Thursday, April 10, 2014



I’ve discovered firsthand how effective sleep deprivation can be as a torture method.  Before becoming a mother I prided myself on good sleeping habits.  I’m not embarrassed to say I slept 9-11 hours most nights.  Call me lazy, but I have no doubt it’s the single biggest reason I’ve looked ten years younger than my age the past two decades.  Those years caught up to me though since becoming pregnant and giving birth to triplets.

A sleep study in the United Kingdom reported that after a week of getting less than six hours of sleep a night they found changes in over 700 genes in their subjects.  Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  It also has serious affects on the immune system and your body’s ability to respond to stress.  The need for sleep varies between individuals, but it is recommended we should sleep an average of 7 to 8 ½ hours per night.

In another study, this one done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they found sleep is important for body restitution.  Similar to re-booting a computer, sleep helps the body with energy conservation, thermoregulation and tissue recovery.

My sleep deficit started a few weeks prior to having an emergency cesarean section at 24 weeks, six days (15 weeks premature).  I was hospitalized with a host of complications 19 weeks into my pregnancy.  I’m convinced nurses, God bless them, are taught in nursing school to never, ever let their patient sleep more than two hours at a time.

The hospital’s sleep torture was nothing compared to when my triplets came home after 13 ½ weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU).   Sleep became more precious than a Faberge egg.  My girls were on oxygen and wore heart monitors for the first few weeks they were home.   By the time I got all three fed and changed it was almost time to start all over again.  All too often one of their heart monitors would have a false alarm.  And wouldn’t you know it, it was always around 3 a.m.  On a good night I was lucky to get two separate 45-minute nighttime naps.  After a couple of months I was walking around like a zombie… a zombie prone to having fits of uncontrollable sobbing.  Other mothers of multiples I met through a support group assured me “this too shall pass.”  And eventually it did.

In my research I discovered after President George W. Bush’s administration was criticized for water-boarding detainees suspected of terrorism they switched to other methods, sleep deprivation being one of them.  A report in The Justice Campaign wrote that Guantanamo’s sleep deprivation torture was called Operation Sandman or Frequent Flyer Program.   Detainees were deprived sleep up to six days.  It went on to say sleep deprivation lasting more than 48 hours produces hallucinations.  An article in USA Today detailed how the CIA stepped over their bounds when trying to get information out of terror suspects after September 11th.

My daughters finally began sleeping through the night when they reached about seven months old... thanks to an Infant Sleep Trainer.  My husband called her “The Baby Whisperer.”  She was a Godsend.  She took care of the girls all night for several nights in a row.  She helped us get them on a feeding and sleeping schedule.  Soon after we hired her, my daughters were sleeping twelve hours a night from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  She was expensive, but worth every penny.  It was heaven after the hell my husband and I had been through.

Unfortunately we fell back into sleep purgatory when they were about 3 and ½ years old.  It seemed like overnight they became afraid of the dark, fearful of monsters in their room.  Especially Abby who is mildly developmentally delayed.  There were several weeks where I’d be woken up about every 90 minutes… up to five times a night.  My husband travels extensively for his job, so he would get at least a few nights of peace and quiet each week.  I, on the other hand, never got a break.  I tried everything I could think of to get them to let me sleep.  I got them a nightlight and said bedtime prayers.  I begged them and bribed them with stickers and treats even threatened to put them in a crib in their timeout room (our guest room).  Nothing worked.  It was hard to focus.  My work suffered, I was exhausted all the time.

Now several months later I'm managing, but still not getting enough sleep.  My wakeup visits decreased after I discovered a magical clock that looks like a traffic light.  When the red light is on they are supposed to stay in their bed.  A green light means they are allowed to get out of bed and come in Mommy and Daddy’s room.  It works about 2-3 nights out of the week.  Enough to keep my sanity and probably my job.

The most important thing I’ve learned through all of this is the need to take care of myself.  I now have no guilt giving my daughters electronics so I can take a decent nap on my days off, even if it means the laundry or dirty dishes have to wait.  I also have a girl’s weekend getaway planned for this weekend... the only item on the agenda is to relax by the pool.  I’m also looking at possible dates for a spa day.  By taking care of myself I will not only be a better mother right now, I will improve my chances of being there for my daughter’s until a ripe old age.  And the agony I’ve gone through the past few years will be a distant memory.

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