It's not just the sleep

Mar 09 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

As some people around these parts are just finding out, having kids changes everything for you. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of having kids, but your world changes in enormous ways. One of those ways, hopefully just in the beginning, is sleep.

Our first child started sleeping through the night at about three months. At the time we thought we were going to die, but in retrospect three months was incredible. Those three months were brutal with the combination of new parenthood, lack of sleep and planning an international move while finishing things up where we were, but it was only three months.

Today our second daughter turns 7 months. Last night she woke up and screamed three times before 1am and then again at 4am. Because I had done the two feedings the night before, my wife took the pre-1ams and I was up at 4am. But whether you get out of bed or not, it's never a good idea to be woken up 2-4 times a night. Doing it for seven months straight is an even worse idea.

Sleep deprivation is one of the few legal ways you can break an interrogation subject - it may not be physical torture but it makes you lose your damn mind. For whatever reason I made no alternative plans to change my teaching/grant writing/paper writing schedule when we had the second child and I am now very much regretting that because everyone assumes that after about 6 months everything should be good with the baby. In most ways it is, but the sleep issue is getting worse as it drags on. I've agreed to two collaborative grants in the next two months, have two students finishing up and will be on an NSF panel in a month, on top of teaching.

On a normal schedule this is just another spring, but in a state of sleep deprivation this is stupidity. Not only am I working at half speed at work, but I no longer have a few evening hours to get some extra things done. The combination has effectively cut my weekly working hours by at least a third, but probably more. I am definitely the one-legged man in this ass-kicking competition right now.

But we quickly forget. As soon as the Weer One starts sleeping through the night, our minds will work hard to hide the evidence that there ever was a problem. If they didn't there would be a lot more single-child families.

Who would have thought that the thing I am most looking forward to as conferences approach is not the science or the travel, but the ability to sleep for more than 3 consecutive hours.

21 responses so far

  • You're Pfizered says:

    A colleague of mine's child is 2 and still doesn't sleep through the night...

    You're welcome.

  • rs says:

    My second one is almost 5, but he wakes up and comes to our bed on 5 out of 7 nights. It is insane, but don't worry, you tend to forget all the problems sooner or later. Good luck 🙂

  • anon says:

    This may seem a stupid naive question coming from a childless person. That said - as the child gets older, is it possible to start to train them to sleep through the night? When you get up to take care of the weer one, do you turn on all the lights and really get her to wake up, or do you keep them off? I've heard of people giving their (older) babies water at night instead of milk as a way of weaning them off a night-feeding schedule. My cousin did this for her baby (who was around a year old or so) - it was three nights of pure agony, but then he adjusted and started sleeping through the night. Just curious. I know every baby is different, and I'm not suggesting that what anybody does is right or wrong. I'm just wondering if any effort can be made to achieve a schedule that works better for everyone.

  • New Asst. Prof. says:

    OMG, I hear you...the best thing about study section last fall was a hotel bed and a full night's sleep. We're turning the corner, I think/hope (Sweet Pea is 18 mos)...hang in there!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Anon, there's a lot of different things that can be tried. I don't think the Weer One's wake ups are food driven, in that she often goes back to sleep after some comforting but no bottle or will not drink a bottle if offered. That makes it a little tougher. We could be less reactive to her crying, but then she wakes up our older daughter and that's a whole lot o' mess. So I don't know what the solution is just yet, and it may just be time.

  • becca says:

    This may or may not be germane to you or to anon's questions:

    My mind has probably forgotten the worst of it. But I remember those first few months as so freakin hard. Worst time in my life, easily. Granted, I got PPD and was insane for other reasons, but the sleep deprivation was horrific. It accumulates so much. I can't remember exactly what things looked like at 7 months, but around 8 my goofball started walking. I think that's when he finally started tiring himself out enough to sleep at night. Of course, it could just be coincidental too. Or maybe when he was that strong, I figured he could sleep wherever/in whatever position with minimal risk, and so he got better sleep for that reason. One of the worst parts of the whole thing is not really knowing what will make things better, or when it will get better.

  • DJMH says:

    Small woke up crying at 1 am, came into our bed, then apparently had a nightmare or some very confusing dream and got up and started walking around in the 3:30-4 window last night. Then woke up at 6:15 as active as could be. I want to die. He is 2.5 years old. Meanwhile my colleague's 2 month old is only waking once at night. Different parenting perhaps, but different kids FOR SURE.

    I feel as though I have spent the last couple of years only ~80% brain capacity compared to rested. Some days, it is 50%.

  • CoR says:

    We're at 20 months with occasional full nights, but most often we're woken up ~2-3 times per night. Co-sleeping helps/drags the issue out longer. We do let the 2nd cry a little when she wakes up -- not long -- and she'll generally fall back to sleep. Throw in a sickness and we start all over again. In other words, I hear you. It sucks. Hang in there.

  • HCP says:

    Don't know if this will make you feel any better -- you can either say "oh, that's normal" or "OMG, it never stops!"

    Parents do forget -- my kids are the age of your students, and I literally cannot remember how I coped, only that I did so.

  • Susan says:

    I had a very bad set of injuries about a year ago. Since then my sleep has been fragile at best. At best I get to ~80% brain capacity and can think larger and longer, which is so necessary for science and career. Some days I am only OK enough to focus on accomplishing a short task list; other days are completely wasted (and oh, the guilt). All days are shorter now, as I get very very tired by 5 pm and have no choice but to stop and lay down for a bit.

    My only coping strategy has been to re-assess exactly what shape I'm in, and thus exactly what I can hope to accomplish that day, much more often. Hopefully I'm minimizing the vast waste that can arise from a large mismatch between ambition and ability on any given day.

  • Anon2 says:

    My second didn't sleep through the night reliably until 18 months-2 years (he's only 3.5, but I've already forgotten!) and the worst thing for me now, in retrospect, is the fact that the constant sleep deprivation has removed those 2 years almost completely from my memory. When I try to remember conversations with collaborators, what we decided to do about a certain project, how my course went that year, faculty meeting issues, etc., I find that there is almost nothing there. I know that I survived and things kept moving during that time, but at this point, I have no idea how. The good news is that they did, somehow, and now my memory is back to some extent.

  • aprofessor says:

    Oh, totally. Conference sleep is awesome when you have young ones at home. Dang, wish I were at a conference now getting some sleep . . .

  • anothanon says:

    You aren't kidding, we have a 7 month old, still waking 2-4 times a night, I feel like my brain is Swiss cheese. Serious memory deficit, which makes any kind of scholarly activity relying on remembering who did what in which paper nearly impossible. Our first child (now 4yr old) slept through the night at 2-3 months, and that was hard enough, this is brutal. I am surprised at my ability to do normal activities, experiments, data analysis, but ability to focus and write was completely gone for the first 4-5 months, only now coming back on line. I think I'll go register for that conference now.

  • brooksphd says:

    I'm planning my spring & summer conference schedule around this! Looks like I'll be getting a night or two of sleep in 3 weeks...if I'm allowed to leave for the weekend for this summit....

    so tired...and it's only day 4. Something I didn't factor was not sleeping well anyway for several weeks beforehand...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Just to give you an indication of where you are heading, yesterday I brought raw chicken in for lunch.

  • My world changed almost overnight when I stopped breastfeeding no 2 at about 8 months. She seemed to work out if I was only going to give her a bottle (which she was getting during the day at her nursery anyhow) it wasn't worth the hassle and started sleeping through almost immediately. At that point I was reading every thing I could about MS, convinced I was developing it because my limbs felt so weak from exhaustion as I tried to give 9 am lectures. But everything changes given time. Adult children keep you awake for different reasons.

  • R E G says:

    I had that child until one morning I woke up after a full night's sleep - absolutely freezing. The furnace had conked out during the night, and my little one slept through until morning.

    Next day I put her to bed in summer pajamas - problem solved. She's in her twenties and still loses her junk if she gets too hot.

    Turn down the thermostat. Can't hurt, might help.

  • GA says:

    I've been following your blog for some time but never commented. I find a lot of things quite useful. Thanks!

    These posts on being a parent are interesting - I am a dad to a 14 month old. I just love being a dad, and I and my wife have done decently well managing things. But lack of sleep is killing me too - and I feel less aggravated to see that others struggle with it, but also sad that it has to be so. Its tough. Honestly I don't know where my time is - the things I miss most are an hour of downtime in the evenings and weekends, which seem to have vanished. No time for my mind to recover and crunch through a couple of things while I sleep and give me solutions magically.

    Losing sleep for 2 years is one thing, but you need serious time allocation for the new person in your life to nurture and raise them to become wonderful. We've decided he's gonna be the only one for us.

  • Mark P says:

    One word


    Get the book--it saved our lives.

  • [...] get me wrong, I'm not immune to complaining about the parent/science interface, my last post was just that. But when we, as men, think of having a tough time balancing children and careers, [...]

  • Ramesh says:

    I've got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that she's getting there. The bad news is that the mdiacel definition of sleeping through the night means sleeping one 4-5 hour stretch. So waking up 2-4 times a night is still very developmentally and biologically appropriate for an infant.Babies have small tummies and need to wake up to fill them. (And stuffing them in the hopes of getting more sleep doesn't work. They've done studies on that one. If you're lucky, you'll get a baby who sleeps the same. If you're not, you'll get a baby who gets uncomfortable gas from being too full and wakes up more often rather than less.)The bigger and older she gets, the longer she'll be able to go. My daughter started sleeping longer once she hit about 10 pounds that's when she started going for one 4 hour stretch, usually midnight to 4 am. By six months she was starting to go longer. (Although then you run into night waking due to teething, growth spurts, and developmental milestones!)My son started out at 10 lbs. 4 oz. and has slept a good 4-5 stretch once a night since birth, from roughly 7 to 11 pm. He's over 20 pounds now and is starting to sleep for 6 hours or so.Hang in there, mama. Don't try to force your baby into different sleeping habits. That's alternately frustrating for you or spirit-breaking for them (i.e. cry it out horrid practice). Instead, try to work *with* her. Nap when she naps during the day, as much as possible. Enlist your partner to help with the nighttime parenting. I do the nursing and diaper changes for our youngest at night, my husband takes care of our older child when she asks for water, needs calming down because of teething, etc. When we had just one, I did the nursing and he did the diaper changes so neither of us was getting too sleep deprived.

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