I recently read a blog post by a woman with four children who swears she gets nine hours of sleep every night, no matter what. I thought, “Who is this woman and is she for real?” There was a backlash of angry comments from (probably exhausted) other moms who were like, “What the heck?” Except for a blissful occasional exception, I feel like I haven’t gotten enough sleep in decades.
We all realize that once you have babies, unbroken sleep becomes the norm. It’s expected. And even when those sweet babies do start sleeping through the night, they wake for the day at ungodly hours. I see bleary-eyed young moms posting pictures at 5 a.m. with the hashtag “this too shall pass” but the truth is, for many of us, it doesn’t.
Yes, once the kids get a little older, like elementary and even middle school age, there is a lull where you do get more sleep. Most mornings, the kids are able to keep themselves amused and out of harm’s way until you appear. This period of time in your life is kind of like the eye of a storm when the sun comes out for a bit and you think you’re in the clear—but don’t be fooled by the calm because the back end of the storm will hit in the not-too-distant future. And I think you should be prepared for when it does.
Once your kids become teens and start going out and then driving, your sleep will be broken not by a cry for a clean diaper or milk, but by FEAR. You will be afraid for your kids in a way you can’t imagine when they are angelically asleep in their cribs. You will worry about where they are, who they are with and what they are doing. You will sleep (if you are lucky enough to sleep) with an ear open to make sure they come home on time and in one piece. I remember one time when my oldest son stayed out past his curfew—I woke my husband and instructed him to find our child and kill him (kidding, of course). I really did try to sleep when they were out but even though I might doze off for a bit, until I knew they were home safe and sound, I was uneasy and mostly awake.
When your kids go off to college, you may expect that the wonderful sleep of your youth will finally return. But it doesn’t. By the time your nest starts to empty, you will likely be entering the phase called menopause. And this is a phase that wreaks total havoc with your sleep. Between night sweats, having to go to the bathroom more and just plain wakefulness (when you stare up at the ceiling frustrated because you want to be dreaming instead of thinking about life and all the things you need to do the next day), you’re lucky if you can string together a few hours of being unconscious. I frequently stumble through the day wondering if I can find a few minutes for a nap. I find myself looking in the mirror and saying to myself, “Man you look tired.” I have been accosted in department stores by salespeople with eye cream samples, making me realize that I am literally the person for whom those creams were invented. I was with my youngest son one time when I was approached by an eye cream wielding salesperson and my son, who was a little shocked, said, “Wow, do you realize that person just pointed out the wrinkles and bags under your eyes?” I just shrugged and told him I was too tired to be offended.
Young mamas, I don’t tell you all this to alarm or depress you, but I feel you should have realistic expectations of what awaits you sleep-wise in the future. Some might argue that ignorance is bliss; personally, I like to know what’s coming down the pike. The good news is that not getting enough sleep is really not so bad and there are even a few perks; based on how tired I look I can sometimes get a senior citizens discount (even though I’m actually not yet old enough to qualify for one).
So for those of you young mamas posting those pictures with the belief that your sleep-deprived state is “temporary,” I think you should just accept that “temporary” might be a little longer than you are anticipating. You may not be able to do much about it (other than investing in a good coffee maker) but I want you to know that you are not alone and that you will be OK.
And now, if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to go close my eyes for a few minutes.