Sleep is, like, so overrated.

No Sleep for Sleep Sheep

Before I had my daughter, I had all sorts of reservations about becoming a parent.  I worried about how I would keep up my social life and about how I would maintain an upward trajectory at work.  I fretted over whether I could manage a parenting-appropriate level of sobriety after my cold turkey pregnancy or manage a private school level of financial solvency to someday afford cello lessons and fancy college dorms.  But what scared me most of all, what really kept me up at night, was my fear of what parenthood would do to my sleep.  And while so many of my other anxieties look downright silly in retrospect, it turns out that sleep was the one and only thing I hadn’t worried about enough.

As I suppose would have been the case with any mildly alcoholic pot-smoker, sleep used to be a very big part of my life, and bedtime was the biggest, bestest, most important part of my day, so important and so pleasurable that all of those hours in between coming home from work and getting into bed just seemed incidental, a formality of waiting for the clock to reach a not completely embarrassing bedtime for a woman of my still young age.  Because bedtime wasn’t just about sleeping – it was a perfect, beautiful slow motion meditation on my day, a luxuriant delicacy of one hundred percent nonproductive time that soothed away all other ills of my life.  I could smoke in bed (when I was still single, at least).  I could drink tea or drink whiskey or drink whiskey with tea.  I could read a chapter of a novel and a chapter of nonfiction, I could write a few lines in my journal and read a few lines of philosophy.  I could snuggle up with my fat and furry cat and my many stacked up pillows and sleep so well and so long that it would take three alarms to rouse me.

And then I got pregnant.

The first time I realized that I was never going to sleep again was while reading one of those generic all about baby books that pregnant women now turn to in lieu of the oral wisdom which, in more civilized times, we would have gleaned from our elder tribeswomen.  This is where I discovered that most newborns need to eat (or suck milk from my breast, to be more specific) every three or four hours until they are at least SIX MONTHS OLD.  This meant that at the very least, I would spend my first three months back at work sleeping no more than three to four hours at a time – if I was lucky.

If I was unlucky, which often (read: always) I was, the baby would nurse for half an hour and then take another half an hour to fall asleep.  It would then take me another half an hour to fall asleep, which meant that sleep would actually occur in intervals of only ninety-minutes.  Ninety-minute intervals of sleep, all night, every night.  Work, meanwhile, would still take the form of nine-hour days.

I never believed that I would be able to manage this kind of schedule, but I did, just like every other working mom I’ve ever met.  I survived those first weeks and survived those first months.  I survived the first half year and survived the first birthday.  I even survived the milestone of “sleeping through the night” only to discover that this actually meant sleeping a span of only six hours, which, unless I went to bed with the baby at 8pm, also meant not much of anything for me.  I survived it all thanks to the belief that someday, someday soon I would sleep again.

And now two years have passed, and still we do not sleep in my house.

Of course we are sleeping more now than we did when my daughter was a newborn.  Of course we have nights every now and then when she will go to sleep at 8pm without a fight and not wake up until 6am the next day.  But more often than not, sleep, in the traditional sense of the word, is not happening.

Take last Monday, for example.  My daughter went to sleep like a perfectly sleep trained child, then woke up at 3am and refused to go back to sleep until naptime the next day.  Or this Monday when she used her perfect toddler diction to say, “I’m tired Mommy, I want to go to sleep,” only to spend the next two hours banging on her crib like a prisoner protesting against his cage.  Or even tonight, with this post pending in my MUST DO BEFORE I GET ANY SLEEP list, when my daughter insisted on me standing watch for an hour while she sang and danced herself to sleep, favorite babydoll in tow for her magical mattress tour.

During the daytime, my husband and I try to be positive about it.  She’s so good at everything else, can we really expect her to be perfect at everything?  Can we really get mad at her resistance to sleep when she’s using all of that late night awake time to practice reciting her ABCs or her multilingual counting?  Can we really blame her for missing us and trying to squeeze in more family togetherness during the only time in our calendars still left unscheduled?  How can we really complain about this one little thing?

But then the lights go out and primeval transformation occurs.  She is no longer the precious, perfect light of my life Koukla; she is a wild, gurgling animal, flopping around on her bed like an amateur acrobat in an eternal, every night struggle against sleep.  We’ve tried rocking and tried swaying, tried warm air misters and cool air misters and blue air circulation machines.  We’ve tried Walk In Walk Out, tried the No Cry Solution, tried the Gradual Withdrawal Tiptoe Dance.  We have the Sleep Sheep and the Light Up Ladybug and the Sleepless in Seattle Rain Machine.  And yet we do not have sleep.

I imagine myself now as that tribal elder I never had, the tribal elder that doesn’t yet exist for this new generation of working moms forging new paths into new wave feminism and new wave parenting.  I imagine myself going back in time, back to those first moments of fear, those first epiphanies of what lay ahead for my sleeping life and my working life and my social life – for the lives that I would never know again – and I imagine I would say this:

It Doesn’t Matter.  It doesn’t matter how little you will sleep or how isolated will feel or how difficult it will be to balance it all.  The only thing that will matter is your child and the boundless joy and the bottomless love that they will bring to your life.

Because this is the only way to explain why, after all of the cajoling and pleading and coercing, after all of my dizziness and my stress and my sleep deprivation, the moment my daughter falls asleep I’m eager for the next day to begin again, eager to hear her calling out for me at five or six in the morning, eager to spend another hour or two or three escorting her into sleep again that night, and eager for every moment in between.

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11 thoughts on “Sleep is, like, so overrated.

  1. Oh Anna. Listen to yourself.
    “banging on her crib like a prisoner protesting against his cage”
    “my daughter insisted on me standing watch for an hour while she sang and danced herself to sleep”

    Is your daughter telling you that her crib is a cage and she doesn’t want to be alone there? Why do we expect very small people to have the capacity to self-soothe and put themselves to sleep without help?

    Or is she singing and dancing to avoid sleep or because she’s already had too much sleep in the form of the last nap? Kids give up on naps at different ages. Are you home when she naps or does that happen at daycare?
    What is wrong about picking her up, snuggling into a cozy chair with her and singing her to sleep, after which you also sleep, in the chair with her?

    Is her crib in a room separate from yours? What are your thoughts on co-sleeping? Things to ponder.

    Jessie

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    1. Ah, yes, I do tend to let my descriptions run away with me at times… My daughter doesn’t dislike being in her crib, she just dislikes sleeping in it. In fact, she appears to dislike sleep in general – whether she’s in her crib, in my arms, in my bed, on her cot at day care, etc, etc. We did co-sleep for the first year, which was a beautiful, amazing experience, but she actually slept better when we moved her to a crib in the en suite style nursery that we had in our old house, and she slept even better still when we moved her into her very own bedroom in the house we live in now. She doesn’t like to nap, and she won’t sleep more than brief stretches when we are holding her while standing, sitting, or cozying up on the couch.

      We’ve really tried it all! I’m honestly convinced that she just feels like there is too much else to be doing and exploring to waste much time with sleep, so I’m doing my best now to strike a balance between what she needs to be healthy (and what I need to function), and what she actually WANTS to be doing. Refusing a nap on the weekends? No big deal. Taking two hours to go to sleep? Frustrating, but not the end of the world. Staying up ALL night long on a school night when I can’t take the next day off to care for her at home? Well, that’s a bit more of a big deal, because she will have a miserable next day at school, and probably come home with a new cold.

      I love my daughter and I love spending time with her, and I continue to surprise myself with how often I can be standing in her room at 4 in the morning, rocking her and singing to her and desperately trying to not think about how I’m going to survive the next day, and despite the stress and the sleep deprivation, I still will think to myself – geez I know this sucks but oh how nice it is to be holding her. So at this point I’m just working on patience and acceptance. Oh, and changing my physiological makeup to require less sleep, of course.

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      1. Ah well, that does put a different flavor on things. 🙂
        I’d say, she’s probably done with naps. At this point, what would it hurt to try eliminating them? If she is sleepy, she’ll sleep. Let her body decide what she needs.
        If you stay with her ’til she sleeps, insist that she stay awake quietly so you can nap in the chair or on the floor. That’s a lot more boring than performing a song and dance routine for Mommy. Boring plus tired plus lights out might be the right combination.
        Good luck!

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      2. Oh but how I love the song and dance routine! And with all of my working mom guilt, it’s hard to not give in. She’s just trying to show me everything she didn’t get to show me during the day, right? I do try to be firm (as my otherwise amazing pediatrician has chastised me on more than one occasion for not being firm enough), but my goodness is she adorable – yes, even at 4 in the morning. Or so I say after sleeping a full seven hours last night… 🙂

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  2. I needed to read this post today. Thanks for sharing!
    My daughter is 6 1/2 months old and I sleep in 45-90 minute increments. 🙂 There’s no other way I’d rather spend my time though, she’s freaking awesome. I mean, I wouldn’t turn down a chance where I get to sleep for a full 8 hours.. I’d even settle for 4 hours…in a totally zen space alone… on a king mattress.. all to myself… smelling of warm lavender….

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    1. I know how you feel, and while I can’t promise that you’re going to get a full 8 hours anytime soon, I can optimistically say that you should start getting at least 2-3 hours at a sitting sometime in the next few months – at least that was my experience. Before I had my daughter, I honestly thought co-sleeping was crazy and borderline irresponsible, but at the end of the day it’s the only thing that saved me from never getting any sleep at all. If you’re not doing it now, maybe give it a shot? (Assuming you have an environment in which this would be safe, etc…)
      The funny thing that I experienced after my daughter started sleeping longer stretches, and when I started having the occasional night away from her for work conferences (or just sending the baby to her grandma’s house so I could rest), is that even when the baby wasn’t waking me up, I was so accustomed to the new sleep pattern that I woke up naturally every 2 or 3 hours. I have to say, that was more frustrating than any night I’ve spent laying on the floor of my daughter’s room and praying for hours on end for her to sleep… But oh how I love that idea of a king sized lavender scented mattress!

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  3. I am just smiling. And smiling. And smiling. 🙂
    You survived. You are doing great. And at some point SHE will sleep. YOU won’t. Because YOU will feel like there is too much else to be doing… (regardless of how many mini-yous will be snuggled up in their beds at some point in your life). My big girl didn’t sleep until she was 3 – I don’t even need to describe it… same as what you are going through. When she started nursery and stopped napping she became a 11-12 hour straight sleeper. NOT joking (she is 7 now and only goes to bed slightly later because I try to have a little one on one time with her, without the little ones). But yes … a complete turnaround … There is hope … but YOU still won’t sleep (says the one who has 3 tucked in bed and is wasting precious shut-eye time away on the laptop… in bed). 🙂

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    1. Ha ha, thank you for giving me hope, but you should go to sleep! Oh, to think of my little Koukla finally sleeping all through the night… You’re right – I think of all of the things I could do, and sleep isn’t one of them! I could write more, I could maybe see friends more than once a year, I could get back into meditation or yoga, I could – gasp – read books again!
      How on earth did you cope with having more babies when the first one wasn’t sleeping to begin with? That’s the big question my husband and I keep asking ourselves – how can we even think about having another when it takes every ounce of our energy just to put one child to sleep at night? I just can’t get over the fact that your OLDEST didn’t sleep, and you still had two more!

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      1. … those were the thoughts I used to have … there are 3 years and 8 months difference between Keala and Keiki … for a reason… The reason being that my husband thought it would be “cute” to have another one if it weren’t for the pregnancy, the birth, the non sleeping and whatever else went on during the day when he was at work… Thing is that none of all this applied to HIM. It took about 18 months to get pregnant with Keiki and this is what allowed me to find myself with 2 sleeping babies. Keiki slept around the clock for the first 6 months of her life. Keala by then was on 12 hours uninterrupted sleep. And Kai was the one who I wanted. Irrationally. Or maybe not.… I am the eldest of girls and was strongly against two girls of the same sex because of the inevitable one on one never-ending comparisons (you know … well meaning people who can never keep a thought to themselves and do more damage than anything else …).

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