There was nothing much good about having the flu on top of bronchitis during the merry month of February.
Except for one thing.
For the first time in 27 years – which happens to be the number of years I have been a mother – I may have gotten caught up on mine.
For the first time in all these many decades – knowing full well now the role that sleep plays in health and health recovery – I allowed my need for rest to take precedence over everything and everybody else in the house, including a cat that likes to jump on the bed at 4 a.m.
Indeed, I locked the cat out of the bedroom. I locked the dog out. I even asked my husband, who was more than happy to leave the germ incubator of our bedroom, to make other arrangements. At 10 p.m. every night, I closed the door against these and all other distractions, including the two remaining children in the house. I turned on the humidifier and a box fan to drown out all semblance of human and animal activity. And for the first time in almost three decades, I slept 8-10 hours a night for several nights in a row without so much as a bow-wow-wow of interruption.
It was a level of fulfillment and self-care heretofore unknown to my adult female body – at least not in the last 27 years beginning with the last trimester of my first pregnancy. It was then that my restless legs, my compressed bladder and the rolling, mid-night thought, “Oh my God, this baby has to come out of me!” began to prepare me for hundreds of interrupted nights to come.
For years after that, if it wasn’t a child waking me for night feedings, night terrors and just because, it was the aforementioned husband. A political science professor who often writes until the wee hours, he is known for tiptoeing into bed at 1 a.m., looking for any movement on my side as an invitation to dissect American foreign policy and other nightmarish topics.
Add to these activities my own inability to set good boundaries with iPhone Scrabble and Netflix. Throw in my need in later years to keep the phone next to the bed in case my adult children need to text me their whereabouts. And I had created for myself a full-blown case of sleep deprivation, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is not unusual: At least one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Health coach Shawn Stevenson, author of the forthcoming book “Sleep Smarter” says twice as many of us – a full two-thirds of the population – has some kind of “sleep issue.”
Clearly, some of the conditions of my sleep impoverishment have changed over the years. I am no longer woken with a child’s night terrors, per se, although I do experience a different kind of terror in the night with my 18-year-old son who is known for participating in Ultimate Frisbee tournaments that are supposed to be over at midnight. At 2 a.m., he is still not home. I text. He finally answers at 3. At which point he tells me the tournament went longer than expected. But he didn’t want to text to tell me. Because he didn’t want to wake me. Which, of course, is moot as I am now wider than wide awake.
The lessons of motherhood are many, to include relinquishing control over adult children. And the lessons continue way past the point of getting enough sleep.
But of course, now that I am well, now that I know what it feels like to be sleep-fulfilled, I would be a less than self-actualized adult if I didn’t figure out a way through to the other side of R.E.M. on a more regular basis.
I am woman, after all. Hear me snore.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.