Ah, To Sleep (Is It Only a Dream?)

Posted by savannahkase on January 8, 2014 in Advice, Mom & Dad Dynamics, Parenting, Personal |

I am sick, again. Before I had my son, I was a very healthy person – I ate (fairly) well, exercised (relatively) often, and fell ill only once or twice a year. Now, it seems my husband or I have barely recovered from a bout of illness before the other is struck down. If my son was frequently ill, I would accept sickness as the cost of caring for him and find (some) comfort in knowing he is building immunity that will serve him well throughout his life. Most children catch six to twelve colds per year. But my son has only been ill once (which I wrote about here), and although it was emotionally draining for me and my husband, he was back to his usual self within five days.

Little Man, Big Baby

Little Man, Big Baby

My husband and I keep getting sick because we are tired. Sure, there’s a bug going around and we’re in the depth of cold and flu season, but I believe our sleep deprivation makes us kindling in the path of a flu wildfire. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

** WARNING: This post is a bit rambling because, well, I am sick and tired ….

Everyone knows new parents are sleep-deprived. Before my son was born, I naively believed my husband and I would be the exceptions because we both make sleep a priority and take pains to ensure that we get enough. When my sister told me she hadn’t slept a solid eight hours since her daughter was born a year before, I was aghast and vowed that would never happen to me. And at first, I seemed to be right, because we were blessed with a baby that slept deeply and often. When our newborn was sleeping 18 hours a day and neither of us was working, it was pretty easy for my husband and me to get 8-10 hours of sleep. When I went back to work, my husband took on more night duties so I could rest, and he would sometimes catch a nap with our son in the afternoon. There were a few rough nights, but I thought it would keep getting easier. It has not.

To the contrary, my now 11.5-month-old son no longer likes sleeping in his crib and wakes more frequently at night than he did four or five months ago. Apparently (according to friends and parenting websites), this behavior is not uncommon. However, the fact that we are not alone is cold comfort to my husband and me at 2am.

He sleeps like an angel when we're out and about ...

He sleeps like an angel when we’re out and about …

In Sleep Thieves, author Stanley Coren reports that new parents lose 400-750 hours of sleep in the first year of their child’s life. Obviously, we don’t just stop sleeping entirely for two to three months; rather, most of us who once slept 8 hours a night are getting a quarter less sleep since having a baby. Another frightening factoid, it turns out that exposure to noise at night can suppress immune function even if the sleeper doesn’t wake. Have you ever watched a sleeping baby? They make all kinds of funny noises!

I am well aware that insufficient sleep effects more than my health. According to the National Sleep Research Project’s 40 Facts About Sleep, seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness (or a typical day with a baby) leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%. Even when I do not consciously feel tired, I notice that I am more clumsy (thank goodness I walk to work; the few times I’ve tripped have caused only minor injuries), more hungry (I inhale sugar and carbs to get through my workday), more forgetful (last month we showed up for a first birthday party a day early), and more impatient (with my son, my husband, my clients, the post office clerk, the U.S. postal system …).

The worst part of being chronically tired is that I have only myself to blame. From birth, my son has been very malleable, allowing my husband and me to structure his eat/play/sleep schedule to suit our busy lives. Friends were impressed by the way our son falls asleep right at naptime, no matter where we are, without a fuss, and that he slept in until 8am in the morning. But somehow, during a hurried across-town move, teething, travels, house guests, and other life stressors, I fell into the bad habit of bringing the baby into bed to nurse him at night. I was so tired during these tough times that I often fell asleep with him in my arms. My husband, similarly worn out for the same reasons, started napping with our son in his arms during the day (because really, when a baby cuddles into your lap and falls asleep, you have basically no choice but to do the same). Long story short, we now have a child who wants to sleep next to us all the time.

Empty-Crib Syndrome

Empty-Crib Syndrome

I have a lot of guilt around our current situation, which only makes the tiredness that much more burdensome. My husband and parents believe I have been spoiling the baby by always responding when he cries and cuddling him to calm him down. I know they are right. I have read dozens of books on sleep training, so I am aware that I have created this problem, but it was partly by accident (in the middle of the night, exhaustion saps my resolve to “do the right thing”) and partly by instinct (what mother does not want to comfort and cuddle her baby?).

Last month, my husband and I made a valiant attempt to break our son of sleeping next to us, enduring hours of gut-wrenching tears every night for three weeks before he fell ill and we decided to try again when we move him to his own room once he turns one. So for two more weeks we have a wiggler in our bed, and then we will face our greatest sleep challenge yet. I can only hope that after our son is settled in his own bed in his own room, we will all start getting more sleep and less sick. Fingers crossed!

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  • Jordana says:

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’ve had a really tough week with Naomi up from 2-4am every night and I am simply struggling. I just tried to take a nap but couldn’t sleep – so frustrating! I am also afraid that we’re creating bad habits as Naomi is also such a malleable baby but it’s so hard to “do the right thing” in the middle of the night. She’s not even 4 months old yet, so right now I’m just working towards putting her down “drowsy but awake” but even this is very challenging. I’m so sorry – I feel for you and your lack of sleep!!

  • […] your sleep is frequently interrupted. Unfortunately, this is not exclusively a new baby problem. As I’ve written, baby sleep issues can arise (or persist) well into the first few […]

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