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Motherhood Changes Our Sleep Forever

Ask any new mom how she’s feeling and you’re bound to hear about her lack of sleep. Newborns wake frequently to eat, and often have their days and nights mixed up. So it’s not too surprising that moms in the early weeks of motherhood are often sleep deprived. 

And for many moms, perhaps more than let on, this disruption to sleep continues for months, and even through the early years. Babies, toddlers and little ones may wake from hunger, teething, separation anxiety and simply in search of loving comfort. 

We struggle with being chronically tired, craving that 4-hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Sometimes even fantasizing about the days when our kids are bigger and we are sleeping through the night again. 

I apologize in advance for bursting your bubble, but that fantasy is — for most — just that. A fantasy. 

What keeps us moms awake definitely changes, but that we are often kept awake doesn’t change. The elementary school years may bring the closest thing to “normal” sleep since babyhood, yet we still might find ourselves tossing and turning as we remember tomorrow is our turn to send in the snack that we forgot to make or buy. Or we might find it hard to fall asleep while we worry about why our sweet child is struggling with reading and what we can do to help. 

The middle school years usher in a fresh wave of challenges to sleep. We find ourselves doing a lot more praying and worrying about the peer influences our kids face and how they will deal with them. Will the morals we’ve raised them with stick? Will they be included? Please don’t let them grow up too fast! And the dance between dependence and independence kicks into higher gear as they start going places on their own…walking as a group to get lunch, hang out at the park, being dropped off at the mall to shop and catch a movie. 

In our neck of the woods, this was the time when many of our friends’ kids began having Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and festive, big parties to celebrate them. So we parents became the chauffeurs and even when it wasn’t our turn to drive home at midnight, we were still awake waiting for our 13-going-on-30 year old to get home and tell us all about it. 

But surely you sleep better once your kids are in high school, right? Um, not necessarily. High school is a time for teens to spread their wings, discover more about who they are. And this part of the journey can be quite the rollercoaster ride. Boundaries are still so important, but they need to be adjusted to allow our teens the chance to learn and grow. They may have friends we don’t feel completely comfortable with. Even when we know where they are, we might not know all they’re being exposed to or how they’re reacting to it. And then they start driving. Staying out later. We parents discover a whole new take on what it means to have faith and to trust. And whether it’s because we are staying up until our kids are safely home, or we can’t sleep because we are overthinking and worrying, we aren’t exactly getting great sleep. 

Then we have moms of college kids, like me. At least when our kids are away at school and not living at home day in and day out, then we start to sleep better? Not so much in this age of cell phones. When I went to college it was before we all had cell phones, and phone calls home took place once a week on a landline in your dorm or sorority house. Now we all have cell phones, and for the most part, this can be a good thing for keeping families connected. Kids can text, call or FaceTime when they have something to share, are in need of extra support or just feel like chatting. What this also means for most of us college moms is, just like our parents might have left the landline plugged in when they went to sleep “just in case,” we leave our cell phones on when we go to sleep (well to be honest, all the time when our kids are away), “just in case.” Kind of like sleeping with one ear listening, and this is amplified if our kids are struggling or unhappy and happened to share that with us during the day. A mom of college kids never sleeps quite as soundly and peacefully as when her college kids are home for a weekend or school break and sleeping under her roof. 

Now, I’m not there yet, but I can surmise that even when our kids are adults living in an apartment or house of their own — even (especially!) when they have children of their own — our sleep probably doesn’t go back to how it was before we became parents. 

For one thing, we have been conditioned over many years to adjust to sleep deprivation, interrupted sleep, lighter sleep and minds that won’t quiet to let us sleep. Of course there are probably stretches here and there where we experience those deep and delicious sleeps from our past. But getting back to the rhythm of that, to make it our normal again, would take some retraining, I’d imagine. 

Plus, I’m pretty sure that our mom hearts and minds don’t automatically shift gears just because our kids are out on their own. Motherhood is a lifelong journey and position. One of the many ways it changes our lives is how it impacts our sleep. But for the abundance of blessings that Motherhood bestows upon us…

I’m willing to lose a little sleep.

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