I thought I knew about sleep deprivation, but I had no idea.
In college, as a young professional and yes, as a mom of a newborn, I’d experienced lack of sleep. When my daughter experienced what I now know to be a “sleep regression” and started waking up every few hours overnight, my world fell apart. It was hard to see at first, but quickly I experienced serious symptoms.
Sleep deprivation slowly turned me into someone I didn’t recognize. I hope I never see her again. If I do, I hope I will take it seriously, make sleep a priority and ask for help.
My family is currently enjoying good sleep after lots of careful changes, but that’s not what this is about. This is a confession. This isn’t a cute story about how I put the juice away in the cabinet instead of the fridge because I was tired. This isn’t about staying up too late and feeling tired in the morning. This is about how I underestimated sleep deprivation symptoms.
This is about experiencing extreme symptoms but feeling embarrassed and alone.
Now that the fog has lifted, I can’t believe how much I changed. Some days were better than others, but I struggled daily with mood swings, irritability and changes in my cognitive ability.
I started tearing myself apart for small things like forgetting to put the laundry in the dryer. I questioned my ability as a mother and my relationship with my husband was strained. I experienced increased anxiety and depression, and I thought it would never end. I was hopeless and saw this dreary sky stretching on forever.
I was embarrassed and thought I was not strong enough, that I was being a crybaby (no pun intended.) Days and days went by and I kept brushing off the fact that I barely slept the night before. I bullied myself into continuing to try and live my life as if nothing was different.
It wasn’t a total fog, but looking back I realize how much I put up with. I still enjoyed sweet, funny and adorable moments with my daughter, and felt support and love from my husband. I reached out to friends and family with part of the story, but couldn’t stomach admitting how hard it was sometimes to do simple daily tasks.
I consider myself a cheerful and capable person. But I was losing my ability to manage work and personal commitments. I was irritable, moody and worst of all, felt completely isolated. I didn’t want to complain – don’t other parents do this every day? What was wrong with me?
Grabbing the occasional nap on a weekend gave me little rays of sunshine, reminders of the person I used to be. As my husband and I slowly and surely made progress with our daughter’s sleep schedule, we immediately saw benefits of a few extra hours of sleep a night. Now that we’re in a good routine, I feel like myself again. My story is still evolving, but I’m so relieved to be “back.” Every day isn’t perfect, but I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. I feel confident that I can handle problems or tasks large and small that the day may throw at me.
For me, making sleep a priority means making myself, my life and my family a priority. There may always be work deadlines or other things that keep me up late on occasion, but I’m committed to understanding how sleep affects my mood and quality of life. I’m now making changes to improve my sleep further, including limiting my screen time at night, following a calming nighttime routine, and using deep relaxation techniques.
I don’t have all the answers for future Meredith, should she find herself in a similar situation, but I just want to tell her – and you – that you don’t have to feel isolated and ashamed of not being able to fully function on very little sleep. Humans aren’t meant to thrive without a good night’s sleep, and the negative physical and emotional effects of sleep deprivation aren’t anything to be embarrassed about.