morning, I looked at her, and noticing the bags under her eyes, asked her hesitantly, although knowing the answer, “Did I snore?” She just looked at me with a blank stare on her face, probably numb from the exhaustion and the somber realization of what she was getting into, and just smiled.

On a positive note, she must really love me because more than thirteen years later, despite a short intermission (more on that shortly) we are still sleeping together (although alcohol may have helped her through the early years!).

Let me put it into perspective. My snoring was so bad that I woke myself up from time to time. In fact, I was once sent on a business trip to a Hispanic journalists’ convention in Atlanta. A friend, who had worked with me at local cable television news department, before landing a reporting job in Arizona, calls me up to ask if I was going and if he could bunk with me, since he was paying for the trip on his own. I said no problem but warned him about my snoring. “No problem,” he said.

We went to sleep that first night and, when I got up in the morning, my friend was not in his bed. I figured he was an early riser and may have gone for a run. I go to the bathroom, turned on the lights and find him sleeping in a makeshift bed, with blankets and pillows, underneath the sink. He opens his eyes and says (get this), “You really do snore!” Hey, I warned him. On the second night, I think he begged someone to take him in because he never returned.

Another time, I went with a group of friends to a baseball tournament in Tampa/St. Pete. Trying to cut costs, I shared a room with five other guys (yeah, we were being cheap!). Sometime during the night, I felt socks and pillows being hurled at me from different directions. Apparently, my snoring woke the other guys, who couldn’t believe the noise I was making. Fortunately, the next night, we stayed out late and they collapsed from both the alcohol and sheer exhaustion from the previous night, which, as I stated before, may have helped my wife, along with a noisy air conditioning wall unit, get through the first few years of marriage.

It got worse, of course, when our kids came along.

I remember the first night after our eldest child was born at South Miami Hospital. We were so excited, as first time parents, that when they gave us an option of having her either sleep in the nursery or stay with us for the night, I convinced my wife to keep her.  Unfortunately, it was probably one of the longest and stressful nights of our lives. She did not stop crying. I tried to let my wife sleep (which was useless) and held her our daughter all night. I walked her, rocked her, made the clicking noise that parents use on babies, and caressed her soothingly but nothing worked. It only went downhill from there.

A few years later, when our daughter was about three-years-old, and my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, it got so bad one night that between my snoring, her discomfort, having to get up to go to the bathroom, and our toddler climbing into our bed (she was a kicker), my wife turned to me and said, “Either you do something about your snoring, or we’re getting a divorce!” (Insert dramatic music here)

Needless to say, I was relegated to the living room couch for the next several weeks, until I made an appointment at the University of Miami’s Sleep Disorder Clinic for an overnight sleep study that I can honestly say, didn’t just help save our marriage and get me back in our bed, but changed our lives (even if short-lived).

The study determined that I had Sleep Apnea and that my sleep was being interrupted every 58 seconds. They put me on an oxygen machine, called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machine, that allowed me to sleep, and rest, the entire night, probably for the first time in my adult life.  I have been using it ever since, no matter where I travel (even for naps).

I may sound like Darth Vader, which has a lulling effect on my wife, but by the time our second daughter was born, the next wave of nocturnal crying, crib wettings, nightmares, sicknesses, and sleepless nights were back.  And, by the time our son was born, we were so beat down and exhausted, that we didn’t even bother taking them back to their beds when they came to our bed in the middle of the night.  It was like Grand Central Station in our bedroom. Between our middle and younger kids, it was a constant flow of incoming and outgoing traffic.

Adding to our misery was our mattress, which needed to be replaced over five years ago, but wasn't until recently.  I felt like I was sleeping in a hole. It was worn down (literally) to the point where no matter how many times we flipped it or twirled it, there always a noticeable dent on my side of the bed (obviously I weigh a tad more than my wife). In fact, just getting up in the morning (in all my slenderness), required the right amount of impulse and my legs raised at just the right angle, so as to allow me to swing forward. Not pretty!

Now, even after finally replacing our mattress and getting our kids to stay in their beds for the entire night, which was a longstanding mission (and continues to be), we can never sleep in. A normal weekend in our family means waking up early and rushing to get the three kids ready to make it to, either my daughter's soccer game on Saturdays, or Mass on Sundays.

Worst of all, the older I get, the more I realize that I'm turning into my dad, who while I was growing up always appeared to be up at the crack of dawn (of course, he dozes off at the drop of a hat).  They say that older people need less sleep, which I don't believe.  I just think older people can't sleep!  

Recently, we were invited to dinner at the house of good friends, whose kids were gone for the summer because the wife had open heart surgery and needed time to recover.

Since their kids would not be home, we decided to make it an adult night out and sent our kids to my mother-in-law’s condominium for the night.

As it turned out, another mutual friend, who we hadn’t seen in a couple of years, shows up at our friends’ house and we were having such a good time, after polishing off, at least six bottles of wine and a bottle of Champagne , that when I looked at my watch, it was already 2:00am. Mind you, anything past 10:30pm, is past my bedtime.  By now, I'm sure you think we are drunkards but, hey, Jesus' first miracle was turning six twenty gallon water jars into wine, more than the entire population of Cana could possibly consume (not that me and my friends were trying to!).  We ended up getting home at about 2:30am, and, by the time we went to bed, it was closer to 3:00am.

You would think that having the kids out of the house, would allow us to sleep in a little.  But, despite our plans to forgo 9am Mass and go to 10:30am instead, by 8:00am, instead of the pitter patter of my younger daughter or my three-year-old son, I heard the shuffling about of my wife, who was getting up to go for a one hour run.  Say what? Are you kidding me? We just went to bed! I looked at my watch and noticed the time. I still had another hour of sleep left.

As Cuban grandmothers would say, “Cada loco con su tema,” or loosely translated, “Each crazy person has their own issue.” Ok, go! Knock yourself out, I thought.

There I was, in our comfy new mattress, eyes closed and taking deep breathes. The room temperature was just cold enough to require the covers to be pulled up. I scooted into the middle of the mattress.  The only sound was the hum of our central air unit. I was nice and cozy. And, did I mention I had another hour left of sleep? My wife is gone. I have the bed to myself and… nothing! I couldn’t go back to sleep. C’mon! I went to bed at 3:00am. I’m severely dehydrated from all the wine. My head is pounding. Then, since God has a good sense of humor, nature calls. I had to get up.  Moreover, as most people in their late 40's will tell you, unless it is still dark out, once you get up, you're up.

Not that I'm blaming marriage, but it seems that all my sleeping problems began shortly after tying the knot.  Of course, I must admit, I wouldn't change it for the world...

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