I remember sleep. It was a wondrous and beautiful thing. I would lounge on my bed in an old comfortable t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, fall asleep within a minute or so of lying down and blissfully sleep the night away. Thunder? Fireworks? Passing bus or tractor trailer right outside my window? No problem. I would sleep right through them and wake up full of life and ready to tackle the world.
Oh yes, I can’t repeat it enough, sleep is a wondrous and beautiful thing.
And let me add, sleep is wasted on the young. When I was a very young boy, I never knew what I had. One of my earliest memories is giving my mother a difficult time with taking a nap. I had to be four or five and wanted to go outside and play like my brothers were getting ready to do. I kept getting out of bed and questioning why I had to lay down. I had grown into a “big boy” and didn’t need a stinking nap. My exasperated mother just looked back at me in shock. Okay, I probably didn’t use that exact language, but you get the idea. Fast forward to today, I can’t help but reflect on how silly I was to fight with my mother. I’d give anything now for a nap. You want my wallet or my snazzy new watch, they’re yours, take them, just give me 30 uninterrupted, awe-inspiring minutes of sleep.
Oh those were the days
I used to be able to get at least eight to ten hours of sleep a night. I used to be able to sleep anywhere, but it’s now very much a distant memory. I had my share of all-nighters in college and have even burned the midnight oil throughout my career to get ahead and do a good job. I once slept on a couch in my newsroom, just so I could keep working on a breaking story, but I’d usually follow up those crazy nights with hours and hours of lovely sleep. I’d get three hours or more of catch-up sleep for every hour that I missed out on.
I know I’m not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that more than two thirds of adults around the world aren’t getting enough sleep. That’s a lot of tired people.
Unfortunately, I can point to when my problems started. I got my last good night of sleep 22 years ago, which correlates, give or take a few months, to the birth of my oldest child. Oh, I’m joking, sort of, but it certainly feels that way.
Nonparental sleep versus parental sleep
Without being too one-sided or a parent know-it-all, I can say unequivocally that there’s a difference between the sleep of a nonparent and a parent.
When you have young infants, you never sleep. Oh, you close your eyes, you grab moments here and there, you even go through the motions of trying to sleep, but you never really sleep. You’re on call 24/7.
Even when my wife and I would share responsibilities and she would take the first shift, I would still never be able to sleep through the crying or the feeding. I would still be listening in, making sure everything was fine. I wasn’t really relaxed until she came back to bed.
And then, you’re still on call.
It just gets better
Friends and family told me that sleep would return once the kids got older, when they slept through the night or moved into a bigger bed. Boy, did they ever lie. (I’ve written all your names down, every one of you who repeated that lie. That was a really mean joke!) Your kids may be walking and talking, even feeding themselves, but you’re still on guard. You’re keyed up from running around all day, chasing them, picking after them, and, when it comes to sleeping, you’re never really off duty.
It never ends. When your kids become teenagers, you close your eyes, but now you’re waiting for them to come home from a night out, a school dance or from meeting up with friends. Sleep? That’s for other people.
It doesn’t end there. When your kids leave home, you spend your nights worrying even more. With two kids now in college, I find that I wake up in the middle of the night trying to solve a myriad of problems: what are they up to tonight; are they being safe; are they eating enough; how can I help them with the ten assignments they have this week; do I need to put a few bucks in their account; etc., etc.
And then it comes
When I do miraculously fall asleep, I inevitably wake up in the middle of the night and need to run to the bathroom. I curse my bladder, calling it a traitor, for turning into Benedict Arnold against me.
The whole time I’m in the bathroom I keep my eyes shut tight like a little kid playing hide-and-go-seek so that I won’t get used to the light or I give myself a mini pep talk on how I’m going to fall effortlessly to sleep when I lay back down. But of course, it’s never the same.
Oh wonderful, blissful sleep where have you gone? I’ve even given up on my vice of drinking caffeinated diet sodas and sugary energy drinks to ensure sleep comes easier, but it’s still a slippery beast.
I’m hopeful that sleep will return in my old age, but I doubt it. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be the old guy snoring in front of the television in the early evening, but wide awake when I go to bed.
In the meantime, I join the rest of the zombies I come across each morning and load up on Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or my local convenience store’s version of a Big Gulp sized coffee to wake me up and get me through my day.
I’m not sure of much else, but I know this: sleep is a wondrous and beautiful thing.