More than six years since I started losing sleep in a relentless fashion during my first pregnancy and six months into my third child’s very wakeful life, I’m tired. I’m so tired that exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it. In fact, exhausted sounds downright pleasant compared to what I am.
Scientists have demonstrated time and again that sleep deprivation leads to decreased mental function and ill humor. Or, as other writers put it:
- “When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains start to malfunction in all sorts of bizarre ways—we lose our emotional resilience, our tempers, and our ability to sustain logical thought. . . . Which means the vast majority of parents with children under the age of two are the emotional equivalent of stumbling, bleary-eyed drunks looking for a fight or a warm place to take a nap.” Katrina Alcorn, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink
- “I reckon that [my wife] averages maybe three hours of sleep each night, broken up into forty-five-minute chunks. I get more like five broken hours, and while I should be pleased about that, I am, in truth, pissed off. That’s what happens when you don’t sleep properly for long stretches: You get pissed off.” Michael Lewis, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood
- “[J]ust a brief period of sleep deprivation compromises a person’s performance as much as consuming excess alcohol. . . . [T]he sleep-deprived score higher on measures of irritability and lower on measures of inhibition too which isn’t an especially useful combination for parents, who are trying to keep their cool.” Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
I get cranky. I’m easily overwhelmed. I have trouble making decisions. I sometimes cry. More amusingly, over the course of the past two months, I’ve jotted down the following:
- This morning I woke up face-down on a disposable diaper. A clean one. I must have tossed it into the bed in the middle of the night and then forgotten to change her. It was the expensive kind, lightly scented and soft, which made for a fairly pleasant way to awake.
- I catch myself signing off—in person and over the phone—by saying, “Goodnight!” regardless of the hour. My husband leaves the house for work: “Goodnight!” My mom has to run to a lunch meeting: “Goodnight!” The new all-purpose salutation is entirely subconscious, driven by wishful thinking.
- I not infrequently dig around in my eye trying to remove my contacts for several minutes before realizing that it’s morning, and I’m supposed to be putting them in.
- I couldn’t figure out why I stood in the middle of the kitchen staring down at a piece of bread. Then I realized I’d just put my cell phone in the toaster.
- Similarly, I once opened the fridge to see a white-tipped knife sitting on the top shelf in the dairy section. Super sleuth that I am, I located the cream cheese container in the dishwasher perched atop the dirty silverware basket.
- I woke up in a fog as my three year-old barged into my bedroom. I started to tell him to march his tush back to bed right this minute, sure that I had at least another six hours to grab sleep in thirty or forty-minute blocks. And then I realized it wasn’t dark. When the time of day fully registered, I began to sob uncontrollably.
- I move clean clothes from the dryer back to the washer at least once a week.
- Yesterday I dragged my eyes from my haggard reflection down to the bathroom sink. One hand held a tube of toothpaste under the running water and the other pinched my toothbrush over it. I had a feeling something was off, but it took me a few beats to sort it all out.
- I wrote the babysitter a check, carefully affixing a postage stamp to its upper right hand corner.
- A week later, I got out a check and paused, pen dangling over the “Pay to the order of” line. My in-laws had watched their grandkids. (Put checkbook back in drawer. Glare at baby.)
- During my eldest’s infancy—when she was quite sick and I’d lost so much sleep that I actually dozed off while walking, awaking as the side of my head hit the door frame and then managing to sort of slowly ooze my body down the wall so as to cushion her landing—I seriously contemplated walking into traffic. I didn’t want to end it all. I just figured that a severely broken femur would garner me a hospital admission and a few hours of sleep. Now I’m nowhere near as desperate. I know a feigned bout of vertigo will take the edge off.
- I stabbed a meatball with my fork only to have it skitter off my plate. Turns out it was an avocado pit. I guess my brain saw something round and brown on the counter and put it with the other round and brown things.
- In the same vein, I once picked up a dirty diaper, all rolled up using its own tabs, and carefully stowed it in the dresser drawer among my husband’s clean athletic socks, also folded up into soft, white balls.
- Partially thanks to Northern California’s temperate climate, but mostly owing to a sleep pattern that largely refuses distinctions like night and day or weekday and weekend, I’ve repeatedly lost track of time. Not a couple hours here or there, mind you. For a few days this March, I thought it was May. And in January, I told the kids they could wear mittens “when it’s winter.”
- The baby spit up all over my top half. I picked up the large, pee-soaked diaper I had just removed from her bottom and wiped my forearm with it. As best I can figure, I registered the need for something to sop up the mess, looked at the diaper, and thought, diaper equals absorbent.
Why did I spend the time recording these occurrences? Because I’m too tired to remember anything that’s not written down or somehow attached to my body (which leads to an amusing fanny-pack-and-water-bottle-carabiner situation). Like the time I declared almost all of my husband’s boxers too worn, threw them out, and forgot to buy him new ones. Or the day we had guests over, and my attempts at adult conversation kept being thwarted by a child’s wails. I looked down at my kids happily playing together on the rug. Whose baby is that and why aren’t they picking it up? It was my baby. I didn’t just forget that I’d put her down for a nap. I forgot that I had a third child.
When this situation bums me out, I picture myself, years from now, stretching as I wake of my own volition. I’ll saunter into the bathroom, wash my face, and apply moisturizer. I’ll laze on the couch, reading a book for a half hour or so before the kids wake up. Those lazy bones! I’ll greet them with genuine enthusiasm, chipperly asking, “What should we do today?!” I won’t sit there hoping no one proposes a task requiring physical exertion. My eyelids won’t drift closed of their own accord. I won’t stop speaking mid-sentence, suddenly too worn out to chase after my train of thought.
I can envision it. It’s just so far from my current reality that it’s like one of those videos The Biggest Loser contestants make. I stare at the camera, stating my determination to lose 300 of my 500 lbs, but my flat and listless eyes declare an utter lack of faith that such a thing could ever happen.
Originally published on JoiedeKids.com