I ventured into this motherhood journey nearly nine years ago and am certain that it has been that long since I have had a solid night of sleep. My first child was not a sleeper. Night wakings every hour and a half to two hours were the norm for more than a year, as was a 4:30 am wake up time. Any semblance of a nap ended by 18 months of age and I was one frazzled and weary mama. I knew then why sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture and began to understand the toll that little or inconsistent sleep can take on the body, particularly for mothers.
My second child is a great sleeper and even approaching the age of four, still relishes his two hour daily naps. He is happy to sleep in on the weekends with his dad who, remarkably, rarely understood my level of fatigue. As a co-sleeping family, I thought it impossible for him not to realize how many times our children woke during the night or how restless they were. We were, after all, in the same bed. Until recently, I thought something must be wrong with his hearing. But, as a recent study reveals, the only "issue" is that he is a man. According to the research, a crying baby is not even among the top ten sounds that disturb a man's sleep. Instead, male slumber is roused by car alarms, howling wind, and buzzing flies. Women, however, place the sound of a crying baby at the top of the list, with rowdiness and snoring ranking among the top ten.
Not surprisingly, at least to a parent, is the study's finding that 29 percent of adults report disturbed sleep five to seven nights a week, and 33 percent move to another room to get some shut eye. I would not be surprised if the researchers had set up hidden cameras in my home, as these behaviors are commonplace for us - still. For many of us, sleep deprivation takes a huge toll. Lack of sleep impacts not only our mood and patience, but can also make us more prone to illness, heart disease, depression, and hypertension, among others. "Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body," said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago, in the Washington Post. "We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior."
Sleep is necessary to regenerate parts of the body, and particularly the brain. Lack of sleep can impact our language ability as well as our memory. Sleep deprivation can also impact our ability to think creatively, to problem solve, and to multitask. In other words, it actually affect our ability to parent.
"Sleep when your baby sleeps" is the usual recommendation, but this may be hard (if not impossible) for mothers who are juggling careers, other children, or a never-ending to-do list. There are some great resources out there to help you along the way, including several books by HMN Advisory Board member Elizabeth Pantley that address infant and toddler sleep issues. But what about racking up years of sleep deprivation? The good news is that you can recover. According to Rick Nauert, PhD, it may take weeks to recoup decades of lost rest but each eight hour restful night brings benefits and gains for mind and body.
Although I fantasize about sleeping like a man, I'm not holding my breath. Instead, I am counting patiently down to those teenage years when my kids want to sleep in and I can get some rest. I figure I'm going to need it - they'll be teenagers, after all!