I used to take pride in how well I slept. But now, as a 33-year-old new father, I am proud no more.
I used to scoff at the 35.5 percent of American men who clocked less than seven hours of sleep a night, as the latest CDC numbers report. Who are these people who “can’t” sleep? These people who are at increased risk of heart disease and weight gain because they struggle to set a bedtime? I know now that these people are moms and dads, like my wife, Meghan, and I, who spent months after the birth of our first kid waking up every two hours to address his wails.
It was during this time warp that I called Men’s Health sleep advisor W. Christopher Winter, M.D., Ph.D., the author of The Sleep Solution. He helms the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine center, and he’s a father himself. I wanted to commiserate.
“Most new parents do not expect how much sleep they lose not only when they are trying to get the baby back to sleep, but also when they are trying to get themselves back to sleep,” Dr. Winter says. “It’s usually because there’s no plan. I call this ‘guerrilla sleep.’ ”
This led to flashbacks of late-night nursery raids in which Meghan and I, eyeblacked with dark circles, tried to incoherently give each other orders as the live grenade of a shrieking child flailed before us. Had we devised a pre-crisis attack plan, we might have fared better. Dr. Winter suggests dividing and conquering.
“Agree upon ‘on’ and ‘off’ shifts, ideally of about seven hours every other night,” he says. The “on” shifter, who takes on feeding responsibilities and the baby monitor, stays in a spare room, apart from the “off” shifter, who is only to be woken up for emergencies. Dr. Winter recommends separate rooms, if possible, with the goal of more restful collective sleep for the couple.
My son sleeps much better now, but there are still nights of terror. Something deeper within me has shifted, though. I no longer take as much pride in my own sleep as I do in my child’s.
Don’t tell Meghan, but most nights I don’t even mind a 2:00 a.m. teething-induced caterwaul. That means I can swoop in, scoop up my child, and soothe him until he rests his tiny cheek against my chest.
As I try to return to sleep myself, I implement one of Dr. Winter’s ideas: meditating on something calming. He had suggested mentally mapping out some relaxing weekend activities. Instead, I often think of my son, dreaming dreams of his own, and hope that I’m a part of them.