The Many Textures of Sleep-Deprivation
I have not slept for a stretch longer than three hours in over six months.
To be clear, a three hour stretch is the exception rather than the rule. (And this is, I think, why it took me a full minute to think of the word ‘exception’ as I was writing that sentence.) Three hour sleep stretches are not nights that I expect. In fact, I yearn for those nights when I’m gifted three consecutive hours of sleep. And those nights are unpredictable. They aren’t something for which I can plan.
Anymore, I don’t even remember what it’s like to sleep for four, five, even six hours.
My nights are often carved into hour-and-a-half long chunks of restless sleep. Nurse, fall back asleep. Nurse, fall back asleep. Nurse, fall back asleep. Nurse, fall back asleep.
My dreams are intense, vivid, more nonsensical than they’ve ever been. Sometimes I wake at 3:30 a.m. and am struck with insomnia–the sort of insomnia that you get when you are so devastatingly tired that your body forgets how to fall back asleep.
And yet, I think that my body has learned how to function. My body has adjusted to the sleep that it is lacking. In many ways, I feel as “okay” as I did back when Eric was sleeping six to ten hours long every night.
I feel safe driving. I feel safe cooking, using major household appliances. I feel confident in my ability to do the work for which I am paid. I don’t let deadlines slip. I can be sharp, creative, and insightful when I need to be. Sometimes I’m even witty.
But my mind is suffering. Perhaps not suffering–“suffering” seems a bit too “first-world-problems,” even for something so all-consuming as sleep deprivation. But my mind is not what it once was. Or rather, it almost feels as if it is turning in on itself. Churning. Somersaulting. Desperately seeking a place to just lie down and sleep.
I’m forgetful. I make careless typos (and am endlessly embarrassed when I don’t catch them in my blog posts). I’m easily overwhelmed. I’m quick-tempered. I’m distracted.
This is coming from someone whose mind was already racing a million-miles-per minute before it even became the mind of a mother.
I work from home. Which means that I work alongside my children. In spite of my children. While my children watch me. With breaks that involve joyful games and books and meals and hugs and snuggles with my children.
I love this situation intensely–it is what works for me, and I’m lucky to be able to choose it–but it is a relentless situation. I don’t have many childcare options. I often write blog posts while I’m sitting in bed with the older boys, after I’ve read to them their good night books. I often do other work on my computer while Eric naps in a baby carrier, attached to my front. I respond to emails while nursing. I reluctantly ask already-overworked neighbors to watch the boys when I’ve scheduled a daytime meeting. I rush out the door in the evening the moment Tim comes home from work when I have a nighttime meeting.
I am well-nourished and healthy and safe in my home. I am partnered with the World’s Best Partner. And I am so tired. So devastatingly tired.
Eric is getting four teeth right now, and teething always throws a wrench into our already delicate sleep circumstances. Thus, getting him down for a nap–bouncing him around the house, in his Boba carrier, as I’ve done for the past four weeks because it’s the only thing that works–has become more challenging. He fights sleep. His poor mouth and gums are in pain. He does not like this any more than I do.
But when a baby is not sleeping, and when you need that baby to sleep, and when you depend on that sleep in order to get shit done, the fighting of said sleep only exacerbates the already devastating fatigue that you feel.
If you’ve ever wondered how a person can feel both rage and pity, but compassion and frustration, both boundless love and endless desperation, just ask a mother who’s not sleeping what it’s like when her baby fights sleep. What it’s like as that baby cries and twists their body away in pain or discomfort or their own devastating fatigue. When that mother wants to hold that baby close and soothe everything that ails them. When she just needs a break from that baby who never gives her a break.
The world seems like it might end in those moments when the baby is fighting sleep.
In those moments, it’s all too easy to feel as if the sleep will never come. Never.
It’s all to easy to think that time will be suspended forever in this very moment: the one where you are failing yourself and your baby, the one where you will never get a full night’s rest again.
Until, that is, the moment when that baby finally does fall asleep. The moment where you’ve not failed. The moment where you remember that this too–even this–shall pass. The moment where you wonder how you could ever feel any rage, frustration, or endless desperation. Because then there’s only the pity and compassion and boundless love left. The world’s texture then changes dramatically, becomes manageable, becomes softer-hued and warm.
And then, if that baby sleeps, the world just might continue to be manageable and soft-hued and warm when the baby is awake once more.
These moments of sleep–these small gifts, these naps from my sweet boy Eric–are what make my sleep-deprived world more manageable, soft-hued, and warm these days.
I know that he’ll sleep again some day. I know that we’ll all sleep some day. I know that there is even a non-zero probability that Eric will some day go back to sleeping for six to ten hours at night, and two to four hours during the day in a place that is not his mother’s arms, all before he goes to kindergarten.
But for now, these moments are what sustain me, as devastatingly tired as I am.