Mom-Happiness Obstacle #1: Sleep Deprivation

This time, it’s my own darn fault.

My husband and I finally (five years after the rest of the world, I know) decided to get into the TV series LOST, and considering season 6 starts very soon, we’ve got some serious catching up to do. Plus, the show is downright addictive. So the last few nights I’ve stayed up way too late, totally consumed by the drama on my TV screen.

Today may have marked the tipping point. I was able to—after a struggle—drag myself out of bed to get the boys up for school, and even managed to buzz through part of the morning without too much trouble. But then around 10 AM, I hit a wall. I got cranky. Short-tempered. Hazy. Attempting to get some work done at Panera, I fantasized about taking a nap instead, deterred only by the worry that I might get kicked out.

Clara, who’s almost 10 months old, happens to be one of those pretty good sleepers who, almost from birth, has allowed me to get a decent night’s rest most nights. So I’d almost—almost—forgotten how awful it feels to not get enough sleep…but now I remember. My productivity is down. My creativity is hindered. My ability to communicate is hampered. Heck, I’m not even sure this post is making any sense.

Most moms are intimately acquainted with sleep deprivation at one time or another. Its effects, researchers say, can include lowered coordination and loss of short-term memory and lead to chronic health problems. In fact, studies have compared the effects of sleep deprivation to that of being drunk.

So today was an excellent reminder for me (a wake-up call, if you will—okay, without sleep even my jokes are getting cornier) why “lack of sleep” is one of the things that comes up again and again on moms’ lists of obstacles to happiness.

First there’s the acute no-sleep phase of newborn-hood: bleary-eyed feedings at midnight, 1:30 AM, 3:00 AM, 5:30 AM,  5:55 AM, 6:32 AM…and hours of unexplainable and inconsolable crying. I had a particularly hard newborn phase with babies #2 and #4 (for some reason, my odd-numbered children have been decent sleepers and not very fussy; not so much the even-numbers.) After a few weeks of never getting enough sleep, I was in crisis mode: my speech began to slur. I’d trail off mid-sentence in search of a word like “sock” or “multivitamin” that could no longer seem to make the long journey from my subconscious to my mouth. After a few moments of watching me gape silently into space, whoever I was speaking to would uneasily change the subject.

Sometimes, as it turned out, there was nobody actually there. Extreme sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations.

Then there’s the more chronic sort of sleep deprivation some of us experience for months or even years after our babies are born. A hyper-active protective instinct makes it difficult for many of us to fall asleep or sleep as deeply as we did pre-babies. Being always tuned in and anticipating some sort of NEED we might be obligated to provide for can make it hard to take a nap even if somebody else is caring for the kids. So we stumble through life, maybe not in dire need of sleep, but never quite rested enough—just a little foggy, a little irritable, a little forgetful.

And even a “little” bit of sleep deprivation can have a huge effect on happiness. Have you ever noticed how much more likely you are to lash out at your spouse or kids if you are sleep-deprived? How hard it is to find the energy to exercise, grocery shop, cook a healthy meal, apply your brain to a creative pursuit? How much less enjoyable life is in general? We joke about sleep deprivation, ladies, but it’s no joke: not getting enough rest seriously hampers our ability to enjoy motherhood, not to mention take good care of our kids (and ourselves).

So I’m dedicating this week at The Happiest Mom to SLEEP. How to get it, how it feels when you don’t, how to function when you can’t. If you’re not too tired, I’d love your help. If you’ve got experience in this area (and really, what mom doesn’t have at least a little?) and have commiseration, tips, advice, or resources to share, please weigh in below in the comments or send me an email. And tune back in daily this week to read about how you can feel more rested. Now go take a nap…if you can.

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