The Isle of Broken Sleep

I think that all parents visit the Island of Broken Sleep from time to time. Most come here when their babies are first-born and stay for several months. They return to visit at intervals marked by sleep regressions and illness. After a few years their visits become vanishingly rare.

Visitors to the Isle sometimes note the cool stillness of the night. They sometimes note their children’s beautiful faces as they wake, or cry, or dream, or with even a smidge of luck, sleep.

After time on the Island though, visitors begin to feel weary. Their minds forget little details. They can’t quite recall where they put their keys or fathom why they would put the ice cream away in the microwave. Their priorities change. They’re less concerned with making sure that their shoes are the latest fashion and more concerned that they’re both from the same pair. They feel slow, groggy, and a little stupid.

They soldier on. Everyone has a ticket off the Island. Time and Date are left unmarked.

Long term stays are unusual, though most of us feel as though we have spent at least a decade here.

I’ve been living on the Island of Broken sleep for the last four years. Four years of waking up and meeting needs. Four years of broken sleep cycles and morning grogginess. Four years of guzzling coffee in a vain attempt to make my sluggish cells respond to the demands of my day. Trying through the haze of tiredness to understand, sympathize and remain patient with my intense, emotional, energetic daughter.

Except that briefly last week I caught a reprieve. I took a four-day trip off the Island. I slept. My daughter slept.

I had forgotten. forgotten what it felt like to be able to organize my thoughts. forgotten what it felt like to have emotional resilience. forgotten how simple it is to play and make choices, and how calm it is possible to feel.

She had never known. It was strange to me, the difference in her behavior those four days. Suddenly she played alone. She sang and giggled and listened and learned. She stopped screaming and had the emotional resilience to move through our day.

After a precious few days, we returned to the Island of Broken Sleep. Brought back on a rocking boat of a stuffy nose and over-stimulation. We returned to middle of the night snuggles and listening to the sounds of the night while we try to return to sleep. We returned to reminders that it’s “just a dream, everyone is okay”. We returned to needing to know that mommy and daddy are near and that the doors are locked and that the kitchen isn’t on fire. We returned to anxiety and dreams and the intersection where our brains produce to little melatonin and to little serotonin and have just a few to many concepts to play with.

With our return to the Island, we also found ourselves returned to daytime grumpiness, and neediness, and intensity. We lost our emotional resilience. We found ourselves without patience and without calm.

And I realized something important, she’s lived her whole life on this island. My daughter doesn’t have a behavior problem. She is exhausted. She needs real, uninterrupted sleep.

When she sleeps, I sleep. When we sleep, we’re utterly different people. Happy people. Amazing people. People with the kind of joy and intelligence and energy that makes the world a better place.

I need two tickets off the Isle of Broken Sleep. I wonder where to start? Anyone who isn’t living here have a suggestion?

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2 thoughts on “The Isle of Broken Sleep

  1. Well, I’m not a parent, I’ve done a lot of research the past few months on foods to eat to help with sleep…and avoid if you’re trying to stay more alert. (Also, been researching foods that help promote energy boosting.) And knowing how limited Fiona’s diet is, maybe this might help. Here’s what I found:

    1. Most fish—and especially salmon, halibut and tuna—and bananas and chickpeas boast vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness), according to an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

    2. Try carbohydrate-rich suppers of veggies and tomato sauce over jasmine rice. (Apparently Jasmine rice helps promote sleepiness).

    3. In a small study, melatonin-rich tart cherry juice was shown to aid sleep. When adults with chronic insomnia drank a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day they experienced some relief in the severity of their insomnia. According to agricultural research studies, cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. (so cherries in general are good)

    4. Dairy products are well-known calcium-rich foods. But green leafy vegetables, such as including kale and collards, also boast healthy doses of calcium. And research suggests that being calcium deficient may make it difficult to fall asleep.

    5. Consuming too little magnesium may make it harder to stay asleep, reported the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.

    6. Almonds are good. They contain magnesium, which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation and they have the added benefit of supplying proteins that can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping, and help promote sleep by switching you from your alert adrenaline cycle to your rest-and-digest cycle

    7. Chamomile tea is a very helpful and safe sleep aid and green tea is another good choice. Green tea contains theanine, which helps promote sleep. Just be sure you get a decaf green tea if drinking it at bedtime.

    8. Miso contains amino acids that may boost the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that can help induce the yawns. Bonus: Research shows that warm liquids like soup and tea may also relieve cold symptoms, helping you sleep better when you’re feeling under the weather

    9. A bowl of warm oatmeal. Oatmeal is warm, soft, soothing, easy to prepare, inexpensive and nourishing. It’s rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium—the who’s who of nutrients known to support sleep.

    10. If you have trouble staying asleep at night, it may be because you didn’t eat a pre-bedtime snack high in protein, or perhaps your snack was too high in simple, high-sugar carbohydrates, like cake and candy. The problem with simple carbs is that they can put you on a ‘sugar roller coaster’ and drop your blood sugar while you’re sleeping, causing you to wake at 2 or 3 in the morning. Eat an egg, cheese, nuts or other protein-rich snack instead so you can not only fall asleep, but stay asleep.

  2. I have no idea. I am still trying to sell my house here so I can leave but no one seems to want it. I do get to leave at least once a week though. The one great thing about sharing custody I can have uninterrupted sleep.

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