Hello Baby, Bye-Bye Sleep

Last weekend, Drew and I were in Texas for our friend Kate’s wedding, hitching a ride from Dallas to Austin with our friends Nick and Emily (you might remember them as the first in our group to have a baby). Nick – who has never had a cup of Starbucks in his life – surprised us all by powering down a Java Chip Frappuccino on the way there. He’d gotten less than 5 hours of sleep the night before, between our late night flight arrival and something called “Dads and Donuts” at his son’s school at 8 am. Which, as best I can guess, consists of mostly unemployed men inhaling an entire row of powdered Hostess Donettes. (For the record, Nick is very much employed)

Despite the 12-ounce caffeine-sugar bomb, Nick and Emily both went down for a nap almost as soon as we got to the hotel. Drew and I, who’d slept till 10 am, quietly slipped out to explore Austin. The next day, when Nick zonked out again before the wedding, it occurred to me that he was in…

Parental Sleep Survival Mode

And I’d have done the same as him, were I in his shoes. Rations are low in those early years and you need to grab after sleeping opportunities like a life raft when they float your way. The average parent loses 400 – 750 hours of sleep in the first year alone. This terrifying article says that although we need a bare minimum of five hours of sleep to function properly (who are you freaks of nature functioning properly on 5 hours?!), most of us need eight. But 67% of all new parents are getting just 3 ¾.

And what’s happening to the sleep deprived? Well…

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Decreased ability to focus
  • Headaches
  • Increased perception of pain
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Increased likeliness of arguments and relationship splits

They’re also killing about 1,500 people a year in fatigue-related car accidents. But don’t worry – the Mayo Clinic says a generous five-hour stretch of sleep is “possible” after three months. They also have some fabulous suggestions for creatively taking back your sleep, like:

Set aside social graces. When friends and loved ones visit, don’t offer to be the host. Instead, ask if they could watch the baby while you take a nap.

Seems like a good way to ensure that no one but your mother-in-law ever visits you again, but perhaps that’s just me?

Childfree snoozing

When sleep is that much of a hot commodity for parents, I guess it’s easy to understand why they often talk about the Childfree doing things like languishing in bed on Sundays well past the time at which McDonald’s stops serving breakfast. And while this is sometimes true if we’ve been out late the night before, it’s not like we’re all clocking 10 hours a night, rocking a Blanche Devereaux sleep mask. In fact, I’m fully functional on 7, so I’m mad at myself whenever I go over that – even on the weekends. I don’t want to sleep my life away. There’s work to be done, books to be read, places and friends to be visited. But at the same time, I need to be well-rested enough to enjoy them and do things right.

As Drew likes to remind me every time we take a red-eye back to the Midwest, I am a complete baby (pun intended?) about my sleep. I never sleep more than an hour or two on these flights, sometimes nap a little when we arrive, and then I’m miserable and out of sorts for the rest of the day. I get through it only because I know I can catch up the next night. But if I knew I couldn’t get back on track for another 6 months, and still had to get up every day and be fully mentally present for work? I know parents are fond of saying things like, “you’ll figure out how to survive”, but I’m not sure I understand the point of just surviving. Call me crazy, but I’d rather be thriving.

What about you guys? Can you function on 3 ¾ hours of sleep?

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