How Not to Sleep: A Spiritual Guide

not-sleepingThere is a healthy, beautiful newborn baby girl at our house. Glory Alleluia, y’all!

That being said …

Did you know that newborns sleep an average of 16-18 hours a day? Furthermore, have you been apprised of the fact that very few of these hours are consecutive? In addition, are you aware that newborns need to be fed approximately every two hours? (They’re kind of like adorable, significantly less hairy Hobbits in this regard.) Let’s do the math. That’s a lot of getting up at weird hours of the night for the person with the milk (read: me).

I love to sleep. I am (if I may be so bold as to brag) an awesome sleeper. When our first baby was born, the sleeplessness that comes with caring for an infant was a total shock to me … not because no one had ever told me about this delightful aspect of motherhood, but because I had absolutely no practice. I have never had insomnia. I don’t like to stay up late. For all I know a nocturnal tap-dancing mariachi band could have lived in the apartment above mine during my entire graduate school career and I would have been none the wiser. So, when our first child was born I had to learn how not to sleep. To be perfectly honest, the darling little person currently keeping me up at night is our fourth baby and I am still learning how not to sleep. I can tell you that learning how not to sleep — whether it’s because you are caring for a child or dealing with insomnia or living below the aforementioned tapping mariachis — is a spiritual endeavor. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Offer it up: As a convert, it’s taken me a while to understand the concept of offering up my daily struggles as a sort of spiritual gift to God. But here’s what I’ve come to: whenever I feel myself getting grumpy/feeling sorry for myself/staring with murderous disdain at my cup of decaf, I remember that I (a person whose life has had its fair share of epic moral fails) am the recipient of an extravagant and downright perplexing amount of grace. I remember that I am exhausted because I am blessed. I remember that the toddler racing through the living room in naught but a tiara and one cowboy boot, the smashed raisins spackled to the kitchen floor, and the laundry that is never (EVER) finished, are signs of God’s infinite goodness. I remember that it won’t forever be the case that I can fix most of the problems of my four favorite little people in the world with milk and cuddles and baby wipes. And when I remember these things, I feel thankful for those sleepless nights. They are precious. I can offer them back to God the way our 5-year-old son is forever offering me handfuls of violets and goldenrods. With great love.
  • Hail, Mary full of gra…: If your sleep is interrupted, why not use the time for prayer? Praying the rosary can help quiet a frenzied mind and it can also help give you the patience to tend to a wakeful little one. Don’t worry about whether or not you can finish saying your rosary (or even the first decade). A friend of mine with grown children once assured me that if you nod off in exhaustion before finishing your prayers, your guardian angel finishes them for you. Sounds good to me.
  • (Un)slumber party: Being up in the middle of the night can be lonesome. Pick a spiritual companion to intercede for you and keep you company on those sleepless nights. Find an image of your saint and place it near your bed. Nursing mamas like me might want to choose Our Lady of La Leche. If you have insomnia, try St. Peter Damian or St. Padre Pio who both suffered from insomnia. If you’re sleeplessness is caused by anxiety, try St. Dymphna. Also, remember that Jesus spent a sleepless night in the Garden of Gethsemane before his Passion. Tell him your worries and ask him to keep watch with you.
  • But seriously…: Learning how not to sleep CAN be spiritually fruitful, but … let’s be real … you need to sleep. Sleep is not optional … at least not long term. If you’re caring for a newborn, nap when the baby naps. If you’re dealing with serious insomnia or anxiety, tell your doctor. If the mariachis are playing all night upstairs, stop by with cupcakes and a friendly request that they find another rehearsal space. Sleep is a holy part of our day. I hope these ideas about finding holiness when sleep won’t come have been helpful!

Do you have any suggestions about how not to sleep? I’d love to hear them!