Mom and Dad Need Sleep, Too – by Colleen Lindstrom
I am about to write a post about how important sleep is to mommies and daddies, and the irony is that I am bleary eyed, and sleep deprived as I type. Knee deep in a cup of glorious coffee, with which I’ve built a tawdry relationship since I have become a parent. Two teething toddlers make sleep unpredictable.
I stand by my theme, though, now more than ever. We talk and talk about how important it is to get the babies to sleep well. “Develop good sleep habits early,” say the books and the experts, and I will willingly raise my hand as the mom who cleaned off the shelf of the “get baby to sleep” section at the local book store. But what about the parents? You see, I have learned that healthy sleep habits for baby do not directly translate to healthy sleep habits for mom and dad. Sure there’s that old adage, “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which is great advice, but that only works for so long, and only really works for the first baby. One month after my twins were born, my then three year-old dropped his afternoon nap. Gone were the glorious days of the afternoon siesta. My afternoons quickly changed from relaxing, to exhausting (a dichotomy you cannot fully appreciate until it is upon you). And so, it was then that I really became protective of my sleep. I knew that there were parts of my sleep that I could not control. I knew that I would be awakened abruptly and often by my offspring, and I knew that I would have to respond to those alarms. Still, my children had bedtimes of 6:30 and 7:00 (we are an early to bed family where the kids are concerned, we have shifted a little as they’ve gotten older, but still, the Lindstrom kids are snoozing soundly before 8:00 every night), and we looked at those remaining hours before the 10:00 news as our time. I have grown to view those remaining hours before the evening news as valuable sleep opportunities lost, but available to be claimed should the need arise.
How do you develop good sleep habits in parents? I imagine that the first step is putting equal attention toward it. Equal to the amount of attention we pay to our children’s sleep habits. The second step is admitting that we need it. We are such a bizarre culture that equates sleep with laziness, rather than restoration. I’ve heard water cooler competitions between coworkers boasting, “I only need 6 hours of sleep,” “well, I only need 5.” The person with the least sleep wins? I think not. Getting real with yourself about not just getting by with a little sleep, but thriving with a lot of sleep. Then there is a period of acceptance when you realize that you may have to give some things up for sleep. You may have to give up watching that favorite TV show on the couch with your spouse every Wednesday night in favor of catching two or three more Zs. That pile of work that you brought home, may just have to wait. Just like our children have circadian rhythms that alert their sleeping and waking, adults do too, so I think it’s important to listen to our bodies and give in when the time comes. This is what we can control about our own sleep, because we cannot control the fact that these sweet little cherubs for whom we are delighted to care, may need care in the middle of the night. And finally, support each other in healthy sleep. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, and if mama is sleepy, she FOR SURE ain’t happy. Same goes for dad. It’s important to be open with each other about your needs for sleep, and work together to make sure everyone’s needs are met, or at least tended to.
Sure, I am living proof that this is not a fool proof plan (she says, gulping her third cup of coffee), but it’s better than nothing. The one fact of parenting is that it is an around the clock job. Some days are longer than others, and some nights are more interrupted than others. Without the luxury of a crystal ball to prepare for the tough nights, we are only left with the responsibility to care for ourselves the best we can every day.
Do you have any sleep tricks for mom and dad? What have you done to ensure that you are getting adequate sleep? Are you getting adequate sleep?