April 25, 2013

Tired? You Get Used to It. Or Not.

We all need sleep.


Once you have a kid you know you're destined to less sleep than you were getting pre-baby. Or constant exhaustion. Chronic sleep deprivation, for some.

Like me.

I need at least nine hours a night. I can function off of seven or eight hours, but I feel less than optimal. I get stressed and anxious more easily and have a more difficult time getting through the day. If I get nine hours, I feel refreshed and energetic, ready to take on the day. I'm not dragging myself out of bed in the morning.

After I had my daughter, the sleep deprivation was rough. I felt like I usually did after a few nights of little sleep, exhausted but able to keep going, despite starting to feel like I wasn't quite myself. I remember writing a note about it on Twitter, and another mom told me that "you get used to it", being tired all the time.

I was skeptical when I read her response, but told myself to be optimistic.

I had no idea that our little girl would never actually sleep through the night, even now at 20 months. She's a breastfed, co-sleeping baby, and yet sleep doesn't come easy for her. She's never napped well and always has to be carried around in a baby carrier or nurses herself to sleep. We've tried to get her to sleep alone multiple times but she can't. Five months ago she started falling asleep on her own sometimes at night, as long as Dad or Mom was with her, but that doesn't happen every night, still. She has always slept less than the "average" number of hours babies should sleep. We're lucky if she gets to 12 hours.

When she's teething or sick, she wants to nurse...frequently. On those nights (and days), I rarely get sleep. She wakes every half hour or hour all night long. My husband tries to get her back to sleep as much as possible, but with me next to her, she would scream and cry until she stopped breathing unless I nursed her (for comfort).

I don't regret choosing to breastfeed, as she's definitely benefited from it. I also don't regret co-sleeping, as she sleeps better with us and I'd rather get some sleep than none at all.

But the whole experience has made me never want to have a baby again.

The short-term sleep deprivation turned into long-term, and postpartum anxiety and depression snuck in. The anxiety was there from the beginning, but the more exhausted I became, the worse it got and the more desperate I felt.

People would tell me it was normal, that all moms get that, and that it was probably just stress from working and being a mom. The stress was another factor, as I work at home and was doing far too much, but even that didn't explain everything.

We finally left Japan and moved back to the US, where my health got worse. I became incapable of going out at all, even alone. I had no energy to do basic chores or cook or play with my daughter, let alone be a wife to my husband. I was losing myself, slowly, to anxiety, depression, health problems and yes, chronic sleep deprivation.

Finally, my husband suggested I sleep on the couch and he would continue to co-sleep with the baby and only bring her down once or twice a night to nurse if she needed it. And that's what we've been doing for at least a month now.

I've been implementing a lot of other strategies for my health and struggling to get better (self-care, cutting out wheat/gluten and sugar, light exercise, taking more supplements, not working, etc.), but I can say, 100%, that getting eight to nine hours of sleep a night has made a huge difference. It's still slightly broken, but at least I'm finishing sleep cycles. And I'm making an effort to get to sleep by 10 or 11 pm, and trying to stay off the computer and iPhone an hour before.

While I hate sleeping apart from my husband and daughter, it has worked wonders on my health and anxiety thus far. I still have a long way to go until I'm my "normal" self again, but I've noticed that on the days my sleep quality or length is poor, I feel super anxious and exhausted. On the days I get nine hours and mostly unbroken, I feel somewhat closer to my normal self. It's amazing how pronounced of a difference it makes.

I don't doubt that maybe some women do get used to some sleep deprivation and can at least manage through it all, but I'm not one of them. And if you aren't either, please don't feel like you have to keep suffering as much as you might be. I know we have unique circumstances and not everyone could work out our arrangements--it works for us now while my husband is still looking for a job and not working. But he deals with sleep deprivation better than I do.

Honestly, I wish all of us tired mamas could have someone to help comfort and soothe those restless babies who wrestle with sleep so we can rest. It's sad that we've lost so much of this idea of community that so many mamas (and dads) parent in isolation, without the support they need. Support is available in some places, but often at a cost. I know some folks are blessed to have a sweet little community, whether in their church, neighborhood or amongst fellow parents, but many parents still struggle.

I don't have answers (yet), although I wish I did. But if your little darling(s) won't sleep, and you're so sleep-deprived you hardly feel human, please choose self-care when and as much as you can. It may never feel like enough (I get that...seriously), but we spend so much time trying to be everything to everyone around us.

I never "got used to it"--chronic sleep deprivation--and I'm choosing to do what I can to heal, and be the best mother, wife, and woman I can be. I'm not perfect and will never be, and I have a long way to go on this healing journey, but I refuse to "get used to" being less than myself.

I choose to free myself to be the woman I'm designed to be. I choose not to fall into what society says is "normal". And I choose to encourage you to do the same, however that might look for you and your family.

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