The obsession our culture seems to have with getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night is a bit unreasonable. I’m of the mind that there is no law that states that anyone deserves a full night’s sleep if someone needs them. Some people decide to willingly forego uninterrupted sleep. For instance, Ministers, Obstetricians and Midwives, Fire Rescuers, EMTs and ER staff are always getting up in the middle of sleep to help people.
I remember talking with a friend of mine, whose daughter was my age, about this after having my first baby. She told me, in a nutshell:
“A full night’s sleep ends when you become a parent. It’s not just when they’re little either. Even after the baby stage, there was sickness, nightmares, asthma, the teen years (waiting up for them to get home from parties, concerts, etc), then there was worrying about their marriages (Are they happy? Is my new son-in-law treating our daughter well? Do they have enough money?), worrying about their kids, etc…”. I thought that was interesting.
So here’s my take on it: If someone needs me, am I entitled to a good night’s sleep? If my best friend calls crying in the middle of the night, am I going to let her cry it out alone? Why are babies, whose pain is so primal that it sinks deep into their muscles, bones, and nervous system, any different?
I have a friend whose children are young adults. Once she told me that, after acting sullen and uncommunicative for days, her teenagers would sometimes open up to her and want to talk, but that it always happened late at night. You think she stayed up to listen? You bet.
There are a few scary parenting books that suggest that your child is trying to “control” you by crying at night. “Don’t let them “control” you! Don’t let that new baby upset the status quo in your family…you gotta show ‘em who’s boss!”
A baby who cries for Mommy in the night just wants to be near his most favorite person in the world, asleep or awake. Why are people afraid to let him? It doesn’t sound like a problem to me if my baby wants to “control” me if that means not leaving my side.
Goodness, few people feel that way about their own spouse. Maybe that’s why so many people have intimacy issues these days. Maybe it’s why people are afraid to be attached, to be vulnerable, because they’re so accustomed to their cries, from the earliest age, being ignored?
I’m not going to say that sleep deprivation is easy to endure. I’m the first person to excuse away my fuzzy-headed behavior with that excuse. But as I see it, the problem is not so much that you aren’t getting enough rest, the problem is what you (and what the world) expect of yourself when are are awake!
If you have one baby or toddler and you expect for your house to be as clean as it was B.C. (before children), you’re expecting too much. If you have more than one, then you REALLY expect too much of yourself. Keeping everyone a) alive b) fed c) clean and d) dry is a full time occupation in itself.
Do yourself a favor. Adjust the pace of life and adjust the burden you place on yourself. If you’re sleep deprived and caring for a new baby, focus on these basic things:
Feed the baby
and if you can, then go on to:
Clean the baby
Only then should you tackle:
Clean the house
Shopping, errands etc
If you’re learning how to breastfeed your newborn, then do that. Don’t worry for now about being Martha Stewart. If anyone complains, don’t invite them back to your house. If your husband complains, hand him the baby, remind him that men CAN lactate, and ask if he wants to take over the job.
When your baby is young and he’s your first, you can (and you *should*) nap with him during the day. Learn how to breastfeed lying down and get some rest that way. Even if you don’t fall asleep, you’ll still feel better for it.
If you have a crawling baby or older toddler, this tip has worked for some Moms. Totally childproof one room in the house. Lay on the floor and provide the little one with a couple of toys, and close your eyes. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel with 5 minutes of shut eye.
Even better, enjoy that afternoon nap with your child. He’ll sleep better and longer if you nap together. You might even be able to slip away after 20 minutes and have a cup of tea. Resist the urge to do housework when your child is sleeping -that’s your recharge time!
If you’re an employed Mom then you need to get creative. Go to bed at 8 p.m. with the baby. If you’re up at 6 then you’ve gotten 10 hours of rest, total, even if it’s interrupted. Be sure to take naps on the weekends. Nap at work and see if anyone notices. (Just kidding!)
Be flexible with your sleeping arrangements. It was a wise person who said that the best place for babies to sleep is the place where everyone involved gets the most rest.
It also helps to keep a positive outlook. Attitude is everything, as they say. I remember going to concerts B.C. (before children) and not getting home until 2 or 3. I would drag myself around the next day, but it was worth it. Having a good attitude about sleep means that the effects of being tired won’t be so overwhelming.
In the book The Continuum Concept, author Jean Leidloff tells of an Amazon Indian tribe who values humor more than sleep. The men sleep communally around a fire, and if one wakes up and remembers a good joke, he wakes up the others and tells them the joke. They all have a good laugh then go back to sleep. So relax and embrace those moments of wakefulness in the night with just you and your baby to cuddle. They will be over so very fast!