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One Mom’s Quest For Sleep

I wonder what I could accomplish if I could get some sleep

The now über-successful author of the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer, was a mother of three, in her 30s and had never written anything up until her first best selling, blockbuster novel. Even more interesting, she claims the idea for the story resulted from a dream she had where visions of a vampire loving a non-vampire were so vivid she felt obliged to write it down. The key to this story is that she had a dream. In other words, she was sleeping.

I am a mother of three, also in my 30s. But that’s where the similarities end and I’m convinced it’s due to lack of sleep. If only I could get a single night of sleep – solid, uninterrupted sleep – perhaps I, too, could dream and eventually write something other than a grocery list.

The average parent in my circle of friends typically gets between zero (mothers) and eight (fathers) hours of sleep per night. “In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night,” according to Van Dongen and Dinges in Principles & Practice of Sleep Medicine. “However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours.”

I was shocked to learn that most adults actually turn in sometime around 11 p.m. or even later. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit that my nightly ritual of brushing my teeth while peeking around the bathroom door to catch whatever taped television show my husband has paused while he waits for me to join him, starts around 8:30 p.m. When the days are longer, it might be possible to get a sunburn through our bedroom window, so in addition to the teeth brushing, we lather on an SPF 15 and call it a night. This is minutes after we finish reading the kids their bedtime stories, occasionally skipping a sentence or two because the exhaustion has me slurring my words.

Though studies have shown that most mothers average less than five hours of sleep a night in Baby’s first four months, sleep deprivation is hardly the domain of new parents alone. Many of the parents I consulted were up in the night at least once caring for children up to five years of age. (Those with children older than five were too busy high-fiving each other to speak to me.) From the baby crying for food, the toddler wetting the bed, the four-year old experiencing night terrors, we parents, along with a few neighbourhood bats, do some of our finest work in the wee hours of the night.

There is no shortage of information about how many hours of sleep per night a baby should get, but there is little attention paid to Mommy’s sleep needs, despite the truckloads of information about the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Dr. Kenneth G. Berge of the Mayo Clinic says sleep boosts our immune systems, helps our nervous systems work properly, decreases the risk of car accidents and even decreases our risk of mortality. Too little sleep can leave us drowsy impairing both memory and physical performance. Indeed, new parents should get more sleep because there are consequences to walking around in a zombie-like state. There are top 10 lists with key factors that lend themselves to a good night’s sleep. Shockingly, none of those mention leaking nipples, a screaming, hungry baby or a soiled diaper that has been removed and used as paint, sponged on a nursery room wall.

My two oldest daughters don’t seem to have a problem getting to sleep, since they both recently came to me with problems involving their dreams. My three-year-old dreamed that a deer was hitting her in the stomach with his hoof. My husband had recently hit a deer on the highway so I had no doubt that her vision was a direct response to his traumatic experience. Lauren, age six, then claimed to have had a bad dream about being attacked by a bear. I think this was a direct  response to the attention we were giving Erin about the deer, but off I went to devise a plan.

I explained to the girls the notion of the dream catcher. They were both so intrigued by the idea that something could actually catch a bad dream and keep their minds open to have only pleasant ones. I set off to the basement to fashion a couple of dream catchers.

To the Christmas ornament box! The first dream catcher for Lauren was a silver firefly with  beaded fake pearls on the wings and a string attached to hang from the tree. I mean…to hang from the window and catch her bad dreams. The second was a small mouse lighting a candle that popped into a Christmas light bulb when hanging from the tree. For now it would do nicely.
After the first night, Lauren thought her dream catcher worked but it might have let one or two bad dreams sneak through and she thought she needed a second catcher to pick up the drifters that foiled the first firefly. Erin thought that her dream catcher worked a little too well in that it caught both the good dreams and the bad, leaving her with nothing to remember of her night’s sleep.

Ah sleep. Back to the box. Lauren’s second dream catcher was once again silver but this time, it was a glittery, miniature disco ball whose reflective qualities would confuse the bad dreams thus rendering them useless. Erin’s dream “giver” was an old earring I found whose pair had gone missing several years earlier. The dream giver was of course enlisted to produce positive thoughts which Erin’s creative juices could then flow into and compile a fabulous story that would be so vivid she would remember it when she woke up in the morning.

Would that such a dreamcatcher would work for  me. I hold great hope that one day I, like Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer, will actually resume sleeping. Perhaps the manuscript for my novel will come to me in a dream, too.

Quest 3 - one mom's quest for sleep

To find out if Liz has written her book yet, check out her blog at

Published in August 2010

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