Ten. That’s the number of hours of sleep I liked to get before I had kids. Some days, my (morning person) husband would be downstairs for hours before I emerged from bed, only to cuddle up under a blanket on the couch. I was living in some magical sleep paradise, unaware that babies would disrupt this sweet sweet cycle of bliss. To be fair, I still need a lot of sleep. Jamie sometimes creeps in our room, drops the coffee next to the bed, and runs before facing me without caffeine.
Four. That’s the number of hours of sleep I vividly remember counting (total) over a 12 hour night time period with my first daughter, Sienna. I remember at six weeks, standing in the bathroom attempting to dry my hair, thinking, “why do people have more than one baby once they experience the hell that is sleep deprivation?” (Spoiler alert: I had another baby). I remember that day- doing some research and deciding that I’d sleep train at 4 months. Four months felt concrete. But, from the trenches, 100 days felt like forever. And then some more. So I cried. It felt unimaginable that I’d ever get past this.
That morning- the morning I was counting hours of sleep and how many days until I could engage in some form of sleep training- that morning I had already gone back to work. After just six short weeks. I was broken hearted, tired, and anxious. I pumped and survived the day, rinse and repeat. And while I relished the evenings of watching sweet chunky Sienna smile or giggle or slowly nurse until her eyes started to flutter and sleep took over… the actual overnight brought a creeping blanket of dread and that verge of tears feeling daily- because I knew I’d be up multiple times and then need to look like and act like a human the next day. The first few months of work left me hanging by a thread. Between all the new baby things, finishing my own training, and oh yes- being completely and totally sleep deprived. I went down the rabbit hole of finding the absolute best way to get more sleep… and I can tell you, reading babycenter.com posts at 2am is indeed one way to learn about sleep.
Of course, the upside of being a psychologist is that when the time arrived to formally work on sleep training, I was prepared. I had a chart of the minimum hours babies should sleep at night by age. I had the science of sleep cycles and training and what research supported. What I didn’t have? The understanding that it – well, it sucks- to hear your baby cry. I didn’t have the experience of doing this. My husband always tells me to “use my strengths” and emphasizes that sometimes one’s strengths are their supports– and not themselves. So I did. I had an amazingly calm husband who insisted on the hard parts being on him, emails with my “sleep mom” friends who I did indeed find on babycenter at 2am (Elisabeth and Sam, I’m eternally grateful to you two) and a billion texts to those who’ve already done this saved my sanity. And while I’ll save you the details for another day- I’ll say this: after a few nights we were all finally getting rest. The answer isn’t the same for everyone. In fact, I’ve heard and seen families achieve sleep in so many different ways I can’t count- but by the grace of God- I felt human again.
I’ve always been one to focus on the importance of sleep. I did the early stuff the way I was supposed to. Sound machines, dark rooms, and creating a good sleep space. My first kid just needed more than that. I also did (and do!) break the “rules”. I cuddle my kids to sleep some days, they take car (or plane!) naps, they go to bed too late when we have family over. They sleep in our bed when I’m away and my husband is too tired to move them back to their rooms. They pass out on the couch after playing hard while watching a movie. They also fiercely love their beds. It’s not all perfection. But it works for us. I am always talking to other parents about clocking enough hours of rest, getting emails from college friends, and being tagged in Facebook posts. And I’m glad- because if I can help a family have success at getting more rest, everyone wins.
I still value sleep these days- with two young kids who mostly sleep through the night I rack up 8 straight hours almost daily. And yes, that means sticking to my own consistent bedtime. Our kiddos are in bed relatively early each night and, despite my whoa is me moments when whine that I don’t breed kids who sleep, they surely do; about 12-14 hours a day, with the littlest one often needing to be woken up from nap begrudgingly. Sleep matters, and so does parents’ sanity. Figuring out what worked best for our family to get some sleep was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. And I thank the sleep gods- or maybe just myself and my husband if we’re giving credit where it’s due- that I’m out of the torture zone that is sleep deprivation.
Come work your way out of the hole of exhaustion with me next weekend at the Mother’s Space. I’d love to see you and the bags under your eyes; I’ll offer you consolation that it gets better, tips to improve it now, and recommendations for the best under eye concealer I know exists!