Of all the relationships that change when you have children, your relationship with sleep changes the most. Actually, for women the ‘lack of sleep’ conditioning seems to start long before the child arrives when you are forced to find a comfortable position while sleeping on top of a balance ball that is somehow shoved into your stomach – pinching nerves and making you feel like you will pee your pants at any minute. And this balance ball, unlike the ones used for yoga, moves, and kicks and seems to find the most inopportune times to punch you in the gallbladder. And from there you wonder, is a good night's sleep a thing of the past? Sadly, yes…yes it is!
It’s amazing really, how a newborn, who is believed to sleep an exuberant amount of hours in a 24-hour period, seems to be the constant source of your inability to sleep. Because when they are sleeping, you are worried about them waking up or worried about them breathing and instead of sleeping yourself, you are doing laundry, preparing bottles, or taking a shower. When the tasks are done, the little beast wakes up again and needs something else to eat so he or she can go back to sleep. And you are back on the hamster wheel ride that is parenthood.
Then, when nighttime arrives because of some wicked sense of timing, your baby either decides that she wants to play, be held or be rocked – or has an immature fear of the dark and starts to cry. And it normally takes her till dawn to fall back into that peaceful slumber. But then, you are awake.
Fast forward, a few months and your entire life revolves around implementing a sleep schedule that allows you to get a handle on things. You put the baby down at 7pm, and wait up until 1pm when they will need to feed. This means its 3pm before you can go to bed and at 6am, the meridian cycle finally in sync - hits your baby and she is awake. Wide awake! Thus, so are you. You fiddle with the times a bit, wondering if putting your baby to bed a little earlier or later will afford you more restful sleep. But it doesn’t. And then when the dream realization of having a child sleep through the night arrives – the sheer fact that you can sleep for a few straight hours terrifies you, and you are up hourly checking your baby.
This goes on for a while, and you eventually decide that life would be better to just keep your baby in bed with you. This means less getting up, and less running around like a vampire at night. Sadly, it also means that sharp toenails, and boney feet as well as fluffy hair and snoring are lying right beside you making it impossible sleep for more than an hour straight. But at least, you aren’t having to get out of bed. That is until your child becomes so big, steals your pillow every night, leaves you with no covers, and pushes you to edge where your arms turn numb from lack of circulation. Now you find yourself sleeping on the couch while your spouse and your child sleep comfortably in the bed together. Plus, you have the occasional fevers and the crazy nights where your child throws up in bed (always at 2am).
Then, your child gets bigger and decides that they no longer want to sleep with mom and dad. (Thank goodness) In fact, they no longer want to sleep at all. You hear them doing God knows what in their rooms at God only knows what hours. The older they get the later they stay up – the less comfortable you feel going to sleep while the children are awake, no matter how tired you are. Teenage years hit and not only are you worried about cyber bullying and sexting, you are also terrified that your child will have the gall to sneak out like you did as a teen. There is the music, the television shows, and the constant worries that some punk boy or girl will be rapping at the window at all hours of the night.
Next up, they are driving and that means no sleep at all! Really, how can any good parent sleep when they know their child is out on the roads with all those crazies? So you sit up and watch the news, or I Love Lucy reruns – waiting for that creak in the garage that tells you your baby is home safe.
And eventually, they go to college. Now you really can’t sleep. Not only do you have some major bills to worry about – but you have lost any and all control over what they do and who they do it with and spend many hours reliving the past 18 years – hoping and praying that you did things right. You go to sleep hoping the phone will ring and it will be your child calling to say goodnight. You think back to those sharp toenails and realize that you would give anything to have them back for a moment.
And such is life. Eventually they are married with children of their own, which gives you entirely more reasons not to sleep. Plus, all the blood pressure and thyroid medications you have to take, and the fact that menopause is upon you, means endless more nights that bleed into days without sleep.