When We As Parents Need Our Own Sleep Training


Ten Hours Of SleepI knew my breasts would change. I knew my small feet might grow. But I never really believed that having babies would take away my ability to get a solid night’s sleep – for good.

Oh, I had been warned. My mom said it was the biggest irony – that by the time you could freely sink down into uninterrupted slumber, you had forgotten how. I thought my cousin Nancy was exaggerating when she said she hadn’t slept a full night since her daughter (who’s now a college graduate!) was born. I’m a champion slumberer; I wore mirrored shades in high school so I could snooze during AP History, people. Nothing, but nothing, can stop me from sleeping.

Except motherhood. And now science backs up that experience. Dammit, it’s true: my days of swan-diving into oblivion are gone.

As I type these words, I’m staring at an empty cup of coffee, cursing myself for not making a second pot. My daughter Penny woke at 2:30 a.m. crying with a nightmare – she’s been having a lot lately – and I had to hold her, refill her (water) bottle, and slip a dry towel under her before she could fall back to sleep. (Changing her would have woken her up for good, and I have had enough 3 a.m. viewings of Angelina Ballerina, thanks.)

An hour later, Abby woke up – not an unusual occurrence, but rather than being nursed back down, she decided being awake was way more fun. I don’t do cry-it-out, so I performed the usual rituals. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, as if asleep and felt her relax – but when I peeked, to check if she was really out, she gave a delighted “HEH!” and a victory fist-and-foot pump. I rocked with her, whispering “sssh,” but she shrieked as if I were tattooing her. Finally, I changed her and administered some Tylenol, and this either fixed everything or happened just as she was getting tired again, because by 5 a.m. she was out like a light.

I, however, was stuck glaring at my phone, feverishly playing my turn in eight simultaneous Scrabble games, waiting to go back to sleep. By the time the sun rose, I was a hopeless lump, eyes closed as my husband tried to shepherd the girls off of my not-sleeping form, attempting to get the magic just … five … minutes that would somehow refresh me enough to start my day.

Never happened. I’m typing in a blur. My hair looks like the seat of an abandoned wicker chair, my eyes have more baggage than an episode of Celebrity Rehab, and I am plodding sloth-like through my work-day. Days like this, I cling to the belief that when the girls are older, I’ll bound out of bed in the morning like a happy little chipmunk, refreshed from my medicinal eight hours of slumber, but mean old Science says I’m fooling myself.

According to Dr. Rafael Pelayo of Stanford University's Sleep Medicine Center, repeated nights of interrupted sleep often leads to a permanent sleep disorder. Insomniacs have more cortisol, the stress hormone, and spend their nights in a hyper-vigilant state.

That’s why my mom always emails me back at 3 a.m.

Pelayo gives some tips, though, for parents who don’t want to reach for the sleeping pill (or chardonnay) bottle. Give these a try for two months – it can take that long to effect a real change – and see if you can sleep-train your own self:

  • Pick your bedtime based on your usual wakeup time. It’s tempting to see when the kids get down, and then plan your own evening, but that just sets you up for a continuation of a bad cycle, Pelayo says. Instead, count backward from your usual wake-up time, and give yourself eight hours of in-bed time. My sister does this: I can’t call her after 9 p.m., because she honest-to-God hits the hay on time, like clockwork. She has better skin than I do. By a longshot.
  • Write it out. Before you go to sleep, write in a journal for 20 minutes. Make tomorrow’s to-do list so you’re not lying there fretting. Work out your feelings about the argument you had with your friend. Give the day closure. Pelayo says this is the mental equivalent of tucking yourself in.
  • Don’t sleep in when you get the chance. Is he kidding me? No, he’s not. Consistency, says Dr. Pelayo – even on weekends – will keep you from veering off-course, sleepwise.
  • Don’t give in to wakeups. Rather than making productive use of your night-owl status, which just keeps you up, do something dull so that you’re forced back to sleep. Or at least you’re not encouraging your wakeful status.

Have you lost your Z’s since having kids? Did they ever come back? How do you deal with post-motherhood insomnia? 

Image via Spiffing Jewelry/Etsy

baby sleep, time for mom


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xavie... xavierlogan09

i have always had sleeping problems. I can fall asleep easily now that my son goes right to sleep at 8. I have trouble staying asleep. Especially since my son has been waking up two to three times a night. He usually sleeps all night.

madam... madamekatekate

I have had issues with sleep since I was little. I have memories of 4 year old me lying in bed for lengthy periods just waiting for sleep. I had a brief reprieve my first two years of high school. Now as an adult and mommy, I can find myself in bed awake at 5 am. I want to sleep and I am tired, but sleep still evades me. Some nights I do the stay-up-and-worry routine, but I'm mostly just lying there waiting for sleep. Sounds funny, but sometimes singing softly aloud to myself helps. And a bedtime routine definitely helps get things in order.

My younger daughter seems to sleep like her Dad, out like a light right at bedtime. My older daughter is more like me. I hope I can help learn to deal with sleep "issues" so she doesn't turn into me when she grows up, lol.

Susan Delly

Now that my son is 4 months old and has started sleeping at 9pm and through the night... I can't sleep!  I'm usually up past midnight  and then sometimes in the middle of the night, too. :(

lovin... lovinangels

The phone is your problem. Don't get into anything with artificial light when you wake up. That being said, want to play scrabble?

sofia... sofia0587

Yes I need to learn to sleep when she does because she knocks out around 8 and is up by 2:30 which is great but not when I stay up until 12 so then when she wakes up I start hurting lol, also caught up playing scrabble on my phone.

amand... amanda_mom89

Nope. No sleep problems. My 2 1/2 month old will sleep for 5 to 8 hours at a time. If she wakes me up it's around 5 am and she just wants to be fed. I feed her, burp her and go lay her back in her crib. I turn on a cd of lullabies for her and give her a kiss. I go back to bed and she goes back to sleep. She won't wake up again til around 9 or 10. She's been like this since she was about 2 weeks old. I don't know if she'll always be like this but it sure is nice for now. Good luck to all you tired mommies out there! I hope you get rest soon. :)

jennyce3 jennyce3

Yes!  Bad sleep. My 3 year old woke up in the night so often that I now sleep like one of those animals.....dolphin?  shark?  that only half of its brain is asleep at a time.  The other half is......constantly.......listening. 

Munch... MunchiesMom324

My oldest son (8) has the most bizarre sleeping pattern... he will stay awake (WIDE awake, and hyper) for 2 days straight (solid 48-50 hours) and then conk out for about 10-12 hours, rinse, repeat. 

Me... I could get a good 7-8 hours, and still feel like I haven't slept in years.  IDK if it's from the newborn, or the stress of the previous day, but I do NOT want to wake up when I hear the pitter patter of little feet heading towards my room with the "whispering" of the toddlers (" Shhh, Ben!  Let's go this way.  Let's wake up mommy.  Is mommy still in bed?") *sigh*. 

kjbug... kjbugsmom1517

Man do I miss the effortless sleeping of adolescence. Since having kids seems like one ear is always listening and any noise pops the eyes open. On top of having hypothyroidism its such a nice thing to get a solid nights sleep. My youngest is 3 and she was the hardest to get to slepe thru the night. By the time she did my body was conditioned to wake up few times a night. Yea so frustrating.

surfg... surfgrl60

I have kind of always had sleeping issues. My oldest is 4 and a half. As a baby he NEVER slept. It was freaky and un heard of. He didnt sleep through the night until 18 months. I thought I was going to die. I have 3 kids. Nobody wakes up in the middle of the night. My middle child is 3. He always wakes up at 6am on the dot. You can not nap him and put him to bed at 10. He is up at 6. My youngest is a good sleeper. I am zombie like everyday. I never go out in public because I have NO energy. I am so damn tired and drained. I hardly function. I have little help. I havent shaved sence god knows when. Shameful I know. I shaved my legs a week ago, same with pits. Everything else can wait. When the kids go to bed, I go to bed. I dont see how people can stay up with their husbands and watch a movie, or talk or whatever. I cant!

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