The house of science
The New York Times reported on a recent study relating to men, women, wailing babies and sleep. The research – Study A – found that women are three times more likely than men to wake up at night in order to care for others. This imbalance remained, whether the woman stayed at home or worked full time.
So far, so familiar. If our household’s sleep were a graph, Walter’s performance would remain a constant along the zzzzz axis (see Figure 1).
The reporter went on to discuss another study – Study B – that found that a baby’s cry is the sound most likely to rouse a sleeping woman. For men, the most sleep-disturbing sounds were car alarms, then howling winds, then the buzz of a fly. According to the paper, a weeping baby did not even feature in the top ten of men’s most dream-wrecking noises.
Here, I was fairly certain that Walter conformed to the norm. Many are the nights that I have been woken by the sensation of my husband standing on the bed, brandishing a fly swatter in the dark, shouting, “Where are you, you little x&$!!” After some time, the winged critter escapes or Walter loses interest, sinking back into the sleep of the innocent. Meanwhile, I lie wide-awake in the dark, cursing the god who made me.
But the likelihood of a crying baby to disturb Walter’s sleep? Confidence in my data was sullied by poor memory recall due to months of sleep deprivation. I was fairly certain that the research findings would be upheld in our household. Yet I have learned, from living with a scientist, that one makes unsubstantiated claims at one’s peril.
Luckily for me, my research was advanced by a natural experiment. This weekend, poor Poppy was ill. She woke up every few hours and howled with misery about having an elevated temperature, erupting gums and a generally cankerous position in life.
For the first few episodes, I got up and tried to comfort her. Then for the next one, and in the interests of science you understand, I stayed in bed. I waited for Walter to get up. Nothing happened. Poppy’s wails grew louder but the subject of the study remained comatose. Not one digit twitched.
I repeated this experiment over a number of nights and the same result was achieved. Figure 2 outlines the findings of my research, and confirms that the conclusions of Study B are, indeed, sound.
Which brings me back to my original assertion that these research papers make my husband look good. I had always assumed that there was something willful about Walter not hearing the baby crying, yet still having the ability to hear me insulting him, in a whisper, three rooms away.
But this research has proven that my husband is not a statistical outlier. He is just … well … a man.