The Four Stages of Child-Induced Sleep Deprivation

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My twins are sick. That means that in our house, we have two babies with two oozing noses and two croupy coughs. Unfortunately, this also means that in our house there are two parents who are getting very little sleep.

Twin SnoreIf you are sleep-deprived on a regular basis (some call this condition ‘parenthood’), and you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, it can be an out-of-body experience. In fact, it’s a whole other world. It’s strangely quiet in the middle of the night, except for when you are trying to sneak out of the nursery after you have just gotten babies to sleep. Then, the sound of the creaking floor as you tiptoe out of the room is akin to a freight train skidding off its rails.

If you are rocking babies when they are calm, being awake in the middle of the night can also be strangely peaceful. If you are in the right frame of mind, it can be amazing. There is something magical about holding a sleeping baby and listening to them breathe. You can study their features. You can wonder what they will look like when they grow up. You can wonder who they will be when they grow up. It’s one of those life moments that you will remember forever. Although, wouldn’t it be strange if in twenty years your child is a criminal of some sort. Then, you might look back on that moment and say, “Hmmm… didn’t see that coming.”

If, on the other hand, you are not in the right emotional place to enjoy that moment, being up with your kids in the middle of the night is horrid. And there are stages of horridness that every parent has experienced. If you haven’t experienced them, then your child is a fabulous sleeper and the rest of us will not like you if you tell us that.

I have been up on and off in the middle of the night since my daughter was born five years ago. Needless to say, with twins, the experience has risen to a whole new level of insanity. Here is how I see it breaking down.

Stages of Sleep Deprivation with Children

Pleading: Pleeeeeeeaaaaaase go back to sleep. Mommy needs her rest, too!

Denial: He’ll go to sleep in just a minute… there it is, I think he is falling asleep! Sigh, false alarm. This stage alternates with pleading. It goes something like this. There it is, I think he is falling asleep! Sigh, false alarm. Pleeeeeaaaaase go back to sleep. Mommy needs her rest, too! There it is, I think he is falling asleep! Sigh, false alarm. Pleeeeeeeaaaaasssseeee go back to sleep! And so on.

Compromise: At some point, you will compromise all of your parenting ideals. You formulate these ideals when you are pregnant or when things are going smoothly. Those are the times when you think, “I would never encourage bad sleep habits!” And then it is the middle of the night and you have been in the throes of pleading and denial for hours now. That’s when you hear your inner voice say, “He can come into our bed just this once.”

The stages above are the hardest stages, because you are holding out hope. You haven’t quite given up on the dream that you will get a little more sleep on that particular night. You want it so badly that you are literally willing it to happen. But it doesn’t. And then you move on to acceptance.  

Acceptance: You finally admit that the baby in bed next to you who has been intermittently sitting up and laying down, sticking his fingers up your nose, trying to lift up your eyelids, and pushing at you with his feet is not going back to sleep. This is both the hardest part and the easiest part. Making the move to sit up and get out of bed is nearly unbearable. However, once you are dressed and have a cup of coffee in your hand, it is a far better feeling than the hopeless pleading stage you were in twenty minutes ago. Unless, of course, the sun has not come up yet. Then you will remain in this seventh circle of Hell until it does.

I would like to tie this entry up with a nice neat bow, but the truth is, I can’t. I just don’t have it in me. Not only haven’t I slept in the last several days, but it is now 8:00pm, and the prospect of another night is looming before me. Yes, I am hopeful that the babies will sleep until the sun is up, but I am also realistic. Their noses are still running, and their coughs are still croupy. In all likelihood, if you check in with me around 3:00am, you will find me saying something like this, “Pleeeeeeaaaaase go back to sleep! Mommy needs her rest, too.”

Shannon Hembree is a slightly insane mother of three and co-founder of the mommy website

Photo Credit: izzard.


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