“But my body doesn’t feel tired,” my daughter says, her bright eyes looking up at me from her pillow, just barely visible in the dark room she shares with her twin brother. She wiggles around; he’s been asleep for awhile now.
“Okay,” I whisper, “But it’s still time for bed. Remember what I’ve told you about falling asleep. Make your body as still as a statue, close your eyes, and think about breathing in…and out. And in…and out. Before you know it, you’ll be asleep.”
She closes her eyes, though she seems unconvinced, and I creep out of the room, closing the door quietly behind me.
It’s 7:16 p.m. and as I silently walk down the hall to my own room to finish putting laundry away, I wonder how long it’s been since my body has truly felt not tired. What would it be like, I wonder, to lay down in bed and not immediately surrender to my pillow and, ultimately, sleep?
Because I do sleep now. Five years ago, with infant twins who woke us consistently every hour or two, when having at least one uninterrupted stretch of 120 minutes was the benchmark for a “good” night’s sleep, when they didn’t sleep through the night until they were well over a year old, I thought this day would never come. Back then, rocking first one baby and then another, I thought such incredibly broken sleep would be my entire life, both then and forevermore. People told me they would grow out of it and figure out how to sleep eventually, but my own sleep-deprived brain, still fully in the thick of it, didn’t believe them.
Though even now it’s not always uninterrupted. Many nights a kid or two will steal in to find my husband and me, blessedly asleep in our own bed, because they need to use the bathroom, because they need more water, because they’ve had a bad dream. Occasionally, with three kids, we’ll have a night where I swear they’ve made a deal with each other to wake up at perfectly spaced two-hour intervals, and it feels like the horror of those newborn days all over again.
Still. Those people were right. Most nights, I get the sleep experts say I’m supposed to—the 7 or 8 hours recommended for an adult my age to feel my best. This was the holy grail five years ago, when virtually all I could think about was the next time I would get to sleep, when sleep came in nothing more than stolen fragments in my day. I’ve made it.
So then why am I still so tired?
I’m not the only one. It seems to be acknowledged among the parents in my sphere that just the mere existence of children in our homes is enough to make us exhausted.
The demands of parenting seem to outweigh the benefits even a full night’s sleep is supposed to provide. Add in deadlines at work, volunteering at school, laundry, meal planning, a sick child, scheduling the car for repairs, a birthday party, dentist appointments, and scrubbing the gunk off the kitchen floor that’s been there for I won’t tell you how long – y’know LIFE – and it’s no wonder we need more than 8 hours of sleep each day to survive. (This is also where our friend caffeine steps in. Hello, coffee.)
We try to fit it all in, we do, but our brains begin to implode after awhile. At least mine does. I start to second-guess myself and triple-check everything on the calendar to make sure I haven’t and will not forget anything. I fold laundry while I watch TV and compose emails in my head while I talk to my husband and schedule appointments while I eat lunch. Because, when I’m in the thick of it, it seems impossible for anything to get done if I’m not multi-tasking it all.
I creep back into the twins’ room a little later. Sure enough, they’re both asleep this time. Brooklyn looks like she got in a fight with her blankets but she’s otherwise calm and peaceful. Breathing in…and out, and in…and out. My advice seems to have worked.
It’s the advice I need to preach to myself. While the sleep part comes fairly easily now, it’s the stillness and the breathing and the slowness I struggle with.
Maybe it’s not the full night of uninterrupted sleep I need (I mean, who am I kidding? Of course I need that, too!), but the ability to rest and calm my body down from the hyperactive pace of life in a house where I’m outnumbered by small children.
Maybe… maybe if I simply become more aware of what’s going on around me. If I listen to my body and realize the reason I’m checking Instagram for the eighth time in one hour is because my mind is seeking an escape. If I slow down and actually watch This is Us because the laundry sure isn’t going anywhere. If I bake cookies for the sheer pleasure of baking cookies, and then sit down to eat one for the simple sake of enjoying every bite.
I don’t know. I’m not sure I have the exact solution – that there is an exact solution – to the whole tiredness problem. (Especially when I have kids who insist on waking long before my body is truly ready.) But the idea of slowing down? It sounds good. It sounds like a start. It’s definitely something to think – and maybe even dream – about.