That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep.
- Aldous Huxley
There was a time in my life when I was graceless, when I would have paid an obscene, ridiculous amount of money for just one decent night's sleep. I was sick, and I was mad, and even though the pursuit of sleep became the organizing principle of my life, I wasn't getting any. The New York Times has been running a series on insomnia, and this article in particular really spoke to me.
My insomnia began in grad school, when I was preparing for my qualifying exams. At the time, it seemed normal - preparing for qualifying exams is incredibly stressful because the exams are on a pass/fail basis. If you fail, you can't continue on in the program. So I didn't think of myself as having insomnia, but rather that I was having trouble sleeping because I was stressed, and once the exams were over, I would sleep easily once more. Instead, the insomnia slowly got worse over the next few years. My inability to sleep peaked during my pregnancy, which again, might be normal enough, except for the fact that now I was having anxiety attacks over the thought of even trying to sleep. And then, after just a few hours of sleep, I had to get up and do a 90 minute commute. The only reason I never fell asleep at the wheel is because E spent the whole drive helpfully kicking my bladder.
Naturally, I expected to have trouble sleeping once E was born. Everything I'd heard about new parenthood, and my own experiences, all suggested that this problem would not resolve itself any time soon. Yet, within days of his birth, I was getting the best sleep I'd had in years. Most new mothers talk about struggling through the newborn stage, but I had more energy, more enthusiasm, and was happier than I'd been in a very long time. I was finally getting the sleep I needed, and even more importantly, I no longer felt anxiety about sleep. I knew I could count on sleep to come when I was ready, and that knowledge changed everything.
I freely admit that part of the reason I chose to be a stay at home mom was because of sleep. Now that I can sleep again, I feel the need to protect that ability. I know too well the physical and mental downward spiral that chronic sleep deprivation creates, and I refuse to go down that road again. The way our society structures work life, with its long hours, daycare drop-offs/pick-ups, and lengthy commutes, leaves so little time for self-care, and it seems that sleep is always the thing that we're expected to sacrifice. Somewhere along the way, sleep has become a luxury, something that if you're strong enough, you don't need, but sleep has given me my health and my happiness, and it's given me grace. For that, I feel blessed. Call me weak, call me indulgent, but call me asleep.
How important is sleep to you? Do you feel you get enough? Have you experienced insomnia? What are your coping strategies for times when you're not getting enough sleep?
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