The Science of Sleep

Baby in a night shirtClay burst in to our bedroom the other night, babbling at the top of his lungs. I fully expected him to belt out a song, Ethel Merman-style. “There’s no business like show business.” He was ready to go, tapped into some powerful energy source. One tiny problem. It was 2:15 a.m. Five minutes earlier, we were all asleep.

Clay is the Typhoid Mary of sleeplessness. Basic rule—if he is awake, I’m awake. Generally, he is out by about 11 p.m., but there are plenty of nights when he can’t settle down. When that happens, he’ll come in for a visit. Sometimes he circles our bed reciting phrases from Dr. Seuss books. Sometimes he burrows under the covers between us, squirming like an eel on a hook. Sometimes he drags his comforter with him and plops on the end of the bed with his feet in our faces. Sometimes he goes downstairs, turns on every light and forages for food. Sometimes he does all of the above.

My wife has the ability (or exhaustion level) after one of these nocturnal visits to close our door and go back to sleep. Me? I’m up. I lay there thinking about the whirring of the electric meter with every light on in the house, and wondering whether the refrigerator and the pantry are locked. I hear him standing in the bathtub talking to himself. Listen to him slamming the toilet seat up and down, rummaging through the medicine cabinet. I work myself into a good lather, ensuring that I’ll be up several hours after he finally settles for the night.

Sometimes, for a week or so, he falls asleep just fine, but then wakes up in the wee hours. He seems to favor 4 a.m. Those periods hit all of us hard. I’ll be awake for at least an hour after that. My wife frequently is up for the day. I know what you are thinking. Can’t we just tire him out during the day, say swimming the English Channel or bringing peace to the Middle East? As far as we can tell there is little correlation between Clay’s day and his level of sleepiness. His restlessness seems unconnected to his activities. (Not so for the rest of us, of course, who return from taking him to a pool for five hours in the hot sun, longing for an afternoon nap that is not to be.)

The other night we ushered him out of our room and closed the door. Miraculously, we both went back to sleep while he ransacked the house like Attila and his hordes. In the morning, he was back in bed, mysteriously missing his pajama bottoms and socks. The house was lit brighter than the Las Vegas strip. We had to wade through an ankle-high sea of potato chips to reach the kitchen counter.

Ethel Merman would have slept in, but we had a full day ahead of us.

Photo credit:  Beverly & Pack. Attribution.



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