Why Am I So Tired?
My beautiful, tow-headed three-year-old son attempted to start his morning at 4 AM the other day. It was, admittedly, early; even for him. His customary roll-call is between 6 and 6:30, although he will occasionally snooze for another decadent hour. This usually depends upon a few things: the phase of the moon, the position of the stars, and whether or not you perform the bedtime ceremony precisely. However, there is no way to know if you’ve done it properly till the next morning so, basically, you have no control whatsoever.
You wouldn’t think Dalton would be happy at such a scandalously early time. After all, I was barely conscious when I was awoken by the soft click of his door latching behind him that day. It’s not even light out before about 7, so it’s probably illegal to smile at that hour. But he is. He always is, whether its 4 AM or 8 AM (just kidding, I don’t remember the last time he slept until 8AM). He usually materializes at our bedside, the glow of his teeth all that’s visible in the dark, and either asks to snuggle or watch his favorite cartoon. It’s so incredibly precious that it almost atones for the abrupt awakening (kidding again; of course, it does).
You know who’s not beaming with joy at 4 AM? Me. I am, quite possibly, as far from being a natural morning person as one can get without working the third shift (props to you if you do; you are a magical unicorn, in my opinion). Sometimes, I wonder if I’m even awake before that first sip of coffee hits my lips. Often, I am downright grumpy. Fortunately, I have a partner in my parenting, and Zach often gets up with Dalton to give me a little extra sleep.
When you become a parent, everyone warns you about the exhaustion of the newborn stage. You hear about feedings every two hours, which I was shocked to learn doesn’t mean between feedings. It means two hours from the start of one feeding to the start of the next. You hear about that time someone’s baby stayed awake for five consecutive hours their second night in the hospital (oh wait, that was mine). You hear the old maxim “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
But nobody really tells you that you’re still tired when your kids are toddlers and have been sleeping through the night for a year. It’s not the same tired, more of a chronic ache than a sharp pain. But it’s ever present, and it’s exasperating. It’s the kind of tired that has you reaching for a third cup of coffee before 10 AM. It’s the kind of tired that has you wishing for a nap nearly every day. It’s the kind of tired that has you weighing the possibility of going to bed early against staying up a just little later to watch Netflix with your husband before almost falling asleep on the couch.
I have a theory: parents aren’t necessarily tired from a lack of sleep, although that’s a distinct possibility. I think that, if you’re getting enough sleep but you’re still exhausted, it has more to do with emotional energy than physical energy. Think about it: you spend your days attending to one urgent need after another. You might have to take trips to lots of different locations, like doctor’s appointments, school runs, grocery shopping, you name it. You might already have a full-time job on top of your parenting duties. Don’t even get me started on household chores.
And what can you do about it? Well, potential solutions are everywhere. Go to bed earlier. Drink less coffee. Drink more coffee. Exercise. Turn off your electronics a few hours before bedtime. Read this book. No, not that one, this one. Just wait until your kids start school. Until they start high school. Until they graduate.
I could go on, but the point is that it’s not about finding a cure. I don’t think there are any quick fixes, as much as I would love one. The best we can do is to support each other. Lean into your community and reach out if you’re struggling. Maybe that looks like rotating which parent gets up with the early riser or the night waker. Maybe it looks like tinkering with your routine to fit in more sleep. Or maybe it just looks like getting together with a friend over a cup of coffee and praying together for strength. If you’re like me, and you live far away from the community you grew up in, start building some by plugging into your local church or parents’ group. I know these are just small steps, but they’re someplace to start.
Leave a comment down below and tell me a little bit about your sleep odyssey, whether that includes kiddos or not. And, as always, thanks for being here.