Caffeine, Parenting Itself Would Be Impossible
But Don't Overlook the Many Benefits of Sleep Deprivation
Becoming a parent is like being on an airplane when the cabin
suddenly depressurizes. You can't quite catch your breath.
The dishes and glasses fly around and get broken. People get
sucked out through little holes. OK, that doesn't happen very
often, except to the baby. What I really have in mind is something
the uniformed crew members tell us in their preflight speech.
In the unlikely event that you don't pay attention to this
speech, I'll remind you: "In the unlikely event that the oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first and then assist your children."
This is a good rule for parents to follow generally, not just onboard the aircraft.
You have to take care of yourself so you will
be able to take good care of your kids. This means making time
for the basic human activities that are necessary to sustain
you: exercise, eating right, watching The Simpsons, and most
With a new baby in the house, you need more sleep than ever. Yet you're probably
getting less sleep now than any time since that night in 1982
when you camped on the sidewalk to be first in line for J. Geils
To find out if you suffer from sleep deprivation, take this simple test:
- Do you find yourself nodding off during normally stimulating events such as church services, golf telecasts, or Gray Davis speeches?
- Have you ever gone to an important meeting at work and then suddenly awoken in the conference room, face down in a puddle of your own drool, long after everyone else has left for the day?
- Have you ever driven the wrong way on a one-way street for three blocks before noticing that there was a problem?
- Have you experienced difficulty recalling minor details, like a friend's phone number, the precise location of your car in the parking lot, or your children's names?
- Have you ever been sitting at your computer, trying to work, when you feel your head involuntarily falling forwggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg
(Note to department of social services: The above question about
going the wrong way on a one-way street with the kids in the
car is a purely hypothetical example and is NOT based on the
personal experience of either my wife or myself. I don't care
what the police report says.)
If you answered "Yes", "I don't recall", or "I refuse to answer on the grounds that my answer may tend to incriminate me" to zero or more of these questions, you may have Chronic Acute Brain-dysfunction Insomnia-related Neo-parental fever.
My wife and I have a severe case. We have a 3-year-old boy and a teething 7-month-old baby. They sleep in shifts, as if they feel one has to be on guard duty at all times.
Lack of sleep is not just annoying. It can be dangerous. In
extreme cases, sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue-induced
delusional behavior. Watch for these warning signs: Do you or
your spouse find yourselves talking about irrational subjects,
like fear of alien abduction, the Denver Nuggets' playoff chances,
or having another baby?
But enough doom and gloom. What's the point of telling parents
they need sleep, when there is no chance of them getting much
of it in the foreseeable
future? Let's try to be optimistic. Have you considered the many
benefits of sleep deprivation? For instance, my mother-in-law
recently told me that lack of sleep magnifies the effect of alcohol
by five times. I think she meant it as a warning, but at the
time I took it as a money-saving tip.
Still, if you choose to ignore the upside of sleep deprivation, there is something
you can do.
By making the proper lifestyle choices, you can have
all the energy you need even with insufficient sleep. I am referring,
of course, to caffeine.
Unfortunately, only dads–and moms who have weaned their babies–can successfully organize their lives around this particular chemical. Nursing mothers, I'm afraid you're on your own. Experts recommend that you eschew caffeine while breastfeeding. Besides, these babies are energetic enough without turning the breast milk into a double café au lait.
But remember, dads: when you go out for a venti intravenous
latte, you're just following the parenting tip we discussed above.
You're taking care of yourself so you can be there for your partner.
But it's still a good idea to order a decaf mocha for her, too.
Sadly, however, even caffeine sometimes isn't enough. And at $3 plus for a simple
cup of grande double espresso caramel skinny vanilla soy no-foam
frappuccino, coffee alone may not be an economical long-term
solution. But there is hope.
Just when you think you're going
to completely lose it, something happens that reminds you why
you love being a parent and gives you the strength to carry on.
The other night, about 4:30 am, our 7-month-old woke up and started
crying. Before my wife or I could get out of bed, our 3-year-old
son Henry, who shares a bedroom with the baby, started singing
to his little brother to comfort him. Daniel stopped crying and
went right back to sleep. I can't describe the joy I felt as
I drifted back into a deep slumber.
The next 20 minutes were the most restful sleep I've had in
a long time.
John Hershey is a dad, a writer, and a lawyer (in that order).
You can read more of his humor columns at www.vershina.com. © 2003
by John Hershey. All rights reserved.