There was a time when sleep deprivation was a badge of pride in this city. Black sacks under your eyes were proof of your hundred-hour workweeks at a dot-com start-up; your coke binges at Brownies; your incredibly naughty, all-night, one-night stands—or a combination of the three. But recently, as sleep issues have become sensationalized in the news, people are more likely to brag about their doctor who doles out Ambien like candy. Studies tell us that we can never make up for lost sleep and that restless nights stifle creativity, age us faster, and hamper weight loss. It’s enough to dampen anyone’s sex drive—at least until morning. Sleep is no longer an indulgence for the weak, or those who can’t get laid, but rather something we must fix, and people are developing prescription-drug habits, going into debt, and even forgoing sex to get it.
When Lara, a 33-year-old illustrator, talks about her Tempur-Pedic bed, you could be forgiven for thinking she was raving about her latest crush. “It envelops you like whipped cream,” she says. “You can’t help but audibly moan when you sink into it.” (She let us test the theory; it’s true!) Lara is usually pretty frugal—she berated herself for weeks last spring when she spent $90 on a pair of jeans—but after more than a year of sleepless nights and waking to back pain every morning, she decided to splurge on her new love.
“It’s the best investment I ever made,” says Lara, her maxed-out credit card notwithstanding. “Rolling around in my bed feels like that post-sex glow. The only problem is, now that I don’t need sex with my boyfriend to feel that way, I’ve stopped initiating, or even wanting, sex at night.” There has been one benefit: With her back pain and sleeplessness “totally gone,” the morning sex has markedly improved.
Jasper, who calls sleep his “muse” and whose favorite store is Bed, Bath & Beyond, has no such qualms about sharing his bed—in fact, he actively seeks out company in the land of Nod. He once posted an ad on Craigslist.com looking for a guy to spoon with. “I went over to this stranger’s place, we had some awkward small talk, and then we climbed into bed. He tried to get something going, I reminded him this was about spooning, he finally settled down, and we did it: We spooned and slept. I left the next day feeling pretty triumphant, but I know he was bummed.”
But for some people, it’s not just a matter of high thread count or the right spooning partner.
“I take Lunesta every night,” says Charlotte, a single, 28-year-old health-care worker. “I am a horrible sleeper. If sex stuff is starting up at 11 p.m., I am likely to nix it because it will last too long.”
The few times Charlotte has attempted to mix sex and sleeping pills, the Lunesta three-way has left her mortified. “Once I had phone sex and had no recollection of it until my girlfriend reminded me,” she says.
Alyssa, a 34-year-old editor and self-professed “world-class insomniac,” has had a lot of phone sex she doesn’t recall. She had a long-distance boyfriend and would always take Ambien right before calling him, last thing at night. “Once or twice, I called him the next day and said, “Uh, did we have phone sex last night?’ He thought it was funny, though he probably wouldn’t think it was so funny if he knew how often I was on Ambien during our calls.”
Debbie, a 24-year-old grad student, dumped her boyfriend of three years because he didn’t respect her love of sleep. “He was too loud in the morning,” she says. “We fought about it a lot, and one morning—when he actually sat on the futon where I was sleeping, turned on the TV, and ate a bowl of cereal—I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone who didn’t understand my need for sleep.” Single until recently, she’d often turn down late-night hookups in favor of shut-eye.
So what’s it’s like for the person on the other side of the bed? “I briefly dated a sleep neurotic and found it offensive,” says Andrea, a 32-year-old television producer. She’s always been happy to sacrifice sleep for her sex life. “I don’t know what that means,” she says. “Am I desperate, or stoic?”
Emma Taylor and Lorelai Sharkey write about sex and relationships on EmandLo.com.