I am Strong! I am Invincible! But I am a Slave to Sleep

“Good luck bad luck survival. Sleep is my friend and my rival.” – STARS

My relationship with sleep has always been tenuous. I am one of those people who require a minimum of eight hours sleep to properly function. Yet, at the same time, I have a mind that races with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and preparation.

I lay awake at night writing manuscripts in my mind and planning a week’s worth of meals. I rearrange my living room in my head and come up with the solution for peace in the Middle East.

I try not to look at the clock because if it gets too late I will panic and take a sleeping pill, knowing that the following day will bring no rest for the weary. I need the mental and physical strength to take care of my children, run my business, get through a CrossFit class, and fight the actual political regime. I refuse to negotiate on any of these things and therefore sleep is the God I bow to. Everything else must fall into place behind this illustrious queen.

As long as I get enough sleep, I can handle whatever is thrown at me. Sick children, insane deadlines, demanding clients, a new Trump cabinet appointment, a Spartan race, cooking dinner from scratch (which no one will eat), petitioning and fundraising – sometimes all of these things in one day.

I’m cool with it. In fact I thrive on it. Bring it on.

But ask me to boil an egg on six hours sleep and I will collapse into a grief-stricken heap.

In addition to my self-imposed sleep anxiety, there are the unavoidable life triggers that will throw me into a downward spiral.

The periods of time after childbirth were the worst. Loss of sleep was my biggest fear and it came true in a haze of on-demand breastfeeding, rocking, and diaper changing. Even with the help of my incredibly supportive husband, my postpartum anxiety led me to deep depression until I found a way to medicate myself out of the darkness.

Years later, my daughter has decided she no longer wants to sleep in her bed, but in a nest of her own creation, built on the floor with pencils, dolls, and books. When she inevitably wakes in the middle of the night screaming for mommy, she is often inconsolable, unable to put the pieces of her sleep sanctuary perfectly back together.

Sounds familiar.

Often I’m forced to bring her into my bed and endure a night of shuffling, kicking, and inexplicable wails.

If I’m lucky enough for my daughter to sleep through the night, it will be my son who takes his turn at spoiling my sleep.

After years of sleeping in darkness, he is now afraid to turn out the light or close the door. He will awaken because he heard an invisible noise, had a bad dream, peed the bed, or – quite reasonably – is in need of his inhaler to control his asthma.

Current “nest” situation on my bedroom floor

But no matter how late they fall asleep or how many times they awaken in the night, they will be up, bright and chipper, at 6 a.m. And if I haven’t slept straight through from 10 p.m., there won’t be enough coffee in the world to bring me up to speed.

I have many friends who easily subsist on four hours of sleep. Night nurses who claim a quick mid-day nap is all they need. They look fine and function with perceivable ease. To me, their strength is something I could not achieve with all the weightlifting in the world. I am in admiration and awe of their liberation from sleep’s grip.

As I write this I am on my second cup of coffee yet can barely keep my head up because I dared stay out past 9:30 p.m., enjoying a much needed night out with a few of my mom friends. My daughter had her evening wake around 2 a.m. and my husband was kind enough to go console her. But the small disruptions rattled my night with terrors that caused me to yell out in my sleep. It’s scary that it takes so little to derail me. And, with that, I think it’s time to shut down my computer and go take a nap.

A variation of this post originally appeared on Parent.co in December 2015


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