Sleeping Beauty is a lie

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Sleep is beautiful. But the physical act of sleeping isn’t. That’s why I roll my eyes during rom-com movies when the man wakes up early (yeah, right) to gaze adoringly at the woman he loves while she sleeps.

Little does he know that she’s not sleeping. She’s acting. She’s doing her best impression of Sleeping Beauty from a Disney movie she watched in the 80s. And she knows he’s watching. It’s not dreamland. It’s deliberate posing. She probably woke up an hour ago to brush her teeth and hair before silently slipping back into bed so she’d be ready for this princess-perfect performance.

But here in the real world, when the cameras aren’t rolling and the handsome prince isn’t watching, sleep isn’t pretty. That’s why we turn the lights off.

Only in cartoon animation can a woman fall into an enchanted slumber and look angelic and gorgeous. In my house, the princess flips and flops until her hair looks like woodland creatures have been nesting in it. Her chin slides back, and her jaw goes slack. A small trickle of drool seeps out onto the pillow. And because she was born into a not-so-royal family with a history of sleep apnea, she just might snort herself awake at 2 a.m.

But there’s a silver lining to this grim tale. If two people still love each other after years of witnessing real sleep in all its gory, maybe they have a shot at staying together.

When I was pregnant with our first child more than 20 years ago, Prince Tom realized that his round-bellied bride turned into a buzzsaw at night. Pregnancy swells everything, including the belly, ankles, and nasal passages. Suddenly, my nocturnal noises ramped up into supersized snoring. Tom made me promise that after the baby was born, I’d go see a sleep specialist. I brushed it off. I wanted to go on pretending to be Sleeping Beauty, so I said he was exaggerating.

Then one night he did the unthinkable. He recorded the sound of me sleeping and played it the next morning. In the cold light of day, there was no denying it. I sounded like a bulldog with a bad sinus infection. Tom said he’d often wake up during the eerie pauses between snores just to make sure I was still alive.

So, when our baby boy turned three months old, I agreed to an overnight sleep study at a specialty clinic. Since then, I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Sleeping Ugly Club. I’m tethered to a CPAP machine, which the doctor says stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.” Those letters might as well stand for “Can’t Possibly Appear Pretty” because that’s how it feels when I fasten the bizarre contraption to my head.

Even though I don’t snore as much anymore, my face is covered by a silicone mask attached to a long hose resembling an elephant trunk. I also have glasses for reading in bed. And the extra sexy cherry on top is the custom-made retainer my dentist made to help keep my jaw in proper alignment. It’s so chunky that I look like a linebacker with a mouthguard. And when I try to talk, I sound like a sleepy Sylvester the Cat. The whole ensemble is super attractive as long as the lights are out.

But at least I’m sleeping better. Tom and I started using a smartphone app designed to measure the quality of our sleep, and we’ve turned it into a competition to see who can get the higher score. I’ve been known to flash my sleep stats at him during breakfast. But he doesn’t mind because his daily step count puts mine to shame. We’ve turned middle-aged health maintenance into a game just to amuse ourselves.

Because when the prince and princess are real people, they do whatever is necessary to stay healthy, raise the royal offspring, and then go to bed so they can live (and sleep) happily ever after.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon. 

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