“Hmmm…that was fantastic.”
A man in his late 30s scoops his arms around my friend as she stands at the kitchen sink and kisses her, nuzzling her neck. She is giggling, “ooh, my pleasure.”
I have not accidentally stumbled into some fist-bitingly embarrassing piece of pillow talk between two hot new lovers. Rather, I am staying for the weekend in Suffolk and my friend is being showered in tingling tokens of love and affection because she gave a her husband a long hard two-hour lie in.
She is happy to do so, given she can no longer sleep past 6am anyway and it assuages her guilt for being so tetchy with him all week and always wanting to go to bed at 9pm. Not for hot love between the sheets, I might add, but with Masterchef on the iplayer and a plan of being asleep before 10pm.
Anyone with young children will attest; sleep is the new sex. And once I get going I can go all night.
Later on in the week I am with a group of mums and babies gossiping over coffee. One girl is describing a nap she had the day before: “OK, so not like a tired afternoon nap, but a morning nap, when I didn’t need it, and I was in bed, not just on the sofa. And I woke and I felt, well, incredible, like a new woman.” She gives a coy smile.
Part driven by crazed jealousy and part hypnotised as though she was telling us Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper had turned up for an impromptu and very adult play date, we lean in and savour every detail.
“I mean I didn’t even plan the nap, I just found myself napping and the baby slept and, oh God, it was great. I think it lasted about an hour. Fucking great.”
A teenage boy thinks about sex on average 15 seconds a day. Similarly, I obsess about sleep. I develop strategies to grab a lie in, dream about an eight-hour stretch and often compete with my husband as to who has had the least sleep. We both fantasize about the toddler sleeping past 7am and scour the internet looking for the latest in gro-clock technology and black-out blinds rather than any kink.
Sex should refresh and relax us, but we both know nothing beats a good hard nights sleep. Sex is the glue, apparently, in a decent marriage and although no one likes to admit it, we all feel a sense of “job done” after the monthly marital shag. As for foreplay, it’s a lot more “Brace Yourself Bridget,” as who really has the time or inclination?
There’s also the chance you could get pregnant. Mothers nervously share stories of women who had sex once after their first baby, only to wind up with triplets a year later. No one is having enough sex to warrant taking the pill, so it’s a very real possibility.
And it’s not even that my children are poor sleepers. They are both asleep, pretty much without fail, from 8pm until about 7am meaning that even if I wanted an eight-hour sleep I still have three hours for a non stop clothes-ripping shag fest. But children are a full on proposition with no let up during the day and we don’t spontaneously get pissed on a Monday night anymore and get hot and flirty in the cab in the way home. And in any case, that latest box set isn’t going to get watched by itself.
And what about those who like to brag, those couples we know who are still having sex on the sofa and like to host raunchy sauna parties? Well, I think the following two things are probably going on; they are either a) really happy and bravo for bragging or b) lying.
So, sex or sleep? Which is most important? My husband returns from an overnight work event and I ask him about the boring, lengthy, boozy dinner he had to endure with a client. He looks sheepish.
“I have something to tell you; while I was away in Salford, well, something happened. The client says he felt tired and his wife has just had a baby, so…well, we all got an early night.”
I turn away from him, hand to my mouth in horror. I swallow and breathe.
“It’s OK,” I say. “I’m glad you told me.” Like an animal worrying its prey I nag at him, pushing him for all the details.
“To be honest,” he says, “I had too much sleep. It’s weird but it’s made me feel worse, more tired and, you know what hotels are like, I feel a bit grubby.”
I’m so confused. I would give my left kidney for a night like that. An evening not structured into a bedtime routine with nappies and bath time and books and stickers and praise and Peppa. In fact I would probably give one of the children’s kidneys.
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,”he says. “I missed you lot. It’s just no fun on your own. We can sleep when we’re dead,” he says cheerfully giving me a hug.
The weird thing is he’s right. The tiredness gnaws away and creates a strange buzz behind the eyes that no painkiller can shift. And yet, like the pain caused by a break up or the boss at work who drives everyone crazy, we will miss it when it’s gone. My husband’s right; you can sleep when you’re dead. Sex or sleep? I’d like a bit more of both please.
'Motherhood is different for all of us…
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