Ever since my brother died 10 years ago my mother has suffered from insomnia. For years I heard stories of how she would sleep for 3 hours and then wake up, watching the clock until dawn, wanting to sleep but unable to do so. I couldn’t understand how she could continue to function that way, going to work and later, when she was retired, going to morning Mass. I remember many things she told me about it:
- she said that you get used to being tired all the time so that it becomes the “new normal”
- she said that the secret was to keep moving, because if you stopped the fatigue would catch up with you and you’d suddenly realize how tired you were
- she was known for falling asleep in mid-conversation when we visited and she would sit on the sofa and chat
- she said she lowered her expectations, and that getting five hours in a row felt like a full night’s sleep in comparison to what she usually experienced
Back then I “needed” at least 8 hours, and preferred 9. If I got less than 6 hours of sleep I called in sick, because I would not be able to function. I totalled a rental car once after being up all night and attempting to drive it back to the rental office. I just didn’t get how Mum did it. But everything she said above has come back to me since I had children.
I don’t know where society gets this idea that babies start sleeping through the night after only a few weeks and stay that way until adulthood. Even if you are blessed with a “good sleeper”, and even if you don’t breastfeed, I still don’t know anybody with young children who gets a normal night’s sleep (i.e. 7 or more uninterrupted hours). Everybody I know plays some form of “musical beds” on occasion, and the vast majority do so almost nightly.
I don’t consider my kids to be poor sleepers. Late bedtimes notwithstanding (the cure for which is still going strong, by the way) my daughter will generally wake at some point in the early am and want to come into our bed, usually calling for me to come get her as she’s up on a top bunk and decided a while back that she can’t get down herself anymore. Sometimes she sleeps through in her bed, but not often. And sometimes she wakes in the middle of the night as opposed to the morning. My son nurses at night. It’s hard to tell how often is normal as he’s got molars coming in (number 3 is out and I’m just waiting for number 4 before I start any nightweaning), but usually it seems he nurses once after being asleep for about 4 hours, and then maybe one more time before the early am when he starts to nurse off and on for the last hour or two before waking.
And this isn’t a complaint post, by the way. I know that within the next year, and probably within the next six months, DS will not be nightnursing anymore and will likely be sleeping through the night as well as his sister does now. So the end is in sight and that’s enough for me. But it doesn’t change the fact that right now, as it has been for years, I walk around chronically tired. Just like my mother, I find:
- I’m okay as long as I keep busy; the hardest part about putting DD to bed is lying with her in the dark while she falls asleep and then having to drag myself up and out of there – it’s hard to take advantage of the earlier bedtime because by then I’m reminded of how badly I need to just sleep
- I have gotten used to being chronically tired so that I don’t even really notice it unless I’ve had a particularly bad night
- I consider a five hour stretch, or any stretch where I actually dream, to be a “good sleep”
So here’s to all us mamas of young kids, and to the good night’s sleep that I know is in my future!