Sleep. Something I think most of us take for granted, that is, until we have children.
What is sleep? From Wikipedia: “Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.”
I like to think of sleep as a state of bliss.
The first time I really understood what it was like to miss sleep was when I was a clinical clerk in medical school. Being on-call 1 night in 4 doesn’t sound all that bad from the outside, but when you’re smack in the middle of it, you feel like a walking zombie. The only saving grace was being able to sleep the next day. When you have children, all that goes out the proverbial window. Gone are the days you can sleep in. Children/toddlers get up at the crack of dawn. They go from sound asleep to loud and awake within the span of seconds, it seems. The saying, “bright eyed and bushy-tailed” definitely refers to kids. My almost-3 year old is going through some phase where she gets up before 5am, turns on her light and starts playing in her room. Really kid? 5am? Ugh. What’s even more irritating is that she’s started doing this as her 5 month old brother is just starting to sleep through the night. Yeah, thanks kid! Mommy is finally getting some decent sleep – you’ve got to kill that, eh? Are you still mad that I gave you a little brother?!
In all seriousness though, sleep is uber important for everyone. Ever hear that chronic insomnia can drive a person insane? Well, it’s kind of true. Chronic insomnia can lead to problems with anxiety and depression (see: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood). In fact, mood disturbances are almost 5x more common in chronic insomniacs. And sleep is even more crucial for infants and children, which brings me to the reason for this post today.
One of the things I remember most from my training in Family Medicine was the week we spent learning about sleep problems in children. It amazed me that parents would ask the family doctor to help with sleep problems. “Doctor, my 15 month old won’t sleep through the night!” “Doctor, my 3 year old still sleeps with us and it’s ruining my marriage.” Say what?!?! It would never have occurred to me to seek out medical advice for something like that. Isn’t sleep something that comes easily? Don’t babies sleep 18 hours a day? Wow, did I have a lot to learn!!
The book that was recommended we all read as Family Medicine residents was “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I remember scanning it in the library one weekend but didn’t have time to read it cover to cover. BIG MISTAKE! In the first 3 years of family practice, I lost track of the number of times parents complained about sleep issues in the “well baby” visits. I remembered a few tidbits of advice that I would relate to the parents, but I have no idea if any of it worked. I suspected the majority of those parents took my advice with a LARGE grain of salt. After all, what could I know never having had a child, never having had to deal with sleep problems?
But then my best friend had a child with sleep issues and everything changed. I bought the book. I read it. I had the “eureka” moment. And then I had my own child who couldn’t sleep without the bloody soother and everything changed. Suddenly, having gone through it myself, I had this wealth of knowledge and experience to impart to the parents in my practice. I felt like a God! They were listening to me! They were coming back and reporting how my advice worked! They were thanking me for saving their marriage! And more importantly, they were thanking me for giving them a good nights sleep!!
In the 3 years I’ve been a parent, Dr. Weissbluth’s book has saved my ass on more than one occasion. The advice is sound, if not down right logical and miraculous. Now, to fix my toddlers 4am wake-ups.