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Teresa Strasser Headshot

An Insomniac Mom Begs You to Stop Talking About Your Sleep

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I've always had an irrational and bitter resentment toward good sleepers. You know who you are. You probably don't mean to brag, but you guys always do. You always do.

"I could sleep ANYWHERE," you say, casually. And, "I'm a mess without my ten hours of sleep." And you don't confine your annoying somnolence to nighttime. "I need a disco nap," you'll say, tucking your legs up, closing your eyes and falling asleep at will during broad daylight on some lumpy, scratchy couch without a single ritual or sleep aid or even a moment of doubt about your ability to greet The Sandman. Jackhammers, neighbor dogs barking, horns honking, doorbells ringing, nothing can rouse you from your REM delirium.

Meanwhile, I could be lying on a mattress made from homemade marshmallows and space-age polymers custom fitted to my firmness needs, my cheek on a silk pillowcase, with Sade and Kenny G perched on the edge of my bed to provide optimum easy listening -- while under the influence of a fistful of pharmaceutical sleep aids -- and still be wide awake even as a team of massage therapists kneaded the kinks from my shoulders.

Becoming a parent was to insomnia what a box of cupcakes and a gallon drum of Hershey's chocolate syrup is to diabetes. What can be managed under the best of circumstances is now a full-scale crisis that has been ignited by the sweet nectar of parenthood.

I really had a handle on it before I had a baby two years ago, and looking back, I have no idea what I had to toss and turn about back then. Seriously, any worries subordinate to "responsible for entire human life" seem pretty trivial to me now.

As any parent knows, young children sometimes wake up at unpredictable intervals. This is fine for all you "sleep when the baby sleeps" moms, but once I wake up, it's over. The starting gun has been fired, and now the racing thoughts are off the blocks and will trot down the lanes in my head. Should I work less and only send the kid to day care three days a week? Was that just the baby making a sound? Was that the cat? When is that cat going to die quietly in his sleep and stop keeping me up? What kind of nightmares do toddlers have? Why is (insert name of pretty much anyone) more successful than I am? Why did I stop trying?

Add to this ridiculous parade of obsessive thoughts various body pains that worsen in the wee hours: tight calves, stiff neck, fingers getting numb in an endless series of strange positions. Now, you take the whole thing and add "possibility of child crying or needing something again at any moment."

Sure, mostly he sleeps. But like a slot machine, he schools my brain with variable reinforcements of the strongest kind.

My brain is now on high alert for baby distress, probably because it's wired for that, to respond to my child's needs. What it isn't wired for is mulling over everything from the giant, unanswerable questions of life to the minutiae that fuel insipid insomniac musings: "Maybe that new gluten-free cereal is too sugary."

Maybe.

And maybe when you have a child you never really get a decent night's sleep again. You live with it. I'd rather worry about a human life than the two-bit things that used to keep me up. I just wish I could limit my compulsive PM carnivals of anxiety to things of arguable importance, not that cereal choice isn't important, but my mind's filing system is just throwing "life or death" in with "maybe he's not getting anything out of baby gymnastics."

If being ashamed and being exhausted can't fix it, and we are way past meditating and lavender spray at this point, all I can do is wait it out. And ask Kenny G to just play the hits.