Sleeplessness & Survival
“How I finally fixed my sleep problems.”
“The secret to a goodnight’s sleep.”
“15 reasons you keep waking up in the middle of the night.”
Should I continue? Our society is obsessed with sleep. From all of the research on the ill effects of not getting enough sleep (or getting too much!) to the tips and tricks for solving sleep problems, it can be endless and overwhelming. As a (still fairly new) mom, I waver between annoyed and angry every time another groundbreaking study reveals that my current sleep patterns are unhealthy and may even lead to an early demise. I’m not one to leave comments on articles, but if I was, my sleep-deprived brain has conjured up many retorts in the late (or early) hours of the night along the lines of: “Middle-of-the-night wake ups are harmful for my REM cycle? How interesting. Let me tell that to my 18-month-old who can’t sleep with the slightest hint of a stuffy nose.”
Of course, sleep is important. But when you tell a bone-tired parent that rest is within reach with a few easy tips, Mr. Whelan from Reader’s Digest, we’re probably not going to take it well! The natural progression during this sleepless time, then, is to research a more probable solution. And by that, I mean fall into a Google wormhole of community message threads with desperate moms and blog articles about other people’s perfect babies. Both of those nosedive quickly from helpful to hysterical. In fact, I found most blogger’s posts about baby sleeping habits to be just as hopeless as the mainstream tips. After all, what works for one baby will rarely work for another.
It took a while to accept that truth, as logic often requires a clear, rested mind. When our sleep problems were at their worst last year, I read an assortment of sleep training methods. I tried a few, but nothing seemed to work. My son never calmed down enough to soothe himself – instead, he’d just become more angry that I was ignoring him. He didn’t take a binky or like to be swaddled. What was I doing wrong? The only thing that brought me peace, and perspective, during that time was this article from Jennifer Batchelor: “Sometimes Babies Don’t Sleep.” It beautifully outlines the truth that you can’t always train or schedule away these difficult aspects of parenthood. Sometimes, babies just don’t sleep. Sometimes, we aren’t in control. It’s so simple, but it felt groundbreaking to accept that in the midst of exhaustion!
Before having my son, I had never stayed awake for an entire night. I went to bed when I was tired, even if that meant missing out on all-night study sessions or bowing out of a social event early. Then, at exactly 39 weeks and six days pregnant, I started having contractions. Instead of sleeping, I watched movies all night and counted the time between contractions. At 4 am on my due date, it finally seemed like it was time to wake up my husband and head to the hospital. Griffin was born that night around 10 pm and then, between tests and vital checks and everything else, rest still alluded us. I went from 0 to 60 when it came to testing my ability to function without sleep. My sometimes sleep-challenged child was sending me a sign right from the beginning!
Now that he’s 18 months, there are plenty of nights when he sleeps well and I almost forget what we’ve survived to get here. And then he’ll get a cold and his response to the discomfort of a stuffy nose will give me terrifying glimpses into his “man flu” future (mostly joking!). Even so, we’ll have a night without sleep that takes us back to the beginning days of our family of three. I’ll gripe and groan the next morning and add a few more cups to my usual coffee lineup, but I’ll press on.
Because within the harsh frustration of not being able to sleep when it’s all you want to do, a tiny light is flickering to flames. A growing wisdom is replacing my initial motherhood frustrations and insecurities. I’m beginning to recognize how incomprehensible and extraordinary the foundation of trust and selflessness is that results when you are the caregiver of a tiny human; when you cater to their every need. Not sleeping sucks, there’s no denying that. But it shows you how strong you are; how much you can still accomplish when your brain is pounding and your eyes are hazy. And it also demonstrates the limitless love of parenthood.