Does a Mother Ever Really Sleep?


Does a mother ever really sleep?My husband and I watched the first presidential debate a few weeks back. We then tuned in to the debate commentary until the wee hours of the morning, and we were up way too late. I knew I’d pay for it the next day as I had to get up at 6 a.m.-ish. It was probably around 2 a.m. when I clicked the television off. 

The overnight hours brought two power surges, a non-issue in a normal household, as everyone is in a sound sleep. But in our house, the power surge results in all of the lights going on due to some fancy remote control gadget my husband hooked up.

My daughter came in for a hug at one point. My son walked in around 4 a.m. because his stomach was hurting. Apparently, eating a half a bag of Hot Cheetos before bed will do that to you. I gave him two Pepto Bismol tablets and told him to call me in the morning, which, in our case, was only two hours away.  

You may be envisioning younger children here. Nope. At almost 16 and 13, my kids certainly aren’t babies anymore, yet I’m never confident that I will get a full night’s sleep. In fact, even if no one actually wakes me up, I’m still not sure if it’s “real” sleep. I can’t say I’m refreshed, reset, and ready to go in the morning. So my tiredness in the morning begs the question – does a mother ever really sleep? 

Flipping the Switch 

The minute those contractions started, I bid sweet adieu to my good sleeping days. As a new parent, you are essentially on-call 24/7. You’ll see times on the clock that you probably haven’t seen since roaming the streets during your drunken college days. Coincidentally, that’s sort of what it feels like. The feedings, the non-schedules, the attempts to get the baby back to sleep…I’m exhausted just thinking about it. 

And by the time you do it all and feel the least bit accomplished, you know it is only a matter of time until the cycle starts all over again. “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” is the famous punchline given for any advice on slumber from family, doctors, or strangers on the street. In your own desperation for some real sleep, you are still listening for the cry or murmur. So again, even when you do sleep, it may not be the least bit satisfying.   

This is not brand new information. New parents lose A LOT of sleep. 

Caring for an infant is physical and labor-intensive. You are up and about and doing all the things. You pray for the days when the baby gets a little older and sleeps through the night. Eventually, there does come a time when the little one will have longer stints of sleep, so we seem to get more sleep—sort of. 

After a long day of parenting, adulting, or working, you lay your head down, yet still not knowing what the overnight hours will bring. 

The middle of the night whines or cries, or other ominous gurgling sounding noises, which is never good news. Sometimes an extra person will appear in your bed. Again, you’ll nod off, but are you getting a good snooze? And let’s face it, I tend to believe mothers bear the majority of this brunt. 

I remember having a two-faced reaction when my son first climbed out of his crib. On the one hand, I was slightly impressed by the completed mission. I mean, how amazing is my kid?! On the other hand, it’s time to buy a toddler bed to avoid a possible injury. Only the result here was free reign for the new king of the house. 

The Emotional Toll

The moments when you’re close your eyes and begin fade…and boom, a child appears in your face. You feel the presence, even with your eyes closed! I swear the snoring husband (another sleep deterrent) definitely had a strategy going when he picked the side of the bed away from the door. 

Scene: 3:20 a.m.; Master Bedroom
Enter Child

Child: I can’t sleep.
Me: What’s wrong?
Child: Grunt.
Me: I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.
Child: Grunt

More often than not, with a nudge out of my room and towards theirs, the grunter goes back to sleep. Grunter’s mother, though? A racing mind ponders what is going on with the grunter. You’ll have times when the grunter actually opens up and tells you what is on their mind. Yes! The grunter is communicating! Total mom score. The grunter feels a sense of relief, and it helps them nod off. Grunter’s mother, though? Lays awake thinking about the situation. 

This said, even if the children do not offer up the grunt, some nights, your brain will not give in. Life offers concerns about kids, such as peer pressure, social interactions, school, grades, tests, homework, etc. And then add on money, work/life balance, doctor appointments, family obligations, never-ending to-do lists, etc. Quiet times may attract random thoughts that mess with sleep. It’s not necessarily anxiousness or extreme worry; it’s just the fact that we have A LOT on our plates.

I imagine the college years and beyond are a whole new level of “non-sleep,” which I’ll tackle when it comes! Sleep or no sleep, for now, I’ll take comfort knowing my kids are safe and sound under my roof. 

Our Sixth Sense

As parents, we will have many a late-night, including helping out with a school project or waiting for your new driver to return home from an evening out. Exhaustion that next day is entirely expected! 

Yet, there are the nights when I know that I sleep through the night and I’m still beat tired in the morning. I believe we always have an ear out or an eye open. Maybe a sixth sense or some subconscious intuitiveness. There is some deep-rooted sense that keeps us somewhat awake at all times and keenly aware of our surroundings. The subconscious feeling to safeguard our loved ones, even if we are not fully aware of what we are protecting them from. 

PSA for Sleep

In all seriousness. We. Must. Get. The. ZZZs! Sleep is crucial to our livelihood, and the lack thereof affects us being able to function. Consistent broken sleep is not healthy.   

Snooze while you can, ladies! Who knows when you’ll lose sleep due to a sick child, an overdue social studies project, needed emotional support, or…

…simply our innate sense to protect, advocate and worry about the wellbeing of our family at all times, which draws on our strength and energy, and therefore forces the continued pattern of our inherent tiredness.  

That is some heavy stuff! No wonder I’m hardly rejuvenated in the mornings and need to sneak in a catnap every afternoon! In fact…now’s a good a time as any…zzz!  

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Melissa Jacobowitz is a Bronx native who moved to Westchester County after she and her high school sweetheart got hitched in 1997. She and her husband live in Mount Kisco with their son Corey (b 2004) and daughter Mia (b 2007). Melissa spent many years working in Human Resources and currently works in enrollment and marketing for a child care organization. Melissa is a two-time survivor of Postpartum OCD. Melissa initially became interested in writing to raise awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but has discovered that writing is a newfound aspect of her life that she thoroughly enjoys. She was also a contributing writer with Suburban Misfit Mom and you can find her stories at Melissa is also a featured writer in the book “A Dark Secret,” which is a compilation of where 15 women share their stories of maternal mental illness from diagnosis to recovery. Melissa is excited to write with the Westchester County Mom team and hopes that you’ll enjoy her stories of the trials and tribulations of a born-n-raised city girl raising a teenagers growing up here in Westchester.