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November 30, 2012
30 Nov 2012

Parental Sleep Debt Is Nature’s Design?

Catherine Wright

I’ve been spending a lot of time with sleep deprived parents in the past few months  – helping them work on plans to get more sleep for their families.  I look into their weary eyes, and I’m left to ponder this question again and again:

Why, at the time when people are embarking on the learning curve of their lives – taking care of these immensely loved and confusing packages – do they feel more shattered than they have ever known possible?  What did nature intend with parental sleep debt, really?

I’ll tell you what I think.  Chronic sleep deprivation can be a tortuous endurance ride, during which many of us don’t fare well with a full plate. Mostly, we focus on feeding our babies, cleaning their poopy diapers and ensuring they are cozy and sleeping when they need to.  Throwing a seven course dinner party is not in the cards, for a while.

We are forced to shed extraneous tasks – to care of our bundles with everything we’ve got.  Not not think too much, to just do.  You are smart nature, very smart.

It can be interesting to test this – push back a bit and see what happens.  In my experience, when I take on more and more, I eventually get pushed right back. I leave all of my paid-for groceries at the store, or I have less compassion and resources to offer when my baby wakes up at 3am with teething pain.

It sounds backwards but perhaps this level of exhaustion is a clever design – to keep us focused on our new role. This idea somehow softens the frustration. The concept of surrender, which touches every aspect of parenthood, exists here, in mind-numbing sleep debt, and what it forces us to NOT do.

While I encourage you to embrace cotton-headed-ness, I realize the ability to do this is a luxury.   Parents who are juggling work, other children, single parents, parents with their own sleep problems – this is much trickier.  While the logic still follows, help and support is needed.

I’m looking forward to writing helpful posts on this topic in the coming weeks. If there’s an issue or a topic related to sleep (parental, baby or toddler), please email me and let me know.  Specific questions and concerns are welcome.

If you are not on my mailing list – come and sign-up here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Sweet dreams,


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