I uncovered several articles and social media status updates recently regarding women and our sleep tendencies post-baby. Beyond the overall sleep deprivation that haunts most mothers, we still often make a sport, as a society, of frowning upon adequate sleep, as if we are so incredibly unproductive whilst sleeping that it should be practically outlawed. Why else would many moms stay up late after the children have gone down to review spreadsheets in bed on the laptop? Why do some moms wash and fold laundry at 2 a.m.? Binge-watching Netflix, doing some yoga, balancing the checkbook…we tend to complete tasks late at night because…we can’t sleep.
Sleep has become an afterthought because time in a day whooshes by, much to the dismay of millions. Or, that coveted “me” time becomes priority, becomes immediately of-the-moment. Then, us moms walk around as coffee-addicted zombies, tired as all get-out, wishing nearly desperately for some rest.
If only sleep wasn’t so vital.
We’re not just exhausted because we stay up past sundown, though; hence, there are reasons mothers who are in bed at 8:00 p.m. are weary, too.
A mother’s brain is an incredibly busy vessel. The rushing contents in that vessel won’t let us be great.
In her blog, “A Mother Far From Home,” mommy Rachel Norman defines it perfectly: “Hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance is defined as an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hyper-vigilance denotes a constant scanning of the environment for threats, exhaustion, and abnormally increased awareness. Normally, this term is used in clinical settings. . .For parents, hyper-vigilance is basically being in a heightened state of awareness, fight-or-flight and protection mode on behalf of our children who are too young to do it for themselves properly, if at all.” (Norman, “Moms Are Very Tired (But It’s Really Not Why You Think)”)
She’s right. This is my life.
I make sure that Jai doesn’t suck on the Q-Tips, then put them back into the bottom cabinet drawer with the new ones. I ensure that Jrue doesn’t squirt himself in the eye with the glass cleaner as we traverse through an “I-must-clean-now” phase. I double-check that Jai’s shoes are on the correct feet. I review what items need to be returned to school with Jrue on Mondays. I mentally keep up with doctor’s appointments (and sudden doctor’s appointments), dentist’s appointments, playdates, expiration dates, favorites, preferences, loathing, boo-boos. How long has Jai been down for her nap? Did Jrue eat dinner last night? Did they like the rice or not like the rice? If I call it “chicken,” will they eat it?
Et cetera. Forever.
The multitasking, the unrelenting streams of thought, the worries, the ideas…they pop in and chatter, squawk, prattle, like two children on a sugar high. Particularly as soon as mom is comfortably in bed for the night.
The sleeplessness, however, will not go away, oh no. The whipping sense of mental urgency has a friend. It’s called “physical interference.”
Once baby stops feeding every two hours and finally sleeps from 1-5 a.m., we still get to deal with waking due to teething. Then there’s bad dreams and peeing in the bed. The kid may get up because he’s hungry or the thirstiest child in the state. Before we even get to the angst of having a teenager, we have already spent years on years being startled awake by sudden screaming, night bumps, sleepy mumbles, or finger-tapping. Or our partner’s snoring.
The sleep interruptions of others (or of our bladders) have contributed just as much to the deep end of constant drowsiness as moms’ full, speedy psyches.
We don’t get to set a schedule for sleep. We don’t get to plan ahead, except maybe on vacations or in the instances of special occasions. We are usually first responders. Most moms simply crash out when fatigued, sleep fitfully, dream fast-moving illusions, and wake by an alarm, if not, by a howling child on a Saturday morning.
Obtaining enough sleep to feel relatively “alive” can be challenging, but is not impossible. For most moms, it will mean prioritizing sleep and trying out a bedtime, amongst other great suggestions by Dr. Alice Callahan of “The Science of Mom.”
The sensation of all-out sleepiness is miserable; the effects of long-term sleep debt is Olympic-sized. We need to train to sleep, not train to stay up, which is so much easier said than done. Sleep will steal the body if ignored, though. There’s no gold medal for exhaustion.
Callahan, Alice. “Sleep Deprivation: The Dark Side of Parenting.” The Science of Mom, May 14, 2013, https://scienceofmom.com/2013/05/14/sleep-deprivation-the-dark-side-of-parenting/. Accessed Sep. 20, 2017.
Norman, Rachel. “Moms Are Very Tired (But It’s Really Not Why You Think),” A Mother Far From Home, n.d., https://amotherfarfromhome.com/hypervigilance-why-moms-are-so-tired/. Accessed Sep. 20, 2017.