Before we had a child, I suffered from dreadful insomnia. I couldn’t fall asleep, so I’d read for hours. And often once I had fallen asleep, I’d wake up and not be able to sleep again. I would regularly make middle-of-the-night trips to the kitchen for bananas and herbal tea. Sometimes I’d give up on sleep and go to my desk and do some work instead. I was generally exhausted and had dark bags under my eyes.
It’s true that not getting enough sleep does feel like a kind of torture and it can make life seem bleak. Troubles seem much worse at 2 a.m. than they do during the day. But somehow I managed to keep working and getting things done even while so tired.
When we were expecting our daughter, people kept warning me about the sleep deprivation we’d experience. I wondered if it could be worse than what I already went through. Many people seemed almost gleeful when they’d say, “If you think you have trouble sleeping now, just wait until you have a child!”
So imagine my surprise to discover that now, with a 19-month-old child, I think I’m sleeping better than at any other time I can remember in my life.
Yes, the early months were very difficult. Many nights (and days, for that matter) she wanted to breastfeed every hour. I was bleary and weary.
But what saved us then, and continues to save us now, I believe, is co-sleeping. My wife, my daughter, and I share a bed.
When our infant would cry, my wife would pick her up and hand her to me. I’d latch her on and feed her and if I needed a snack or drink, my wife would go get it. Then when the feed was over, my wife would settle our baby back and we’d all sleep again. I was so tired from the pregnancy and birth and from childcare generally that I often managed to fall back asleep quite quickly, eager to get a little rest before the next feed.
Sometimes I’d find myself awake for long stretches at night, feeding and soothing her, or else just watching her, and doing that new parent thing of checking repeatedly to make sure the baby is still OK. But frequently I would sleep because I desperately needed to and my body forced my mind to shut down. Also, I discovered that I felt so happy and so in love with my wife and our child that I was more at peace; I simply wasn’t worried about my career or about life generally as much as you I used to be.
Now our daughter still feeds multiple times in the night, but because she’s older, she’s able to just roll over and attach herself to my breast. I barely need to wake up (except for those times when she puts her hand on my face in her attempt to get more comfortable and I find I can’t breathe). The oxytocin puts us both back to sleep (though she’s often reluctant to let go of my breasts, even in her sleep).
Bedtimes for us are lovely. After a relaxed dinner and time spent chatting and reading, we all get ready for bed together. And we all get into bed at the same time. We read our daughter another book or two, and then she says “Off,” which signals I need to take off my glasses and lie down. She settles herself down onto her pillow, latches onto me, and feeds until she falls asleep. My wife and I sometimes carry on a whispered conversation at the same time, or we drift off too. On those occasions when I can’t sleep, I read a bit and wait for her next feed. I’m usually able to fall asleep during that feed.
There’s no stress about going to bed, and we’re all pretty well rested.
While co-sleeping won’t work for everyone (it’s not safe to do if you drink, smoke, or use drugs, for example), it’s great for our family. We know our daughter won’t always want to sleep with us, and she won’t always want to breastfeed to sleep. She’ll learn other ways to fall asleep soon; indeed, the fact that we read to her every night is a way of helping her learn about the great joy and power to be found in books, including as something to use in order to unwind and fall asleep.
For now, we all sleep best when we’re together. I just hope I’ll still be able to sleep well once we’ve stopped co-sleeping!