Sleep deprivation has undoubtedly been the hardest obstacle I've had to face as a parent. I'm a big sleeper (nine-plus hours a night would be just great with me), and I'm not so pleasant to be around when I haven't gotten enough rest. A day or two of less-than-adequate sleep and I'm forgetful, slightly depressed, and snappy. More than that, and it's probably best not to talk to me.
I knew becoming a mom was going to be rough on my sleep schedule before I even got pregnant, in that vague, "yeah, that's going to be awful, huh?" way that nonparents joke about sleep deprivation. My mom warned me that I, an A+ sleeper if there ever was one, didn't consistently sleep through the night until I was 5, but I laughed it off, surely just crazy talk. In my third trimester of pregnancy with my now 4.5-year-old daughter, when I was waking every two hours to pee or adjust my insane girth, I remember actually thinking I'd get more sleep after her delivery. Then things got real, and I realized that those consistent nine-hour-a-night snoozes and Sunday naps I used to take before kids were long gone, maybe for good. Here's are the stages of sleep deprivation I've encountered so far in my almost five years of parenting.
- The Newborn Stage: I knew this one was going to be a doozy, and guess what? It was a million times worse than I thought. My daughter didn't sleep through the night even once until she was almost 10 months old; my son bettered her by a few months, or maybe I was just too tired to hear him cry anymore. Who knows? Not content to just wake once or twice, both of my babies were really committed to the not-sleeping cause, sometimes waking up every hour just to see how much torture they could inflict on their dear old mom. You haven't known hell until you've literally been up all night with your baby, finally get both him and yourself to sleep as the sun's coming up, then feel the tiny hands of your toddler waking you up for the day five minutes later. I swear, I still have PTSD.
- The Postnewborn Stage: The first time both my babes slept through the night, I almost cried with relief, but I was an idiot. One time does not a pattern make, and it was many more months before either of them were more likely to sleep all night than not. Add in a change of scenery at grandma's house or a vacation, and we'd revert right back to the early days of severe sleep struggles. I still refer to most vacations we've taken during the last four years as "the one where Mae got up every two hours" or "the one where Sam woke up for the day at 4 a.m. every single day." Every other detail has been lost in the fog of sleep deprivation.
- The Teething Stage: Just when I could consistently count on my kids to sleep through the night, they started teething, and they were real babies about it (OK, they were actual babies, but still, buck up, guys). They'd wake up at ungodly hours, refuse to nap, and take hours to go down at night, seemingly totally immune to the baby Tylenol I was pumping in them. Some bouts would last just a few days; others much longer. Apparently, my 20-month-old has been getting his 2-year molars for the last month, and I'm just as miserable as he is.
- The Transitions Stage: Switch your kid from a crib to a big-girl bed? Good luck getting any sleep. Finally got her potty trained? Prepare for at least one midnight pit stop, help from mom required. School's starting? School's out? Daddy's on a work trip? Mommy's sick? Any major or minor life change, and my kids throw their sleep schedules out the window, every single time.
After dealing with sleep deprivation for the past almost five years, here's my question: does it ever really get better after you become a parent? Sure, teens are famous for sleeping the days away, but they're equally notorious for staying out too late and doing incredibly stupid things. And guess who's up all night waiting to hear the front door open or worrying about their latest idiotic move? Their parents. I'm thinking 5-12 might be the sweet spot, but is that wishful thinking from a sleep-starved mom? I hope not. Until then (only three-and-a-half tired years to go!), you'll find me waiting in line at Starbucks, wandering aimlessly around Target, and turning my bedroom lights off at 9 p.m. on the dot because, man, I'm tired.