On Sleep

I’ve always needed more than the average amount of sleep. I get tired very easily and usually, if I miss an hour or two of sleep, I feel like other people do when they pull an all-nighter. When I get moderately tired, I feel it more than most people — I feel deeply nauseous and poundingly groggy as if I have a severe hangover. This has always been frustrating to me and has felt unfair — especially when I was younger, I simply could not keep up with everyone else. I particularly remember when I went to Italy on a study abroad program the summer after my freshman year. We had classes every morning at eight, but of course all stayed out partying all night every night. The other students kept this routine for the full five weeks and did not seem to be at all bothered. I tried to do the same, but I could not manage it. I had to bow out hours before the others at night, and even so, I was so exhausted in class that I couldn’t keep from falling asleep in my chair and listing sideways with my head pointed down toward the floor. The professor — who could not stand me because of this behavior — would habitually wake me up right before I fell out of my chair.

I was at one point diagnosed with a sleep disorder called UARS, but I don’t really think that’s my issue, and I’ve never been retested. The CPAP machine made no difference.

Because of this, I was pretty worried about having a baby. I was afraid I would lose my mind, or fall asleep so deeply that the baby couldn’t wake me, or just be too tired to care for her properly. None of that happened, although in the first month after her birth, I don’t think I could have gotten through it if my Mom hadn’t been here to look after her to let me take five hour naps sometimes. After that, though, I got used to Edith’s very regular cycle of three hour phases through the night and I felt almost functional on that schedule, and now she usually sleeps for a five hour stretch, a three hour stretch, and then sometimes another hour or so, plus feeding and getting her back to sleep takes around 40 minutes now (whereas it used to take more like 90), and I sleep for probably around seven hours per night. I feel remarkably alert for someone who normally needs stimulants to power through on less than nine hours.

Of course, I’m not working right now, and so I don’t have to do anything cognitively complex during the day. When I think about doing my job while feeling like I feel right now, I want to curl up into a ball and cry. Surely Edith will be sleeping better at six months when I go back? How do other women do it? Most American women have to go back to work in under a month. I can’t fathom it.

Anyway, I have never understood people who say things like, “if I have to pick between sleep or x, I’m going to do x.” To me, these are like people who say, “I forgot to eat today.” It just does not compute with my experience of having a human body. So I have been shocked to find that having an infant has turned me into one of those people.

These days I typically have to pick between going for a run and taking a nap, and I often choose running, because it energizes me more than the bit of extra sleep would (which just makes me feel groggy). In particular, sunshine and getting out of the house for a bit makes me feel refreshed and happier than a nap would do.

At night, when Edith is sleeping I sometimes stay up for an extra two hours reading an especially interesting book even though I really need that time to sleep, because I don’t have uninterrupted time during the day and I just really want to, and weirdly, I don’t feel that much more tired the next day than I do when I go right to sleep when she does.

I suppose having a baby rewires you physically in some ways. At any rate, I’m relieved to find that not only am I capable of getting by on an infant mom sleep schedule, but I’m even comfortable enough with it to do other things besides sleep when I have the option. In my wildest dreams, I would not have thought that would be the case.

Of course, all this will likely go out the window when I go back to work. But then, I guess that’s what Adderall is for.

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