I thought I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel. After eight long months of waking every three hours (and sometimes every one hour or every 45 minutes), my daughter began sleeping ten to eleven hours. Straight. Every night. As the barrage of sleepless nights came to an end, I emerged from my bunker and stopped moving through the world like a zombie. My husband and I were reacquainted over dinners; I started exercising again; I even watched a little TV! Most importantly, I started sleeping too. But things fall apart: after three weeks of nighttime peace, my daughter stopped sleeping so soundly. Eleven hours became eight, and getting her to sleep became the new challenge.
Having been to the promised land, this backslide is hard to accept. Rationally, I know this problem is inconsequential, but rational thought does nothing to temper the havoc that sustained sleep deprivation can wreak in your life. Sleep deprivation, however, is only part of the problem. The larger problem is my reaction to the deprivation. For eight months, I was somebody I didn’t like: sarcastic, short-tempered, exceedingly inflexible, quick to assign blame. I would write that I was somebody I didn’t recognize, but the truth is that I did recognize the person I had become; sleep deprivation just amplified those negative aspects of my personality that I manage to keep under wraps with nine hours of sleep a night. The advent of a sleeping baby allowed me to neatly wrap those character flaws back up, much to the relief of my husband. As I now watch her newly established sleeping patterns slip away, I also watch my personality flaws reemerge. Tensions are again rising in my home, in my relationships, and in my heart.
Parents can pass on character failures to their children, and I worry about what I am teaching her about handling stress. If I don’t want her to lash out when chaos fills her life, I have to learn to keep my head when chaos comes to mine. But this lesson is hard, and rational thought again fails me. I know what it is I need to learn, but I’m not sure how to learn it. How, in the middle of my frustration and exhaustion, can I find a light in the tunnel, and not merely at the end?