I had a conversation with a friend last night who is keen to start trying for a baby. His wife is (naturally) very nervous. Amongst other things (gaining weight, finances and hormones) she’s worried about the lack of sleep a new baby will bring.
And I don’t blame her. Carter is perfect in many regards, but when it comes to sleeping, he’s a bit of an under achiever. And he’s over a year. So it’s not as if I haven’t given him a fair chance to prove me wrong.
Lack of sleep is 100% guaranteed when you have a child. Your newborn might sleep through from 6 weeks, but like any wild animal they can turn on you at any time. I know friends who smugly told anyone they met that their newborn slept through. And then said newborn turned one and never slept again. I know moms whose eleven-year-olds have sleep regressed, and I know my story – a baby who naps beautifully during the day, falls asleep on his own within minutes, but who sleeps through the night only 30% of the time. He’s 14 months. Which means that I haven’t slept through the night in 5475 days. That’s a lot of no napping, a massive rest respite, a sad RIP REM.
Now, before you dash off to your nearest Doctors office and swallow a box of birth control, I do have two pieces of good news: 1. You don’t actually need that much sleep and 2. It gets easier.
The only way I can liken coping on little to no sleep is to compare it with fitness. Have you ever trained for a race? Let’s say you have, and let’s say it was for a 10k. Let’s also assume that you were starting at a zero base – couch potato level. Your program starts you off gently, maybe a 2-kilometer run/walk the first day. Your heart rate spikes, you’re out of breath and you finish sweaty and exhausted. It’s possible that you may wake up the following day fucked. Your head foggy, your body swollen and battling to function for most of the day. You wondered how you could ever do more. But then the following week you have to run a solid 3 km’s, and it’s bloody hard, but you didn’t walk once, your body is a little less stiff, and you feel slightly happier. Within 4 weeks you are cruising a solid 5k’s and possibly beating your time. When race day approaches you’ve got this 10 k in the bag. You finish, tired but unbroken, and suddenly you start thinking about another race – perhaps a 21 k this time?
Lack of sleep is a bit like exercise fitness. If you happen to be a parent, think back to a time when you were kid free. If you are currently kid free then, well, damn you, you well rested bastard. Right, so thinking back to BC (Before Children) – you were used to long nights of unbroken sleep and a routine that was all yours. Now imagine you went out on a bender, got home late after a wine-fuelled dinner party or were babysitting a small human. All of these actions are guaranteed to result in less and broken sleep. Remember how you felt when you woke up the next morning? Fucked. Your head was foggy, your eyes swollen and you battled to function for most of the day.
But then you had a child of your own and that first night back from the hospital meant no more nurses or staff to help you. And then your baby had to wake up for a feed every 3 hours and – like a blind drunk – you stumbled from room to room, boobs exposed, bleary eyed and tried to do what you needed to do. You’d wake up in the morning, and how did you feel? Fucked. Your head was foggy, your eyes swollen and you battled to function for most of the day.
This goes on for a few days – you’re probably still so used to not having a kid that you’re sleeping through some cries, your 2-am alarm and the baby monitor beeping. You wonder how you will ever get used to the constant waking up. And then a few weeks pass and suddenly you wake up without needing an alarm, feed the kid with military skill and it all starts feeling easier. A few months in and your baby is going through a sleep regression, teething,
Fast forward a few months and your baby is going through a sleep regression, teething, colicky or in pain. You sleep less and less but function better and better. By now you might be back at work juggling deadlines, demands and clients. On 18 minutes of sleep you’ve put together proposals, dominated meetings and finished budget forecasts. You are acing this. You are running your 10k.
Turns out, the less you sleep the easier it becomes to not need sleep, and little rest no longer means you can’t function the next day. Our bodies are amazing things, and simply adjust to help us cope with this change in our lives.
That being said, combining the two can often be dangerous. I went out on a wine fueled bender last night, and also happened to be on baby duty. I am fucked today, eating McDonalds at my desk, my head throbbing, my eyes swollen, wondering how I’m ever going to function again.