Monday, 19 August 2013

Ode to Sleep

Believe it or not, there is something I am more obsessed with than food.

Some people have a zest for life; I have a zest for sleep. I've always enjoyed my sleep and require more than the average person to function, it seems. I used to come home from kindergarten and beyond, begging my mother to let me have a nap. Give me a pillow, some soft music and a long drive and I'm in heaven. I also kind of like the sound of a lawn being mowed, not next door, but maybe a few houses down, as the afternoon light shines through my window. It's as if to say "Other people are hard at work, but not me. I'm taking this time out, and it is delicious!"

Enter children. Of all the things I miss, I don't just miss sleep - I mourn the loss of it. It pains me to even hear second hand about someone having a hard night with very little sleep; it actually makes me squirm in my seat just thinking about it. And it bothers me greatly to see new mothers at the mall with their tiny little pink babies, snoozing away in the stroller. I want to scream "You should be asleep too! Why are you doing this to yourself???"

Since I've had my second baby, my focus on sleep has increased tenfold. Besides the fact that the baby still gets up twice to feed, I am plagued with physical and mental torments all night long. The only way to ease my back pain is to place a pillow behind my back, one under my arm and another between my knees. 
Never knowing what kind of night we're going to have with the kids, I brace myself for the worst case every time. Obsessive thoughts consume me, mostly about not getting enough sleep, which prevent me from sleeping. Determined to block out all disruptions, I wear an eye mask, ear plugs and I use a white noise machine (I hope someone is listening for the baby!). I have a pillow over my head, a quilt on top of the pillow (the claustrophobic in me does not enjoy this, but the crazy person in me believes it is necessary). Panic sets in if the clock reads anything after 11pm.  I take a prescription sleep aid and an anti-anxiety pill. In addition, I have to be alone in the bed when it's time to go to sleep, lest my husband wriggle around or snore or even breathe too loudly. In the middle of the night, after the last feeding, I trudge down to the basement with all of my supplies to my ‘sleeping nook’ – the spare bedroom - for the remainder of the night, just in case I have trouble falling back to sleep in my own bed.

My poor, dear sweet husband – can you imagine?

I recognize that this is irrational behaviour, but this is coming from a girl who also hoards old bottles of antibiotics in case of the apocalypse.

Sleep and food are inextricably linked, at least for me. We all know that feeling – you’ve had a rough night and the next day your body cries out for fatty, carby treats. Research tells us that there is a definitive link between insufficient sleep and cravings for these foods, and an increase in hunger in general. We’ve all read that losing weight is harder when you are sleep deprived, or if you sleep at odd hours, have a job that requires shift work, etc. Having kids is like shift work without ever having a day off. I did not need any more chemicals in my brain driving me towards high-fat/high-calorie foods, or more food in general. And I prayed - Please God, don’t make it any harder for me to lose weight.   

I used food and sleep interchangeably - whichever one I could get my hands on first - to get away, to retreat from the aggravations in my life, and as a reward. In the first few months of my son’s life, during the excruciating every-two-hour-feeding process, I would go to the kitchen to get his milk with thoughts of – What is in this for me? Surely I get something for being up at this ungodly hour. And so I would partake: cookies, crackers, chips, chocolate, yogourt. 

I finally decided to inquire into this feeling.

Question 1: Why was I letting sleep and food dominate my thoughts and behavior, instead of simply observing my God-given signals and acting accordingly? Why was I mixing one with the other – eating when what I really needed was sleep? Well, it was because I had a new baby. And it’s reeeally hard to get even your most basic needs met during those critical first few weeks and months.

Question 2: In reality, what was going to happen to me if I had a sleepless night? Was I going to die? No. Should I listen to The Voice (essentially a high-pitched whine these days) when she said that I going to gain weight because of this? Maybe so, if I chose the cupboards and refrigerator over acknowledging the physical truth and allowing myself to feel my arms and legs. They were still there, no matter how little sleep I’d had.

Some things have changed. Thankfully, I’m not up as much in the night for feedings. The anxiety pills are gone, as are the refrigerator raids. As for the rest - the pillows, the mask, the earplugs, the sleeping nook – it’s a journey.

There are two things I've stopped keeping track of since the inquiry began: how many hours/minutes of sleep I got the night before and how many calories/points/carbs I ate. There is freedom in this. And I'm still here.

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