About 4:30 this morning my husband and I were lying there petting the dog and talking about our random sleep schedules. He is hooked up to his dialysis machine at night, and it makes various beeps and boops, with accompanying blinking lights, so he tends to be awake often during the night.
I read in bed, and sometimes am awake until after two, depending on how gripping the narrative is, or how insomniac I am. I hear him waking, fiddling with the dialysis machine, and drifting back to sleep. Sometimes the machine wakes me up, too, and we have these early morning conversations.
We were discussing whether our sleep has become so off and on because of our age, our medications, his machine, the dog, or, our best guess, all of these things.
Rick and I have one of those foam mattresses that are all the thing these days. I bought it at the discount store a few years ago. It is probably the most comfortable mattress we’ve ever had. No hard pressure points for arthritic limbs and joints, and it practically hugs you and says, "There, there, baby, you get your rest," when you lie down on it. Ah, we sigh, and snuggle in, and the dog snuggles in next to us.
There are downsides to this cuddly mattress. The dog tends to slide in my direction during the night. Some nights I wake up clinging to the edge of the mattress.
Garrison Keillor used to do ads for the "Deep Valley" bed, an old mattress with a sag in the middle that rolled the occupants of the bed toward each other. The foam mattress does not have a deep valley, but it does dip where you and the dog lie on it.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and a dog abhors leaving you any space in bed. I know the truth of this when I wake up in the wee hours being pushed over the edge by the impressive bulk of our affectionate pit bull.
She looked so small the day we met her. After living with an 85-pound Doberman-Pit Bull and a 60-pound Collabrador, Marley looked downright petite. We soon learned that she has what my husband calls "dense molecules." Marley may not look very big, but she is a chunk of muscle, and when she hops up on the bed and lies down it’s a lot like sharing the space with a sack of wet cement.
There is another problem with a soft mattress. After a while your back protests at the lack of support and you can develop muscle cramps and spasms.
So sometimes I nap on the floor. A few hours on a flat hard surface and my back is much happier. I think the reason for this is that the human body slept on the ground or the floor, without much padding, for centuries. We’re not designed for soft and comfy. We’re designed for hard and unyielding. When I lie on the floor, I note in passing, the dog does not join me. She stays up on the nice soft couch.
I think of the mattress ads I’ve seen, with a body, usually an attractive, height-weight proportional female silhouette, lying on a mattress. The illustration points out how the mattress shapes itself to the contours of the human body, going up at the waist and down at the hip and shoulder, a perfect fit for every physical idiosyncrasy. There is never a dog in these ads.
Listen up: we are not made for beds that shape themselves to us. We are made to sleep on the floor or the ground, with the dogs cuddled up next to us so we supply each other body heat, perhaps next to a fire that stays lit all night if we’re lucky. That’s my theory.
I heard when I was young, "Old people don’t need as much sleep." Well, phooey. I think we need as much sleep, but we don’t get it, at least in one stretch. When my mom was in her later years, she was always dozing off in her chair while watching TV. I understand that now.
If you get eight hours of sleep in a row, do not have medical machines keeping you alive, and don’t have a dog pushing you off the bed, you have none of these complaints. Congratulations. I’m happy for you. But I don’t want to hear about it.