The Many Textures of Sleep-Deprivation

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The Many Textures of Sleep-Deprivation

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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.

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28 Comments

  1. Cassandra Colgan
    Cassandra Colgan01-30-2013

    This post hits way to close to home Kristen, way to close… My days are filled with grumpy desperation, longing for peace and sleep, loving my children yet looking forward to the moment with everyone in the house is consecutively asleep… and to think, I have not slept the night through in almost an entire year, makes me feel that much more desperate for sleep.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas01-31-2013

      Cassie, my heart goes out to you. And to think of how booming your business is and all that is going on in your life!!! This just tells me even more that we need to meet (FINALLY) and just let our boys play while we sit back with a cup of tea or something.

  2. Laura Stadler
    Laura Stadler01-30-2013

    A huge hug. Your posts about your sleep situation made my own sleep situation that much more bearable – my son is just 2 months older than Eric – and knowing we weren't the only ones with a non-newborn who weren't sleeping significantly lightened my angst and aloneness. Then I read Dr. Sear's Baby Book section on "Night Weaning Your Toddler" and it worked – fast. Max is still in bed with us – but we ALL get enough consecutive hours of sleep that I stopped counting them. I hesitate to suggest how any parent do anything ever and am sure you are aware of and have tried and thought about the things that would work for you and your family and specifically you and Eric as a nursing dyad. And certainly the last thing you need is a stranger (who is obsessed with you and your family:-) ) suggesting how to do things. But in the remote chance that it could help you guys out, I couldn't just mind my own business.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas01-31-2013

      Laura, this comment is like a giant cup of herbal tea for me. Or at least everything that herbal tea is supposed to be (i.e. calming, soothing, etc.). I have not tried that Dr. Sears book yet! And I want to thank you both for the recommendation and for how thoughtful and gentle your recommendation is. (By the way you wrote your comment, my guess is that you know exactly what I mean by that. :) )

  3. Mellanie Melon
    Mellanie Melon01-31-2013

    ahhh, I hear you. I didn't sleep for longer than a 3 hour stretch… and usually only 1 1/2 hr stretches… until this past month. After she turned TWO…. DH gets sick? He gets Nyquil, the guest room, and multiple days in a row of uninterrupted sleep. I get sick? I wake up all the effing time still. :D

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas01-31-2013

      I’ve heard that two is kind of a magical age for babies who have these issues. And I shudder to think of how we are still a whole year away from age two. Ugh.

  4. Mary Catherine
    Mary Catherine01-31-2013

    This is so hardcore my life right now as my 18 month old is nursing with newborn frequency…and hard to admit to friends who’ll shake their heads at me because their sleep trained babies don’t even wake when they’re teething. Sleepy high fives to you, mama, thank you for reminding us we aren’t alone. I know they’ll sleep when the teeth come in, but man oh man these days are exhausting.
    Mary Catherine´s last blog post ..wonderful weekend: in bloom.

  5. psychsarah
    psychsarah01-31-2013

    Hang in there sista! You’re right. It will end. And you’re so good to put it into perspective. I’m so impressed with your ability to eloquently explain your situation. When I returned to work when my son was 6 months old, I found I simply could not synthesize complex information or write clearly as I did before (a major problem as this is a big chunk of what they pay me to do). I first thought I’d lost my mojo, and worried it wouldn’t return. Then when the baby started sleeping better, suddenly it became easier again. Then it dawned on me-sleep deprivation is bad for cognitive function!

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas01-31-2013

      Oh yes–the synthesizing of complex information is a killer. I mean, I can do it. It just takes me a little longer. Or involves more typos. Or something.

      I will say, your point about “then when the baby started sleeping better” reminds me that at the end of this tunnel, there is light. Ha!

  6. InBabyAttachMode
    InBabyAttachMode01-31-2013

    Oh I feel you! I have a 1,5 year old who hasn’t slept through the night ever. I feel awesome when he sleeps a four hour stretch and I feel in heaven when he sleeps a 5 hour stretch. Sadly, this rarely ever happens. But it will happen someday (or he will move away to college, whichever comes first).

  7. Special K
    Special K01-31-2013

    More hugs! My 13 month old is the same way too. Only she can put herself down for her half hour naps if I stick her in the high chair. A few nights ago I ended up curled up in a fetal position on the couch at 3:40am while DH wore a crying DD to get her back to sleep. I had gone to bed a 11pm, but had only had 1 hour of sleep. I’m so tired of being there but not *there* when I go places. The short temper is soooo hard to deal with. And the insomnia. It often takes me over an hour to fall asleep at night. And those rare times where a nap is actually in the cards for me…can’t fall asleep then either. uuuuuugggh!

    We used to have to bounce DD while wearing her in the Ergo to get her to go to sleep. She’d fight sleep so bad I could hardly stand to touch her. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle it any more, she’d pass out. We’ve since tried teaching her to fall asleep on her own in the crib using ideas from “The No Cry Sleep Solution” (There were a few nights where she ended up falling asleep sitting up in her crib) After about 2 months we had a glorious 2 weeks where she was only waking up twice a night. And then she had a cold, and then teeth, and now…I don’t know what she’s doing but it’s not sleeping.

    • Special K
      Special K01-31-2013

      Oh, yeah. One more thought: It’s like having a newborn, only they make a mess of your whole house and no one brings you dinner.

      • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
        BirthingBeautifulIdeas02-01-2013

        YES. THIS.

  8. Rachel
    Rachel02-01-2013

    Oh, man. Just sending big hugs. Take care…
    Rachel´s last blog post ..Today

  9. chava
    chava02-02-2013

    I know this isn’t thrilling to hear, but when you’re drunk or extremely sleep deprived, of COURSE you feel like you would be ok “driving, cooking, and using household appliances.” That doesn’t mean you are. You’ve mentally adjusted to the feeling, but your reaction time hasn’t. That extra time to think of words when writing? Also applies to reaction time when driving.

    Since he doesn’t need, strictly speaking, to night-nurse for nutrition, can Tim take a few sleepless nights with him? Maybe on a mattress on the floor in his room?

    Anecdata: my 10-month old wakes every hour to nurse if we co-sleep. When he’s in his own room he sleeps straight through, sometimes with ten-thirty mins of howling at bedtime. But Babies Are Different, YMMV, etc.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas02-04-2013

      I do thank you for your concern. I have written before about how Tim and I take turns with sleep shifts–and it helps tremendously! On those days where I truly feel too tired to function, he’ll also take over all of the morning duties while I sleep until the very second that he leaves for work. And each day is slightly different–in all honesty, I felt “worse,” fatigue-wise,” when we shifted from all-night sleep to him waking up every three hours. (And that seems downright blissful now!) Eric is a funny baby, however. I’ll even admit–we’ve tried to let him fuss a bit, but his fussing always evolves (or devolves) into uncontrollable wailing, especially when he’s teething.

      And yes, our little Eric USED TO sleep in his own crib for six to ten hours every single night. Now, he won’t even go down in a crib whatsoever, even if it’s right next to our bed. We are steadily improving, however. In fact, this past weekend, he slept for TWO three hour stretches on Saturday night! (My former self looks on that and shudders in horror–ha!)

  10. chava
    chava02-02-2013

    Basic links on it (much more with basic Googling):
    http://news.stanford.edu/news/1999/september29/sleep-929.html
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-10-28-04.html

    Point is, your rest deserves to be a top priority. Good luck!

  11. Kathy
    Kathy02-03-2013

    My son is a month younger than Eric and has seemingly identical sleep patterns. You have captured my experiences, thoughts, and feelings so beautifully here.

    I don’t know what’s more exhausting: the lack of sleep, or the judgment I receive from parents whose babies were “easy” sleepers. Your posts on this topic make me feel understood, and much less lonely when I’m desperately nursing and/or rocking my beautiful baby in the dark. I’ll never be able to adequately express my gratitude for the comfort your writing has brought me during the most challenging year of my life.

    Isn’t it amazing that even a 1.5- hour stretch of sleep can feel like heaven compared to the 15- to 30- minute stretches? This whole experience is just so amazing, in every sense of the word…

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas02-04-2013

      Kathy, this comment brought tears to my eyes. There is so much comfort in understanding, isn’t there?

      Wishing you and your little one a good night’s sleep…

      • Kathy
        Kathy02-05-2013

        I’m grateful to be parenting in the age of the internet, where I can find virtual – yet very real – support from people I’ve never even met. I’m especially grateful that I found your voice – amidst the cacophony of judgy voices – on the internet.

        One day you’ll be sharing a cup of coffee with Eric-of-the-Future (to be clear, you’ll be drinking coffee because it tastes delicious, not because you are sleep-deprived). You’ll explain to him what a “blog” was (blogs will be obsolete as we’ll all be hologramming or something). You’ll confidently end your conversation by saying “…and you know what son? My work on that blog MATTERED.”

        Your writing has mattered to people (like me) who wanted to make informed decisions about their natural birth options. It has mattered to people (like me) who were coping with their emotions following unplanned c-sections. It has mattered to people (like me) who needed encouragement to persevere during the early weeks of breastfeeding. And it has mattered to people (like me) who have struggled to help their babies go the eff to sleep.

        Thank you for writing about things that matter with such humility, humor, and honesty.  And I send those wishes for a good night’s sleep right back at you.

        • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
          BirthingBeautifulIdeas02-05-2013

          So let me say this: whenever I’m having a bad day–the kind where I feel totally crap and worthless–I’m just gonna pull up this comment and read it. Good lord! There are tears! Real tears streaming down my face! Thank you, thank you.

  12. chava
    chava02-05-2013

    Good luck! I don’t have solution or a fix-it-all idea, but I do sympathize and hope things improve soon! (hope that came across).

    I do think that we Americans tend to brush off how dangerous sleep deprivation can be, in everyone from truck drivers to surgeons to mothers. We get used to it, we do “okay,” but yeah….things aren’t, actually, okay. Sometimes I feel like this gets lost in the baby sleep wars. In any case, be careful with yourself!

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas02-05-2013

      Absolutely. I will say, one of the reasons we transitioned to our bed (which I had hesitated to do for so long) is that it allowed me to get seven hours of TOTAL sleep (when you add it all up). The torture is the interruptions all throughout the night…but at least I can sleep through side-nursing.

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  17. Raising Children
    Raising Children10-15-2014

    I’m so impressed with your ability to eloquently explain your situation. When I returned to work when my son was 6 months old, I found I simply could not synthesize complex information or write clearly as I did before (a major problem as this is a big chunk of what they pay me to do). I first thought I’d lost my mojo, and worried it wouldn’t return. Then when the baby started sleeping better, suddenly it became easier again. Then it dawned on me-sleep deprivation is bad for cognitive function!

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