When I was a kid, the one thing I feared about becoming a parent was the lack of sleep. Turns out there are WAY more things to be afraid of, but I was not wrong about the sleep thing. I was the kid who consistently napped after morning kindergarten, though my classmates had stopped long before. When people ask, “Are you a morning person or a night owl?” my response is, “Whichever one gets me the most sleep that day.”
Needing a sensible amount of sleep is something I’ve always known about myself. I used to feel bad about it and apologize for it. Like it made me less cool or less productive. But honestly, I simply don’t have the energy for that anymore. When my son was born prematurely a few years ago, I spent two weeks traveling back and forth to the NICU, pumping 8-10 times a day, and then isolating for the first two months to protect his immature immune system. And I reached a breaking point. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t think. I was losing things. I didn’t trust myself with the baby alone because I was so exhaustedly disoriented.
My husband was in the trenches with me, but to my utter disappointment, his nipples didn’t produce milk, so there was only so much he could do. He talks a big game about not needing much sleep, but even he crumbled. He only had two weeks of parental leave (don’t get me started on that), so he was getting up at 6 a.m. to go to work regardless of the number of overnight baby cry sessions. We half-heartedly joked about understanding why sleep deprivation has been used as a torture technique.
At one point I recall suggesting alternating “sleeping nights.” I likely read about it somewhere online between 1 and 4 a.m. while listening to the swoosh of the pump or rocking the baby or buying every baby sleep device on the market. But I was so energized by the idea that sleep was possible for me.
Here is what I proposed to my husband: I would pump on Friday at 11 p.m. Then I would go to the guest bedroom. I would put on the sound machine, loudly, and not see him or our baby until 7 a.m.
And, let me tell you: I felt like a different HUMAN after seven consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep. I was happy, attentive, and functioning. We ended up adopting this practice regularly, each of us getting a weekend night of uninterrupted sleep. It was a game changer.
When our second baby was born in May 2020, we quickly remembered how negatively the sleep loss and sleep interruption affected us. (Especially because none of us had left the house in months.) Attitudes were high, and patience was low. Our new baby slept for longer stretches sooner than our first, but he consistently felt like 4 a.m. was an ideal wake-up time. Clearly, he did not inherit my love for sleep.
This time we instituted alternating sleeping nights, not just on the weekends, but all week long. I don’t know if it was the sleep itself or just knowing that every other day I could REALLY sleep that kept me going. But, whatever it was, it worked. Even though the baby is almost 2, and MOSTLY sleeps a normal amount, I still take a “sleeping night” in the guest room once or twice a month. It continues to be a nice reset and reaffirms my need for many consecutive hours of sleep to be my best self, mom, wife, friend, and employee.
While I know many of you will be able to relate to this deep level of exhaustion, I also know not everyone has an “extra room” to hide away in. If you do, great! Use it! If not, consider visiting a friend or checking into a hotel every once in a while to give you the sleep boost you need! Remember self-care is not just manicures and massages, it is also (and frankly, more importantly) sleep and alone time.