Sleep = Love?

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
– Kahlil Gibran

It is said that in the classic spoon sleep position, the person on the outside – often the guy – likes to feel as if he is protecting his lover, while the person on the inside, well, they’re sensitive. For both partners, the position expresses feelings of safety and security. And spooners are supportive. They don’t go to bed angry.

So said Google when I asked it to educate me on the psychology of sleep. I wanted to know why I was all jacked up on oxytocin, the “love hormone” after spending a night sleeping with an old friend. I’d always believed sex to be the dastardly hijacker of my emotions, but could it really be … sleep?

Oxytocin, incidentally, is produced in the same part of the brain responsible for our sleep-wake cycle.  As a sleep maintenance insomniac, I didn’t need a search engine to tell me that sleep gets shorter and more disrupted with each decade. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of things to avoid the narcotics proposed by a sleep specialist. From cutting out caffeine, to taking magnesium supplements, to homeopathic remedies, to my most recent experiment with doxylamine succinate (the sedating ingredient in Nyquil), I’d venture to say that I’ve tried it all. Hey, I even tried eating a small snack before bed when a woman in a health store suggested maybe I was waking up because I was just hungry (sadly, this theory was later disproved by a sleep study which found that I wake up hundreds of times through the night, rather than once at 3am as I had thought). The most effective remedy thus far has been a combination of acupuncture and a structured sleep hygiene routine consisting of an hour of “mindless activity” before bed. It works pretty well – when I do it, that is.

At any rate, when this friend, who was visiting from out of town, suggested over our drinks (are such plans ever really dreamt up by the sober?) that we go back to his room and “cuddle”, I agreed. Perhaps I’d sleep better, he suggested. I cannot claim that my motives for accepting this invitation were pure. I’ll be honest, this guy is pretty sexy. But when it comes to sleep, I will try anything.

It was wonderful. But, oh, the emotional fall-out.

“According to psychologists,” Glamor’s website advised me, “since people can’t fake body language when they sleep, nights are the time when people are the most honest and vulnerable.” Alright, Glamor isn’t exactly my go-to resource for cold, hard facts, but this seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Spooning “implies physical trust and a feeling of complete emotional safety,” said a Psychology Today blog post. And I found plenty of science suggesting that shared sleep lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and yeah, bumps up the production of oxytocin – which just happens to be the hormone responsible for feelings of attachment and bonding with a mate.

So, sleep, you get the blame for this one. It was you that had me floating around on a glittery pink cloud; you who turned my heart into a sticky honey pot. And you I’ll be more wary of next time.

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