You probably think I have too much going on or that I have something better to do.
Or maybe you worry that I am pulling away from our friendship.
Or you may just think I suck.
There are so many reasons you could come up with as to why I keep saying “no” to your requests for a ladies’ night or an 8 p.m. dinner without kids. You could spend weeks wondering why I went from the person you used to rely on for late night adventures, to the person you have a hard time getting to a 5 p.m. barbeque.
So let me put that wondering mind at ease and just blurt it out – I say no because of sleep.
If you were around me every day, you would see that there is almost a night and day version of myself.
The first version is happy, super talkative, and a genuine people person. She can have full adult conversations with the intelligence of an MIT grad, and she is confident in her stances on anything from reality TV to politics. She eats healthy, exercises, and breathes through most anxious moments. She loves her kids fiercely and can deal with almost every whiny situation. She wears her entire wardrobe with confidence. Her house is (semi) clean and her husband is happy — because who wouldn’t love this version of someone?
The second version is weak and negative. She can’t even think about the day ahead because she is stuck in the moment right now. She stresses and frets over the dumbest things like clothes not fitting or texts not being returned quick enough. She sometimes feels like the whole world hates her. Full sentences and complete thoughts can sometimes get stuck and make her sound out of it or even drunk. She snaps at her children and just wants to lay on the couch. Her worries feel endless and her brain spins in a constant whirl of anxiousness ALL DAY LONG. She counts the minutes ’til bed…
Sleep deprivation triggers anxiety for me, and I can slip into either version strictly based on a few nights of good or bad sleep. There are days I have not a single worrisome thought, but there are also days I am plagued with such body buzzing concern it’s hard to function. And before you ask, yes, I can say confidently it is related to sleep.
It was well before kids that I knew sleep played a huge role in my mental health. Just a few months after our wedding, I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that required life-saving surgery. The results left me partially immobile and unable to climb stairs. I slept in my living room on a mattress, and night & day had no meaning. I was slipping as the weeks went by into a deep state of panic. It felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I went to a therapist who gave me the simplest life changing advice: “Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.”
She stressed the importance of sleep and its contribution to your emotional well-being, and even mentioned medical studies that connect sleep loss and anxiety. I went home with a hunger for a new sleep routine, and I threw myself in head first.
It’s not as easy as it sounds to regulate your sleep schedule. During the week, you go to bed and get up early, so on the weekends you need to do the same thing.
It changes the dynamic of some relationships. There were no more late night dinners and bar escapades or even staying late at a party. In fact, we were typically always the first to leave. I was a 30-year-old with a self-imposed bedtime.
I am lucky to have a husband who changed with me. We got coffee together every morning instead of drinks at night. We ate dinner around 5 p.m. and lights out by 9. I got called “old” more than I would like to admit, but I was sure that this version of me was preferred by everyone.
Two years after our first pregnancy loss, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. And as all new mothers know, this blew up my sleep routine and set my world on fire.
She didn’t sleep for six full weeks, and so obviously neither did I. Breastfeeding was painful and mentally complicated. My supply was low, so she was always hungry and restless. I struggled mentally to keep it together, and I could feel those walls closing in once again.
We switched to formula when she was about seven weeks old, and we both started to sleep more. As hard as it was to make that decision, we knew our daughter needed proper nourishment and a mentally healthy mother more than anything.
From there, my husband and I did our best to divide and conquer, trying to split the duties as much as we could. Sleep was a commodity I could not squander, and I re-affirmed with myself that I needed to get back on track as much as possible.
Today, I have a 3- and 5-year-old so every night is like a sleeping game of roulette. We can go two whole weeks with solid blissful rest, and then five nights straight of torturous “nighttime naps” that total one night of sleep.
So, at this point in my life, I need to continue my bedtime, and regrettably say no to things even when I want to say yes. I owe it to myself and my family to remain as mentally healthy as possible.
One day things will change for me, and a late night escapade will not only be wanted but needed. But for now, I must stick to daytime or early evening adventures. I promise you the fun me is still here… just not after 9 p.m.