Nowadays, there are two questions everyone asks me no matter who they are or what the situation may be. These are: How are the twins? And: How are you sleeping?
Ah, sleep deprivation. This was precisely the thing I’d been dreading the most about motherhood, because I’m not one of these high-stamina types who can bounce out of bed after 5 hours and go run marathons and operate on shock trauma patients. Getting enough sleep is key to my happiness and sense of well-being, but at the same time it’s also created a lot of anxiety in that I feel there must be something wrong with me that I need so very much of it just to function at a minimal level. But why? What’s even going on when I’m asleep that’s so damned important? Why must we humans spend almost half our time on earth conked out and oblivious? Yeah, yeah, I know all about our physical systems needing to recharge and replenish…but what really goes on when we sleep? Why is it so necessary that we actually shrivel up, become delusional, and die without it?
Back when I used to work at the museum, I would spend many summer lunch hours cat napping in the Fairmount azalea garden, my purse as a pillow. On weekends, I could wake up at 9, then turn right around and fall back into bed before lunch. And when I have my druthers, I don’t take little 20-minute power naps, I crash into 4-hour-long marathon sessions of sleep with many REM cycles and many whacked out dreams.
Although now that the twins are here, I really shouldn’t be complaining. Both P (who shall be henceforth known on this blog as Wog) and M (who shall be henceforth known as Birdie) are excellent sleepers. But here’s the thing I never realized about parenthood: even when your kids are sleeping, you’re not necessarily sleeping. It’s completely counterintuitive, but the moment I crawl into bed I begin putting loads of pressure on myself to seize this crucial opportunity for shut-eye and OMG YOU HAVE TO FALL ASLEEP RIGHT NOW because if you don’t you will never have the chance AGAIN, EVER. Or I lie awake panicked that they’re not breathing. I worry that Tai, who often goes to bed later than me, is having his nerves irrevocably worked by one or both of them and will just up and leave. I worry about my health, my stress level, my mental sharpness. And then sometimes I just don’t feel like sleeping, I want to enjoy the me time rather than wasting it away unconscious. There are Vogues to catch up on and new age books to read.
But then insomnia turns into this weird kind of mania, and I’m likely to start rearranging the books on the shelves so that they are organized by color, or separating my clothes into keep/donate/tailor piles. When I do finally fall asleep, my thyroid issues mixed with whatever lingering post-partum hormonal chaos is happening inside me leads to night terrors, night sweats, and the familiar but no less evil bruxism.
After a night like this, I spend the next day clumsy at best, angry and sobbing at worst. The good news (I think) is that the anger is never directed at the twins. It’s inward, towards myself, or towards my parents, or towards Tai. It hurts and it consumes all the little energy I have left.
So I decided to spend one of my sleepless nights researching sleep deprivation. It’s more insidious than I ever dreamed (see what I did there?).
Lack of sleep can cause you to
- gain weight
- be more susceptible to diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and twitching,
- look like shit
It manifests in different ways for different people too – Tai, for instance, gets paranoid and hyper-vigilant; I, when it’s really bad, get self-destructive.
Sleep deprivation can make you so incredibly depressed, which coupled with even the slightest bit of PPD, is horrific. Placenta pills, Prozac, Zoloft, Abilify, mindfulness meditation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are no match for it. When it gets really severe, you might hallucinate and have distorted perceptions of people and events.
It causes aches and pains more severe than those caused by bending over to pick up two growing babies all day long. It’s actually used as a form of torture.
Eventually, the body can take no more. You inadvertently fall into what’s called a micro-sleep, which could last for anywhere from a split-second to several seconds and which you probably won’t even remember. Prolonged sleep deprivation can ultimately cause you to develop dementia, and/or die.
So, because I want to be around to watch the twinpops grow into happy, healthy, well-adjusted citizens of the world, I’ve had to get good at abandoning my notions of what is ideal and just embracing sleep whenever and wherever I happen to find it. I used to balk at 20-minute naps, now I savor 5-minute ones. Once the babies are in bed at 7:30, I scarf dinner with Tai and scurry off to bed no later than 9. I’ve given up on evening TV, so don’t ask me about the devious new hussy maid on Downton Abbey, whether I saw Miley twerking at the Golden Globes, or who Juan Pablo sent packing. When people come to visit, I’ve stopped feeling the need to hang out and am now comfortable saying “Not to be rude, but do you mind if I lie down?” My shut-eye mantra is “My children are breathing. My husband is happy. My health is freaking awesome.” My Vogues and new age lit are all in a pile for when my life returns to normal. I’m told it eventually will, and that someday I will miss this.