Ever since I got a kid, I’ve been surprised there isn’t a special adjective to describe the state of people whose sleep has been disrupted for years on end by their children. It sounds pathetic to keep saying, “Exhausted but otherwise OK” when people ask you how you are. What parents need is a scientific label for this type of tiredness that would command the respect of spouses, employees and traffic police. My friend Rashmi and her husband suffer from chronic SDC (sleep disorder due to children) having hardly had an unbroken night since the birth of their first kid five years ago. Before he was two, he was joined by a brother and eighteen hellish months ensued, when each child got up twice every night.
Now they both wake up once most nights and their sister born last November wakes a lot to feed. As a result Rashmi gets muffled, cut off from reality. She is forgetful, her reactions have slowed and though she rarely has the energy to lose her temper, when she does she finds it difficult to be restrained. She is good humoured about it, and says, “I used to be more intelligent than this”. She is a very common example.
I on the other hand have perfected the wonderful art of sleeping through it. My wife diligently attends to the kid, groggily utters some lullaby and puts the bundle of joy back to sleep. Initially though I did have my share of interrupted nights. Just when you settle down after the first interruption, there follows another.
Consequently dark circles, haggard looks became a part of my appearance. My colleagues at work wondered at my ‘new look’ especially after the ‘good news’ at home. It was then that an empathetic friend shared a sure recipe that has atleast assured me of few hours of uninterrupted sleep. The miracle worker is cotton wool in my ears. Yes! I did get disgusted looks from my wife. I survived them. Could I afford to go to work bleary-eyed every day? Then again I’m an extreme example.
All newborn babies have to be fed. They never want to stay in bed till 10.30 am when you need to sleep off a late night. So not only is your sleep reduced, but you lose control of when you sleep.
In psychological experiments, people who’re deprived of more than five or so hours of uninterrupted sleep might become irritable, rigid in their thinking, worse at expressing themselves and tearful when criticised.
But according to doctors, sleep interruption is more debilitating than sleep deprivation. During a normal night’s rest, short spells of sleep alternate with longer spells of deep sleep, when the body’s regenerative processes are most active. If our brains notice we are being starved of sleep, they compensate by reducing periods of light sleep. But if the sleeper is woken repeatedly, there still may not be time for deep slumber. The good news is that time will transform our wakeful babies into slothful adolescents.
In the meantime, my stalwart, exhausted wife has been rescued by videos. “I lie on the sofa and put Beauty and the Beast on. It may not be sleep, but at least I’m horizontal”.