Ahh, sleep deprivation. A sleepless state of existence that is near and not-so-dear to my heart. As a matter of fact, I don’t know that I’ve met many individuals who haven’t made its acquaintance. I’ve fallen somewhere on the lack of sleep spectrum since high school and college. Back then, my sleepless phase of life was pulling all-nighters to study for tests and write endlessly long essays. I’ve caffeinated and kept myself awake as a teacher, too, planning my lessons late into the night. But when I became a parent, I was initiated into a new club. Widely known as the “I’ll Never Sleep Again” club, or Sleep Deprivation 2.0
As you may also know from personal experience, becoming a member of this club is not for the faint of heart.
Entering the Sleepless Phase of Life
I think we ruined our son when he was a baby. He’s never slept well. I probably should have hired a sleep coach. Then I’d be one of the moms talking about how well rested I am. But instead, I’m writing this exposé on how little I actually sleep. When our son was a toddler, my husband and I would take turns lying on the floor next to his tiny toddler bed. I would hold his hand until it started to go limp, the tell-tale sign that he was asleep. I would place my hand on his back, feeling his steady and even breathing. Another good sign.
Then, silently, I would scoot head-first across the floor on my back, like an upside-down ninja snake, toward his bedroom door. With rug burn on my elbows and feeling like I’d just crawled through a Navy SEAL training course, I was almost out. I’d wait a moment, listening, before opening the door a crack, ready to make my escape. And then? His little voice would come through the dark, “Where you going, Mommy?”
YOU’VE GOT to be kidding me! So, I’d slither back over and resume my position on the floor, ready to start the process all over again.
Sleep Deprivation: Mind Over Matter or Matter Over Mind?
I still sleep with two active baby monitors on my bedside table. Is there an unwritten rule out there somewhere? An arbitrary number that determines the cutoff for when it becomes inappropriate to have a visual of my children while they’re sleeping? If so, I haven’t figured it out yet. In this current sleepless phase of my life, I sleep with the monitors side-by-side and inches from my face. I fell into this habit when my son was an infant. Right about the time he made the transition from bedside bassinet to the crib in his own room.
I still have boatloads of sleep-related anxiety. They kickstart the party each night by making it impossible to shut off the worry and fall asleep. I breathe deeply. I say my prayers, and distract myself on Instagram until I’m so tired that my eyelids droop and my phone slips from my hand and clatters onto the floor. It’s always a crapshoot on whether or not I set my alarm beforehand, and is directly related to how fast I peel up to the curb in the school drop-off line the next morning.
Thief (of Sleep) in the Night
Once I am finally asleep, it’s only a matter of time before I’m startled awake again. Sometimes, it’s by my 2nd grader standing over my bed staring at me. Occasionally he will tap my shoulder, but most of the time he just hovers there, lying in wait until my sixth sense detects him and my eyes fly open. I jump out of my ever-loving skin each time this happens, even though I feel like I should be used to it by now. Why can’t he plan his sneak attack at 6am when I have to wake up anyway, instead of during the damn witching hour when I have to calm myself back down again?
When I don’t run the risk of being scared to death by a silent 8-year-old assassin, I expose myself to serious bodily harm when I bolt out of bed and cover the 25 feet of hallway between my bedroom and his in four running leaps. “MOOOOOOMMMMMMM!!!” I hear over his monitor (why do I still have that thing again?). Too many times I’ve started running before the rest of my body knows what’s happening. I round the foot of my bed and slip on the rug, taking myself out before I’m even awake enough to figure out what woke me up in the first place. Please tell me I’m not the only one out there with a permanent bruise on her hip from this type of midnight stuntwoman behavior?
Parents Unite: the Bedwetting Battle
These are just the usual suspects when I think about the ways I’m woken up in the night. Because then there is the bedwetting. That’s a FUN one, as every parent knows. After miraculously not killing myself from vaulting out of bed like an amateur gymnast, I’ll enter the offender’s bedroom to find him sitting up in a state of pee-soaked confusion. I peel the pajamas off of his little body, his arms and legs still heavy with sleep.
After I’ve relocated him to my bed, I groggily scoop up the blankets and sheets. And sometimes pillows. How do those even get caught in the line of fire? I start a midnight load of laundry. Then I flop down onto the couch for what will hopefully be an uninterrupted remainder of the night. “It’s just a phase,” I tell myself. He won’t be wetting the bed in college. Or maybe he will be, but it will probably have something to do with beer intake and he’ll be in charge of washing his own sheets by then. This sleepless phase of life will pass. Right?
The Midnight Party Animal
Our three-year-old daughter is a decent sleeper, for the most part. Except that she will go through phases of awakeness every so often where she’ll sleep from bedtime until 11pm or so and then want to party like a rockstar for the better part of the night. If you’ve ever heard Jennifer Garner’s rendition of Adam Mansbach’s book “Go the F**k to Sleep,” then you can relate. I’ll link it here. Be aware, there’s profanity, in case you couldn’t tell from the title. Every time this happens, I follow a consistent pattern to try to get her to go back to sleep.
I start by rubbing her back and singing a few of her favorite songs like a loving mother should. Then I get her a drink of water and take her to the bathroom for a potty stop. After an hour of lying as still as possible, I give up and tell her I can’t take it anymore. I leave the room. But, she cries and I am her slave so I go back in to comfort her once more. Another hour goes by. And since I can’t sleep while she’s wiggling like she’s got fire ants crawling around in her bed, I take her out to the living room and turn on the TV.
I always pick a super boring show that I can tolerate but that I pray will put her to sleep. And it always fails. She starts asking questions about why the nice couple on HGTV wants to sell their house, totally engaged and not tired AT ALL. I resort to giving her a dose of Motrin, praying that maybe it will take on the properties of melatonin. But, by 4 am, I finally wake my husband because I might just get in my car and drive away by myself, Thelma-and-Louise-style. And of course, like a sleep-drunk magician, not even awake himself, he gets her back to sleep in a matter of minutes.
When There’s Nothing Left to Do but Laugh
Who knows what the cause of my sleep deprivation will be in the future. The sleepless phase of life might be never-ending. No doubt I’ll be up all night worrying about missed curfews and boyfriends and girlfriends and kids sneaking out of windows. But I’ve got an alarm system, so ha! Take that, kids! We’ve all got stories that we can look back on after they’re far behind us and laugh about. I’m hoping you have these stories of your own, and that hearing mine make you feel like you’re not alone. Or maybe they make you feel way better about your own state of sleep (in which case, you must have hired that sleep coach). Let’s do our best to continue to find the humor in the sleepless nights still ahead. Because sometimes, when we can’t do anything else about it, all we can do is laugh.