I suppose that when writing a blog about self-care for parents, it’s appropriate that sleep is the first topic. And ironic that sleep issues delayed the launch of this blog by many months by cutting down on my work time, sanity, and brain. This severe constraint of my resources has been forcing me to fiercely prioritize.
Sleep. I miss it. I fiend for sleep like I imagine a drug addict must ache for and obsess over their next fix. No parent I know gets enough of it. Fate dealt us a baby on the bad sleeper end of the spectrum, and we’ve been coping and compensating ever since. We had a brief honeymoon period between six weeks and three months where he slept a 4-5 hour chunk each night, but for the last five months, most of my sleep has been in 40-minute to 2-hour chunks. Often I’m lucky if I get one 4-5 hour chunk in a week, these days. It comes and goes– some weeks are better than others, for sure.
My husband helps heroically, splitting up nights duties with me and going to work every weekday. Despite his help, occasionally I get so tired that I break down and weep in the morning. Pre-baby, I used to feel like I couldn’t cope with life if I got 6-7 hours of sleep for a few nights in a row. Now I’d be tipsy with gratitude if I got an uninterrupted 6-7 hours of sleep for just one night.
Lack of sleep makes me:
- More emotionally vulnerable and moody.
- Less optimistic.
- Less energetic.
- Slower to heal from aches, illnesses and injuries.
- More accident-prone – tending to bump into and drop things.
- More distraction-prone, less able to focus.
- More likely to isolate myself socially, and therefore lonelier.
- Less able to exert will power when it comes to what I eat.
- More forgetful.
- Less patient.
- Less likely to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
- Less playful.
- And a bunch of other bad stuff!
I used to tell myself, after a hard day at work that left me feeling emotionally raw and physically tired, that I would feel better as soon as I got a good night of sleep because it was always true. I miss being able to give myself a good night of sleep simply by going to bed early. I never know what I will get these days when I lay my head down on the pillow. Will it be a good night or will I be woken up every 40 minutes all night long? Sometimes lying myself down in bed feels like gearing myself up for a long ordeal rather than a rest.
How we cope:
Getting reassurance from more experienced parents, who tell us over and over that they’ve been where we are and this too shall pass. I hold on to the hope of their words.
Changing the subject when people try to give me sleep training advice. I’ve read the books and gotten all the tips I can hold. We’ve tried many of them, are trying others already and those we have not tried, are off the table for a good reason. The odds that someone will have an idea I’ve never heard before? Very low indeed. I used to politely let people tell me their long litany of advice and just ignore it if it didn’t suit me, but now most of the time I thank them quickly early into their spiel and tell them that hearing advice on this topic really stresses me out right now. I think I’ve offended a few people, but I need to do it to preserve my sanity.
Hearing about how other babies sleep. Stories of the babies who are sleeping badly make us feel like we aren’t alone. Stories of the babies who are sleeping well give us hope. Stories of the babies who have done both makes us remember that all things good and bad change when you have children, faster than you think it will ever happen.
Asking for help. My son “A” doesn’t take long naps most of the time, so sleeping when he sleeps doesn’t really help me much with getting the longer chunks of sleep my body really needs instead of yet another tiny sleep sprint. Getting the occasional long nap works wonders and may the universe shower with blessings everyone who has given me that gift.
Focusing mindfully on love and my baby. No matter how tired I am, making the conscious choice to connect as deeply as I can with my feelings of love for A helps me feel better. That’s why I’m going through all this, right?
Taking care of my body in other ways as best I can through diet, water, physical activity and so on.
What have your rough patches for sleep been like? How do you take care of yourself through the sleep-deprived times?
Image above by Paul Sapiano used under Creative Commons License.