When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us

My baby will sleep through anything…except the sound of my head hitting my pillow.

I am a lover of sleep. A seeker of all things comfy and cozy. I work hard for my rest at the end of a long day.  I used to love the moment I’d lay my head down at night, but now I dread it. These days the moment our heads hit the pillow and we close our eyes, just like clockwork, the shuddering sound of a fussing baby follows within moments.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

The sound of the baby rustling in his bassinet comes crashing down on our sleepless hopes and dreams for a night of rest, followed by the all familiar slew of nighttime fussing and crying. If I don’t whip my body over and quickly search for the pacifier with one hand while feeling around for his little fingers to grasp my own with the other hand within the first five seconds it’s all downhill from there. And no one wants their nighttime routine to start by going downhill.

And now I hate the nighttime. I fear the nighttime. I’d rather it be daytime because at least I’m supposed to be awake. Words like sleep regression and self-soothing and cry it out weave in and out of my sleep deprived thoughts as I lay my head down on my beloved pillow, only to be roused to the urgent attention of a baby’s cry within a few seconds. 

My pillow is now nothing more than a reminder of all the sleep I once had.

What happened to my “pretty good sleeper” that seemed to do surprisingly well during the nighttime those first couple of months? This isn’t my first time with a newborn in the house, but for some reason, this time seems significantly harder. I mean, the kid sleeps all of the time, why can’t it be at nighttime? I’m not talking about needing my baby to sleep through the night. I am more than happy to feed my tiny babe when he’s hungry. I’m talking about the baby that wakes every 30-60 minutes around the clock.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Parents of newborns experience a type of sleep deprivation that is all too common, but the extent of their struggle is often overlooked and passed off as just another parenthood rite of passage. And for many of us, it goes beyond the newborn weeks. Suddenly you find yourself no longer on maternity leave, waking up at six AM for a full-time job on only three hours of sporadic sleep, never having had a full REM cycle in over five months.

That is no way to live.

In our house, we are in the thick of a major sleep regression, coupled with teething and a baby cold to boot. We are in the trenches of sleep-deprived parenting.

And I, probably like you, need my sleep. I once read that there are people who can actually thrive and survive on only a couple hours of sleep a day.

I am not one of them. I love sleep. I love my bed, my pillow. And right now I miss all of them.

Yet, somehow, I am getting by each day. Even if I’m just barely crawling to a finish line, I’m always shocked that I’ve made it through another day. I’m starting to think that some superheroes don’t wear capes, they just have really dark bags under their eyes.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

The other night I put our five-month-old’s pacifier in his ear as I tried to coax him back to sleep. Twice I stuck it in his little baby double chin. That one actually stuck. Poor kid.

And the night before, I clicked on the Netflix icon on our TV with my mom’s name on it thinking I was making a phone call to her.  And on more than one occasion I’ve fallen asleep in the swim school parking lot when I arrived a few minutes early to our oldest’s swimming lessons. (So far no one has knocked on the window to make sure I’m OK, which surprises me, but then again, we all know never to wake a sleeping mother). Did you know that a nursing pillow can actually serve as a giant neck pillow, too? That is the primary reason I carry one around in the car.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Needless to say, sleep deprivation has done some weird things to me.

So, how do I go on in the day to day when I’m beyond tired and my husband travels every other week for work and I work all day with a classroom full of little ones and manage a household with my own children while cooking and cleaning and driving and shopping and prepping and setting out clothes and packing lunches and petting and feeding the dog and helping with homework and reading bedtime stories and nursing and pumping and and sleep training and snuggling and loving deeply and kissing good-night and whispering I love yous and being a wife and a friend and a human who is someone more than only a mother who also should probably take a shower sometime?

Well, for starters…

I don’t.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Somedays I don’t do it all. Even though I want to. And that is hard.

I do what I must do, and set aside the rest for a day. Or a week. Or yet another season. I’m not crazy about it, but sometimes that’s what it comes to. And that’s why they make dry shampoo and deodorant, my friends. So we don’t have to think we need to do it all, all of the time.

Because we don’t.

Somedays the only reason I believe this sleep regression stage won’t completely take us under is the fact that it hasn’t done so yet.

Somedays I ask for help and somedays I get it. Sometimes I need to be strong and I sloppily go about doing my best even though nothing seems to be good enough as before. Most days my rock star husband and I manage a perfect little tag-teaming dance of survival and I’m grateful that, unlike when I single parented my firstborn, that I have him by side.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Other days I solicit advice on social media while posting an adorable picture of my sweet baby that keeps me up all night and friends tell me what worked for them and another offers to come over and hold our baby at night and others share their well wishes and send me virtual hugs and presents in the mail.

And in not being alone I feel a little burst of, shall I say, energy? A quick reminder that I survived this once and I will survive it again. A little bit of solidarity goes a long way for the sleepless mother.

Last night, at a weekend away in a cabin in the woods with my family, my husband and I ducked away very early for bedtime while all the other adults were just starting to laugh at grown-up things and play games after the kids were in bed.

I remember those days. I miss those days.

We fell asleep (ah-hum- passed out) to the sound of all we were missing out sneaking in under the door,  past the sound of the white noise machine humming and our children sleeping (for now) and we knew that the extra hour or two of sleep would do us good.

But before we walked upstairs to start the long adventure of trying to get our five-month-old to sleep longer than 30-minute stretches of sleep all night, I turned to apologize to everyone for not joining in all the fun. My aunt, with a slight tone of pish-posh in her voice, said, “Oh Maureen, we’ve all been there.”

And that was all it took for me to remember that yes, yes they have, and it was hard for them, just as it is hard for us and it didn’t last forever (our seven-year-old finally sleeps through the night. Yay!).

While I was at work today I asked my mom to send me a picture of our baby that keeps us up all night. I wanted to remember that the reason I was so tired right now is worth it. Honestly, I will never grow tired of kissing those cheeks and gazing into those big brown eyes. 

Which is good because if I’m going to have to stare at anyone all night long it helps that he’s so cute.

When Sleep Deprivation Gets the Best of Us | Twin Cities Moms Blog

It’s hard to not be able to rely on bedtime being a time to re-energize your exhausted body each night. My relationship with my beloved nighttime routine has experienced a serious case of mistrust and brokenness during this time. But I can see that a positive relationship with my pillow is again on the horizon and soon things will return to a better new normal.

Until more teeth come in.

And until the next sleep regression occurs.

But seriously, we’ve survived this once, we will survive this again. And so will you.

If you’ve had a newborn, you know this stage is hard. If you’ve had a difficult sleeper, you know this stage is extremely hard. All sleep training techniques have caveats for a reason and all our babes are different, so not everything helps every one of our kids the same. But one thing is for sure, this time is hard, this time is temporary, and having a friend in the process is priceless. If that is you, I am so sorry you’re so tired. Maybe one day we can be wide awake and have a real conversation about what got us through this time. But for now, we nap.

Maureen Zhao
Maureen is an educator and a mom to a sweet and wild seven year old named Leo and newborn named Remy. She and her family can be found digging in the dirt, seeking adventures outside, traveling, hunting down thrifty deals, visiting local museums and parks, discovering new global flavors at local restaurants, and looking for resourceful ways to be involved in their community together. Maureen is eager to connect with those around her regardless of where they come from and is passionate about raising a son who cares for the world around him. Both her and her family have a strong desire to be where the action is, yet yearn for the solace that is found when they're surrounded by nature. When not in the city where home and work is, they can often be found venturing north and setting up camp where the only thing they need to worry about is where to bike that day and where to find the best view of the sunset. You can follow Maureen and her family's daily adventures on Instagram {@maureenshealer}.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I started taking magnesium during our 4th child’s wake everything hr for an entire year.. then every 2.5 for another six months. It made the hugest difference in the times when you are so tired you can’t fall asleep after being awake for 20 min feeding baby knowing you’ll have another 40 min later… but your body is exhauated and you are going to get a headache if you don’t fall asleep.

  2. Lack of sleep is one of the hardest things about having a baby… I could not deal with that, seriously! And my husband can sleep through any night crying! During 4 month regression he got me this How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone book by S. Urban. It was a step-by-step guide, seemed pretty easy. Although I did never want to sleep train (I’ve read a lot about Ferber’s and CIO before) we gave it a try. It was amazing! The big difference after 4 night or so. There was a bit of regression at month 6 later but it wasn’t that bad. It is a sleep-saving book!

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