Mar 1, 2011

Posted by in Articles, Health & Wellness, Self-Care | 2 Comments

Sleep is Good

Sleep is Good

A couple weeks ago, the combined effects of months of sleeplessness started to hit me. Or shall I say: I started to lose my mind and act in ways that surprised even me. I had a few moments of unexpected passive aggression crop up; weird responses to things that might, under other circumstances, vaguely annoy me, but now– under the influence of complete and utter physical and emotional exhaustion– caused me to act quite irrationally. In the moment I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t see that what was wrong was my own state of mind– my exhaustion had pushed me to the brink.

In hindsight, I can see how it happened. Over the months, we got into some bad habits with my infant son– letting him eat a few sips here and there ALL DAY LONG, sleep an hour or two in a row ALL NIGHT LONG. He napped in a swing (hello? What was I thinking?), which meant he never napped for long.

When my daughter was born, she became a good sleeper very easily. By seven weeks, she was sleeping through the night (like eleven or twelve hours!). While I was pregnant with her, a bunch of people had recommended the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., and I had read and highlighted it, then followed it to the letter when there was even the slightest hint of a sleep issue.

For some reason, this time, when my son was born, I decided to go it alone and just follow his patterns. Truth be told, I think I forgot how much that book had helped me in my daughter’s infancy. Over the years, I came to attribute her good sleep simply to her own habits. Imagine my surprise, then, when, this past weekend, I hit rock bottom and pulled the book off my shelf– only to find it underlined, passages starred, pages dog-eared.

What I read soothed my addled mind, and I could tell that, if I followed the doctor’s prescriptions toward sleep-training, it would change my son’s– and my– life.

Cut to today– a mere three days later. My son is now napping for one to one and a half hour stints. And he’s only waking twice a night (which Weissbluth says in his book can be normal for a six month old child like my son), rather than seven or so times. Both my son and I look more rested and are much more chipper. Much more like ourselves. I feel like we’ve been brought back from the brink. There are no words to express my gratitude.

This whole incident has reminded me of the incredible importance of sleep. It’s amazing how, without it, I completely started to fall apart. I suppose it’s no accident that sleep deprivation is a tactic used in interrogations and war– a lack of sleep breaks you down in a way that not much else can.

As Weissbluth makes the case in his book– with the benefit of lots of medical research to back him up– healthy sleep habits are learned, not automatic. And, he says, “sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm.” Good sleep affects the brain in a myriad of ways– enabling cognitive development during sleep periods, allowing longer attention spans during wakeful time, and helping to regulate moods, emotions, and behavior.

Now, I am not saying that that this is necessarily a one size fits all approach. It may not work for everyone, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. All is know is– it saved me, and it’s really helping my son. Dr. Weissbluth, my whole house thanks you. Sleep is good, and it needs to be learned and protected. Lesson learned.

  1. That book saved our sanity with our first baby, who thought that crying every hour of every day for the first four months of life was the way to party. I used to have a highlighted and dog eared copy, but gave it away to a desperate friend, and now buy it for my bleary eyed friends in need.

    Now, if only he’d write a book about how to develop healthy adult sleep habits… :)

  2. Gosh, Mikko, wouldn’t it be great if he wrote a book for adults’ sleep? I know a few people in my house who could use it! If he laid out a schedule for naps and bedtimes, I might even follow it! ;-)

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