Baby A turns nine months old today.

That means the last full night of sleep I got was (drumroll, please) …nine months ago.

All of my babies have been wakeful little sprites.  We’ve struggled with naps and nighttime.  Getting them down has always been a lot of work.

[Please, no “Have you read Ferber/Ezzo/name-the-sleep-expert-who-helped-you?” comments.  This isn’t my first rodeo.  And, with all kindness, if you haven’t had a wakeful baby, you are not equipped to give advice to someone who has.  (And check out this study where 50% of 12 month old babies still required parental intervention to go back to sleep at night.)]

I want to put aside the question of whether my baby should be sleeping better.  (Evidently, some 58% of babies were regularly night-waking at nine months in this longitudinal study.  So, we are clearly not alone.)  And instead, I would like to focus on what this chronic sleep deprivation has meant for my health.

It’s a qualitative look at sleep deprivation with an n=1.

You see, when I went to the neurologist after baby number two with a constellation of symptoms that mimicked Multiple Sclerosis, he told me frankly, “We just don’t have any good studies on chronic sleep deprivation like what you’ve experienced.”

I don’t see any IRB signing off on that one, do you?

At any rate, here’s what this sleeplessness has wrought for me:

  • My eyesight, which had improved when I went Paleo, has now worsened again.  This happened after babies number one and two as well.
  • The chronic pain I had largely eliminated in my pelvic area has returned gradually and steadily.
  • My gait has suffered which further impacts my pelvic and hip wellness.  I work very hard and have to concentrate on walking with my feet forward, directly below my hips and with a heel strike / toe liftoff.
  • I have a short temper.  This time around, though, I am quicker to apologize and less eager to defend myself when I misbehave.
  • I have had to dial back my activities.  I’ve quit organizations that meant a lot to me and said “no” when my heart wanted to say “yes.”
  • I walk instead of run.  I don’t dare get back into any sort of running program until my body has an opportunity for real tissue repair and recovery.
  • Recovery time after my strength training classes is much longer now, and I have to be okay with that.
  • My extremities (namely my fingers) have been tingly.  (This happened only just lately and it took my husband to remind me that it was at this exact point in baby number two’s life that the same symptom cropped up.)
  • Gray hair.  Wrinkles.  Let’s not even go there, okay?

I know that this will pass, and I try not to let the sleep deprivation affect the sheer joy I get from mothering Baby A.  She is a precious plum and I would do every single night over again to have her in my life.  She’s worth every wakeful moment.

But, the ramifications for my health and well-being are very real.  I can’t even begin to think about the havoc that has been wreaked on my adrenal function or my immune system.

Hopefully, in a few months, I will be able to write a lovely piece on what it feels like to be rested and refreshed again.

Until then, “The n=1 Sleep Deprivation Study” continues.

12 Responses to “The 9 Month Sleep Deprivation Study, Where n=1”

  1. on 19 Mar 2013 at 9:33 amMonica

    Mama’s bodies are impacted by our children so much beyond the nine gestational months. Even now, with a six and three year old, all it takes is one 4am trip to the bathroom with a youngster or a cranky, uncomfortable kid with an overnight fever to disrupt my sleep cycle and send me into two to three days of recovery.
    Hang tight. There is nothing more frustrating than others thinking they are an expert because they found something that worked for them. It simply means they are an expert on their child – just as you are for yours.

  2. on 19 Mar 2013 at 10:38 amKristine Rudolph

    Amen on the whole 9 months doesn’t end the demands thing. Talk about a social misconception.

    I will say, though, that I am definitely no expert in my kid. I know her better than anyone else does, for sure, but I kind of bristle at the notion that I am “supposed” to somehow “fix” her at all, much less that someone out there has a “method” that would do it.

    I work really hard (and this is a daily (minute-by-minute?) struggle) to accept my children for who and how they are. Wakeful, grumpy, silly, smarty-pants … I am more about getting to the need or feeling underneath the “annoying” behavior than I am about “fixing” them. Again, it’s easy to say and far more challenging to actually execute, but I *try* to accept them as they are. And, wakefulness is clearly consistent with As personality. (Why sleep when I can sit up? What’s going on? Is there something I’m missing? Hey mama!)

    The research clearly shows that A is in the MAJORITY. At her age, more babies are night-wakeful than not. So if she is in the majority, then why would I try to force her into something she’s not developmentally ready to do? The answer would be for my sanity and health, and I don’t deny that those are vital.

    But …

    Is the answer really that I need to “work” to make her sleep? Or do I just need support and help? If the answer is the latter (and I think it is), but that’s not something I have access to right now, should *she* be the one to suffer for that? Or should I put on my big girl panties and accept the responsibilities that this child has delivered?

    It really deeply troubles me that infant sleep has become the maternal proving ground that it has. It also troubles me how many “experts” talk about how babies *should* be sleeping when all that does is make mothers whose babies aren’t fitting in those parameters (again, the majority) feel like they’ve failed somehow. Both of these things upset me because I think it forecloses honest, open dialogue and that foreclosure prevents moms from seeking and getting the support and help that they need.

    And yet –

    I am exhausted.

    This state of affairs presents an opportunity to discuss what that level of exhaustion does to a body and spirit.

    Hopefully, some mama out there some day will be perusing the web trying to find “answers” to her baby’s wakefulness, and I hope she feels a little less desperate for reading that she is not alone, not a failure, and not causing her kid’s night-wakings. I also hope that this will encourage her to articulate what she’s going through and be gentler on herself.

    For that woman, I want to link to Evolutionary Parenting’s fabulous three-part series on what “normal” infant sleep looks like.

    Part I –

    Part II –

    Part III –

    These pieces are available in English and Spanish.

  3. on 19 Mar 2013 at 2:57 pmJennifer L.

    I am right there with you. My youngest just turned 14 months old and we only sort of sleep (like we’re all in the bed from 8 pm to 7 or 8 am, but there are a few interruptions in there, mostly early in the night, and early in the morning (along with the 3 am clockwork waking). Phew! My second is easier than the first since I know what to expect. The phrase “babies wake every three hours to eat” seemed kind of manageable after reading it in a book. It does not usually say, “Babies wake every three hours, but you only get to sleep 10 minutes of those three hours for the next year (and maybe 2 hours of those 3 during the second and third year” Maybe a full night of sleep by the time they turn four, if you’re lucky.

    I really like the blog One Fit Mom, but I got tired (Ha!) of hearing about the sleep training progress and how her baby sleeps 12 hours every night and has uber scheduled naps. I suspect I am not that organized, which is why we’re in this pickle in the first place. Ah well. It does pass. We’ll all muddle through it!

    I do know though that my parents did not parent me to sleep and most of my peers parents have similar recollections–maybe one forgets after 35-40 years? Who knows?

  4. on 19 Mar 2013 at 3:00 pmKristine Rudolph

    We can’t compare our sleeping as infants to sleeping babies now because back then, babies slept on tummies which DOES induce heavier sleep. So it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

    I am LOL about your revision of the book … that is far more like reality!

  5. on 19 Mar 2013 at 9:40 pmKathryn

    Now you can begin to discover what it must be like for those with chronic sleep disorders.

  6. on 19 Mar 2013 at 11:09 pmSusan

    Oh, dear mommys of sleepless nights………I so remember and feel your pain! My babies are now 32 and 30 and I can still remember the fog I walked around in every day for the first years of their lives. I kept thinking that my son, the firstborn, needed less sleep than I did! That continued for several years but it did finally get better. I did develop a thyroid issue after the second baby and many more sleepless nights and have always wondered if that sleep deprivation had something to do with it. I was faithful to exercise as much as possible but I remember having a quick temper, and always feeling tired. Children are different as my second child who is much more laid back, was always a better sleeper. All I have to say is……try and savor those nights with that one on one time with the baby as they do grow so quickly. This too shall pass……..and you will wonder where the time went but I promise you will never forget how wonderful it is to get a night’s sleep again! Hang in there 🙂

  7. on 20 Mar 2013 at 8:25 amKristine Rudolph

    The thyroid disorder after prolonged sleeplessness is very, very interesting to me.

  8. on 20 Mar 2013 at 10:37 amJennifer L.

    It’s reassuring, somewhat, to hear from a mommy of a big people that her babies did not sleep so well. I feel like I get a lot of “You’re just not doing it right–just put them to bed, leave the room and they’ll figure it out–they DO need to learn to fall asleep without you. You can’t go to college with them.” My first is 5 and she goes to bed herself and sleeps all night (she even sleeps in!), so the idea that they will *never* learn to go to sleep without nursing is just a little unfounded, I know! Luckily, we never had to wean from the binky or blankie. Not to say that some kids don’t attach to everything, but for the most part, my kids did not need to cling *only* to things for comfort at night. We moms do need to care for ourselves though–I do try to sleep a bit more when I can and exercise daily (to help make sure I *do* sleep when it is sleep time!). I also stay clear of all caffeine–my body does not need help staying awake–it needs to sleep! Now the chamomile tea and I are good buddies! 🙂

  9. on 22 Mar 2013 at 4:12 pmJulie Gavin

    This may be a strange question, but do you drink diet sodas at all for the caffeine?
    I only ask because a lot of moms do, and if so, you need to read up on the effects of aspartame on your body. Many ppl report MS-like symptoms like you had, and after one can, I would get tingling arms & fingers, like my arm was falling asleep. Very similar symptoms to yours, and mine went away as soon as I quit drinking diet sodas. Worth looking into, if it could help! Good luck!

  10. on 22 Mar 2013 at 4:15 pmKristine Rudolph

    Good thinking and I hope your comments makes someone reading this think about their diet soda habit!

    But I have avoided artificial sweeteners for at least 20 years. My mom and I both noticed awful symptoms on them – some of them being neurological. So I avoid them like the plague.

    Haven’t had a “soft drink” diet or otherwise since 1993.

  11. on 22 Mar 2013 at 6:25 pmJennifer L.

    I am not so sure that putting babies to sleep on their tummies had much to do with it. My daughter is old enough to sleep however she wants and I don’t roll her if she’s on her stomach. She still wakes up looking to nurse. I asked a few of my mom’s friends and they said their older babies slept well–after one year or so, without a lot of fuss (drop in the crib and go kind of thing). Naps were sometimes dropped at early ages, but night time sleep was not a problem for as long as it seems it is for families I know now. I kind of wonder about wireless things, artificial light, ambient machine noise (appliances, etc…), our new wireless meter reader thing, cell phone noise, radio noise…. It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s just those teeth? Maybe our lives are just that much more busy that it’s hard for everyone to wind down for a full night of sleep?

  12. […] In Paleo and Primal parlance, “n=1″ is used very frequently.  I’ve used it on occasion, too. […]

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