You would think something as basic as sleep would stay the same throughout life. You would think wrong.
For children, sleep is seen as a punishment as in Max’s mother’s directive to “go to bed without supper” in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” As you get older and control your own schedule, you control your sleep. Maybe you choose to put in an all nighter at work, studying, or enjoying a night on the town. Personally, as geeky as it sounds, I have always needed 8 hours and rarely made exceptions. I was worried about having children. Baruch Hashem, somehow my needs have learned to compromise with my reality and I manage ok. But it was a rough road.
The first phase of the great sleep takeover is pregnancy. The discomfort of a growing belly, sometimes sciatic back, and indigestion often keep me up at night. I think of it as preparation for phase two—newborn.
In the initial stage of newborn, you are usually in the hospital. Supposedly, their main goal is to help you recover. That’s your goal too so you should be on the same page. Nope. Their version of helping you recover is to wake you up every hour to take your vitals, bring you your baby, or see if you’re hungry. My version would be to sleep. They win since I’m their captive.
The next phase is coming home. You see what taking care of a baby is really like. As hard as it is, I resist the urge to get a baby nurse since I think this is really when you get to know all about your baby. So time loses its meaning with the feedings and changings and taking care of everything else. If you need to plan a bris, that’s a whole other dimension. The wonderful advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps” only really holds water for baby number one. Otherwise you have to try and get everyone to sleep while the baby does, and by the time you’re done helping everyone else, the baby wakes up. So at this stage, sleep is divided into 2 to 3 hr shifts. I know it’s controversial and not good advice for everyone, but I find cosleeping helps everyone sleep better until 6 months. Also something I learned the hard way is to make absolute sure you have fed your baby as much as its little tummy can handle, then burped it till there’s a absolutely no gas, then continue feeding until the baby just can’t take anymore. For baby number one, as soon as the eyes closed, I considered myself lucky and skipped out—only to be reawakened 15 minutes later for more food.
By 6 months, the baby shifts to the crib and sleep extends to half the night. Not too bad unless he’s teething or fussy. Then you’re back to newborn time slots.
At some point along the way, sleep extends even more. But that’s when your ears and brain play tricks on you. Any little noise has endless possibilities of terrible consequences. Sure it could be just a baby coo. Or it could be a tiny piece of scotch tape somehow got onto that toy and he’s choking. This not-fun game continues for the older ones as well. Is that a cough or is she throwing up? Did a book fall on the floor or was that your son?
The next phase of sleeping is when your children do sleep through the night, but wake up early. Why does Hashem give children more energy than adults? This is one of the great mysteries I hope to have explained when Moshiach comes.
To make matters worse, time often starts getting shaved off at night too with bedtime battles. It can be endless. Isn’t it funny though how even after all that – the extra drinks of water, extra trips to the bathroom, davening, books to read, etc—you still try to get a good look at them once they are finally asleep. They just look so beautiful and it’s the only time to take it all in.
Finally, after all these sleep battles, your own body starts to ambush you as well with insomnia sometimes. You just never know what a night will bring you. I was fortunate enough to go to a hotel recently with my husband to celebrate our anniversary. I was sure I would sleep well. I didn’t and I still don’t know why. Just that when I had children, I signed over my sleeping rights to them and they still maintain control even from afar.
Postscript: When I began this blog, I had in mind to stay away from current events. As someone who has not read a newspaper cover to cover in over 10 years, I feel I didn’t have much to add to the conversation. But I wanted to comment on the loss of Neil Armstrong who boldly went where no one dared before. One of my son’s favorite bedtime books (ergo, the connection to the main story) is Moonshot, a book about the mission to the moon. My husband has instilled a love of space in all of us, complete with trips to the Kennedy Space Center, a membership at Cradle of Aviation, and a star at the Intrepid’s space pavilion. US space missions teach us so much about the world and have led to countless advancements in pharmacology, technology, agriculture, etc. It also inspires young children to really apply themselves in math and science. I encourage all parents to read their children (or have them read themselves) a book about space this week.