Sleeping When the Baby Sleeps: Mission Impossible (Or Is It?)

A sleep-deprived Mama Greenest tests the Nap Experiment — with some refreshing results

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.” This is probably the most doled out piece of advice new mothers hear. But I have yet to meet a mama who made a practice out of that one. Who has time to sleep? Maybe for the first few days, or even weeks, you’ll doze with Baby (if you can stop staring in awe at your beautiful creation), but inevitably that time becomes precious for other reasons, namely hygiene, sustenance, and housework. Before you know it, the New Mama High wears off and you realize you’re so tired you can’t remember what day of the week it is, let alone which side baby nursed from last. Add a job, another kid, or colic and we’re talking Grade-A Sleep Deprivation. No melodrama here: The symptoms of sleep deprivation — which the majority of new mothers suffer from silently — are easily missed, or simply attributed to something else. These symptoms include intense irritability, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, sudden social ineptitude, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, and an insatiable appetite. Sound familiar?

I rarely slept at the same time as Coraline, even in the beginning. In spite of the fact I couldn’t finish a sentence and often forgot my own phone number, I just wouldn’t nap. While I certainly blame my infinite to-do list for my nap aversion, it is mostly because they just make me feel so awful*. Two years later and I’m often unable to fall asleep at night (or stay asleep), have persistent adrenal fatigue, feel totally unmotivated to do anything good for myself, and can still barely finish a sentence. Not a model of health and well-being. So this past week, since my schedule happened to allow me to be home every day at naptime, I decided to try something new — I took a nap.

The first day was a long one; Coraline and I slept for three-and-a-half hours. That night I went to bed before 10 p.m., and the following day napped again. I napped every day with Coraline, and by Friday was feeling like a new woman. Despite sleeping for two-plus hours in the middle of the day, I’ve gotten more done: the house is cleaner, I’ve cooked a real dinner every night, and have found time daily to work out. I’m sleeping better at night, and waking up relatively rested, even at 6 a.m. There have been positive changes for Coraline, too. She naps longer when I’m in bed with her and so she’s super rested as well. And since mama isn’t so fried, we’re having more playtime and less meltdowns. Also, there has been no mention of Dora in five days!

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*Turns out napping is restorative only if you’re not seriously sleep-deprived. Your overtired body falls into deep sleep quicker, so waking up after a 30-minute catnap is like waking up in the dead of the night, hence why you feel worse. So unfortunately, you have to get rested before naps become restful.

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