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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Sleep

Today, I want to swim against the current a little, and ask you all, seriously, about a strange double standard I’ve noticed.

I know sleep training is occasionally a little controversial, but putting aside the facts, theories, beliefs, and rhetoric for a moment, I’m guessing we can all agree that sleep is an essential need for human beings, right?

(Somewhere out there, someone is disagreeing with me, I just know it.)

So why is it that when we hear a new mother complaining about how she can’t get a minute’s peace, or hasn’t had a proper night’s sleep in months, the typical reaction is to laugh and say, “Hang in there! You’ll sleep again in a couple of years. Welcome to motherhood!”

Ha ha ha! Get it? Because you’re exhausted and miserable and unable to function properly, potentially causing irreparable damage to your health and walking around in a stupor through a crucial developmental stage of your child’s life! Classic!

Is it me? It’s not really all that funny, is it?

Maybe it’s funny in a “better you than me” way, but only because we’re not acknowledging the very real and serious consequences of sleep deprivation, especially on new mothers.

Nobody laughs about depression. (Well, maybe some people do, but I’d like to meet them and maybe scratch their eyes out a little.)

Take a look at your Facebook or Twitter feed and see how many people have posted some kind of inspirational, go-get-’em-tiger message today. Personally, mine has somewhere around twenty.

“Life beings at the end of your comfort zone!”

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door!”

“What hurts you today makes you stronger tomorrow!”

I’ve yet to see a motivational poster that says, “Get to bed on time tonight!” Quite the opposite, in fact. “No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep!” is a popular one, as is “Sleep is for people without internet access.”

A 2005 study by Cindy-Lee Dennis RN, PhD and Lori Ross PhD showed a correlation between mothers suffering from postpartum depression and babies who weren’t sleeping well.

“These results suggest that infant sleep patterns and maternal fatigue are strongly associated with a new onset of depressive symptoms in the postpartum period, and provide support for the development of postpartum depression preventive interventions designed to reduce sleep deprivation in the early weeks postpartum.”

Another study showed that medical interns who suffered from chronic sleep deprivation were seven, count ‘em, seven times more likely to get depressed than their well-rested counterparts.

I wonder if we’d be so lackadaisical if a friend said “I’m feeling really depressed since I had the baby,” as opposed to “I’m feeling really tired.”

As a society, we view sleeping as a weakness. We encourage people not to rest, then shower them in hollow motivational messages about perseverance and determination.

I won’t say that I don’t understand it, because I do. We admire people who give it their all. There’s no glory in being the slow-and-steady tortoise in the race. Everyone wants to be that super human dynamo who can do it all and never needs a break, and we’re always trying to outdo one another.

It’s human nature, I realize, but I really wish we could all just give each other a pat on the back for taking care of the little things that encourage good health and enrich our lives. Going for daily walks outdoors, spending time with our loved ones, and getting to bed on time, should be every bit as much a cause for self-congratulation as killing it at the gym or bringing in a work project ahead of time and under budget.

So in an effort to motivate you in a way that I think will actually have a lasting, noticeable, positive impact, I’m foregoing the inspirational memes and just straight up telling you to get to bed on time.

You can thank me in the morning.

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Cry-it-out? Coddle? Co-sleep? Attachment parenting? Ferberizing?
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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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