Sleep: A Love Story

When I was in law school, some students thought it was cool to brag about how they’d been up all night studying in their library carrels. A few even brought in pillows. In a moment of wisdom that was pretty rare for me back then, I thought, Wow, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and went home to bed.

I love sleep.

Early bedtimes are the single best decision we’ve made as adoptive parents. You’ve read my joke/not-a-joke about the kids being on track for graduation?  I’d attribute at least 80% of that to the fact that they get so much sleep. They’re under more stress and have a lot more moving pieces than most other kids, along with more emotions to process and weird dynamics to manage. To function like a normal student with all of that churning around inside means that their brains and bodies need way more rest.

The first summer they lived with us, I’d see 4 & 5 year olds out playing in the park when our kids had been in bed for over an hour… At first I was embarrassed. Maybe we were being ridiculous? But then I saw our kids handling multiple impossible things before noon, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, and so I tossed my embarrassment in the trash.

But here’s the irony, given what I know for sure about sleep and how it helps our kids: One of the worst mistakes Steve & I still make? Not going to bed early ourselves.  We know better. Of course we do. If sleep helps the Cherubs navigate the stress of our unusual family, it stands to reason that it might help us, too, right? And yet….

Staying up makes so much sense in the moment! Especially if a day has been crappy, I want to do something good to salvage the day – time for the two of us to talk alone, a glass of wine, a TV show where high-stakes problems are more or less resolved in under an hour. But after extensive research, I’m sad to report that none of these delivers on the promise of dramatic life improvement the way sleep does.

Sleep makes things better, literally overnight.  (See what I did there?)

As much as I love talking to Steve, the best nights are the ones where we just look at each other, say, “Hey, we did it!” and then shut everything down and call it a night.  If we started the day with two adults, two kids & a dog…and the headcount is the same at bedtime? That’s a WIN! But after a hug & a high five, the best way to celebrate is to go to bed.  (Just realized the multiple potential meanings there. Blushing. But I’ll leave it and pretend I’m one of those bloggers who shares freely about all the things.)

Hmm…okay…moving on…

Want to know my sleep secret? It’s all the rage now, sharing secrets to great sleep, so I’ll jump on board and let you in on mine:

Lay down, close your eyes.

You can do this day or night, in a surprising variety of places!

An attorney in my first law firm curled up under his desk every afternoon and slept for a good half-hour. A guy at Steve’s old job was found snoring in the company lactation room (I don’t recommend that). You can schedule sleep (my parents nap for a couple of hours every single day, sometime between 10am-2pm, thus avoiding the danger of peak tanning hours) or carpe diem it if you’re good at  spontaneity (a friend who works from home just sort of tilts over where she’s working and sleeps for about twenty minutes. A bit narcoleptic, perhaps, but so refreshing!)

The point is, you can do this.

We’re being sold this lie that we need to be all precious about sleep – that we need a whole elaborate system with 48 different products and potions to make sleep possible. Don’t let that psych you out. We don’t need “sleep hygiene” to sleep. You don’t need perfect darkness, noise, temperature, or sleep number. We are made to sleep. It’s been that way ever since the prototype. We are built for this!

Maybe don’t have caffeine after dinner. Maybe touch your toes & then reach for the sky before you crawl into bed – it’s always nice to stretch. Of course brush your teeth. But beyond that? Lay down. Pull up the covers. Nuzzle your head down into the pillow. And enjoy.

And when you do? You are doing something all the experts agree is tremendously important for your health & happiness, JUST BY LYING THERE. How often does that happen?

Now of course, sometimes life gets in the way.

Babies need to be fed and toddlers need their closets checked for monsters. Sometimes we need another dose of cold meds, or to go to the bathroom for the 14th time. Some nights, your mind churns or your heart won’t stop racing. And sometimes your neighbor discovers the Summer Fun Country Line Dance channel on Pandora and has the backyard bumpin’ til almost dawn.

But whatever your nighttime normal is in this season? You can learn to sleep around and through it, as humans have been doing since the beginning of time. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You may need to be a little bit creative. You may need to grab sleep in unexpected moments. But you can sleep. Claim sleep as something you enjoy, and get as much as you can. It will make you so much happier. The return on investment is better than anything else I know.

Need inspiration? Here’s Bergie, grabbing z’s all through her day:

Let’s be like Bergie :)