Bartering Sleep

Moms complain about not getting enough sleep. It’s just what we do. I don’t know even one mother who isn’t tired at least some of the time – either tired from months (or years) of sleep deprivation, tired from trying to keep up with her kids and their energy, or just plain tired of not having more than a few minutes to herself here and there.

It’s that last one that fuels the rest of it.

asleep in the car seat

Duh, mom. When you’re tired, sleep.

The someecards collection is full of pithy quips for moms about how solo grocery shopping counts as “me” time and peace and quiet is only found in the bathroom (and often not even then). So we take those moments when we find them, even if we have to lock the door to keep our beloved children out to do it, and continue our pursuit of time to ourselves by sacrificing that most cherished of commodities: sleep.

I know some parents who can function on very little sleep and so can quite handily go to bed late and still be fine when their offspring disturb their slumber. I’m not one of them. I need sleep – the undisturbed, drool-on-the-pillow-and-wake-up-when-I’m-damn-well-ready kind. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I haven’t had enough of that in the last four-and-a-half years.

Unfortunately, this need for quality sleep is at odds with another one of my primary requirements for sanity, which is to have a decent amount of time to myself. And so, like so many other mothers, I sacrifice one for the other.

sleeping baby with owl hat

Even little night owls need to sleep sometimes.

Even now, with a three-month-old baby I have to get up with at least two or three times a night, I often choose me time after bedtime. Before Ethan was born — before I was pregnant with him, even — I was the type who called it a day somewhere around 10 p.m. My routine usually included a good stretch of time reading in bed but, even so, if I saw the clock click over to 11 it was a rare thing indeed. Now, despite having both a preschooler who gets up early and the aforementioned night-waking infant, I have to force myself to go to bed at 11 or live with the regret in the morning.

And it’s still not enough. It’s not enough sleep and it’s not enough time to do my own thing. But I’m not alone in my pursuit of the elusive balance.

Judging only by the number of pithy, sleep-related jokes I see shared on Facebook I would know I’m not the only mom making the choice to stay up past my bedtime. But I’ve also had this conversation with several friends, all of whom bemoan the fact that they need more sleep than they get while admitting they stay up too late just to have the time to themselves.

Sure, sleep begets sanity, but what good is sanity if you’re not awake to appreciate it?




  1. Such a good post! You just described my life exactly. I’ve never articulated it so well before though; thanks for doing it for me Robin! x x

  2. I am one of those who sacrifice sleep for me time. I just can’t get to bed unless I know I’ve had my fill of time where there isn’t someone hanging off me, yelling/ calling me for something they need, or cleaning the never-ending crumb-saga, cooking endless meals for everyone and seeing to the daily laundry pile.

    I just need time for me and that’s when everyone else is happily drooling on their pillow. So, yes, sleep. I only get about 4-5 hours and I feel okay but I know that it’s because my body as adapted. If I let myself, I may sleep for a week.

  3. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just catch some zzzs when our bodies tell us too like little kids do. Just seeing the photos posted on FB like yours above with a child zonked out in their carseat brings out jealousy. It does get easier as they get older though. Of course, the next problem is trying to break up the bad sleep habits you picked up when they were little but trust me…you can and will break them.

    • I so wish I could just fall asleep during the day when I need to. But it’s so hard, even if I have the opportunity. But I expect that when they’re older and I feel like my time is more balanced I will do better at the sleep thing too.

  4. I remember when I was just newly pregnant my friends with children, and mom, telling me that I would never ever sleep the same again.
    They were right. As a mom sleep will never come the same. We are up with every sound, we worry, we’re the ones who get drinks, change sheets, rock babies, fix colds.
    And, I’ve been told, even when they move out, the sleep doesn’t come.
    There are new worries.

    • Yeah, great. :) It’s funny, though. I can actually sleep through Connor getting up (because I know Rich hears him). But I’m totally attuned to Ethan now. Moms’ ears are weird.

  5. My kids do NOT like sleeping. I can count, on one hand, the number of times the 3 year old has slept through the night and probably two hands for the almost-5 year old. Their best stretch is from bedtime until around midnight.

    Yet most times I am up until then (or later,) then sleeping in fitful sprints between wake-ups. I know it’s bad sleep, and I want to do better, but I also NEED that time to recharge in other ways.

    (So basically a long winded comment to say, yes, I get this. Times a million.)

    • Oh, Ang. It’s so tough. Connor finally started sleeping well (and good timing, too) and I’m so, so relieved. But yeah, even with Ethan up at night I need the time in the evening too.

  6. I used to sacrifice sleep until it caught up with me. Great topic!

  7. You speak truth woman! And you didn’t even get into sleep vs orgasm. A different conversation for women and men I know, but I have learned in 13 years of marriage that sex is a key ingredient for our happiness and communication. Even knowing that, I’ll usually vote for sleep. And sleep vs exercise, and sleep vs … oh, so many things!

  8. Oh honey, you are NOT alone. I do the exact same thing. Stay up too late, regret it in the morning, and then repeat it all again the next night.

  9. Marie-Eve says:

    It’s a cycle for me. I get super tired, go to bed early for a few days, catch up on a little sleep and then spend time for myself or with Greg staying up too late…!

    • I need to do that – go to bed early some days and catch up. I tried last night but I had my computer in bed and was still up too late. Whoops.

  10. Oh boy, do I get this. I am often up way too late because I sacrifice sleep over me time. It’s also easier to get work finished once everyone else is asleep, not hanging on me or asking a billion questions. But aside from that? I still need that me time to recharge.

  11. Love this, Robin! Especially the last line. I can relate completely. I love to sleep, but I crave – CRAVE – my downtime.

  12. Oh how I get this.

    I do sacrifice sleep for me time, but damn do I ever miss my sleep!

  13. YES. I am ALWAYS tired, always. I make it a point to get everything I can ready for the morning so I don’t have to do a bunch of stuff to get out the door for school, but I am never ready for that alarm at 6:15. AND YET. I do go to bed later than I should. On weeknights, I know that if I’m not in bed by 10:15, I will regret it in the morning, but I don’t go to bed a minute before most of the time.

    • Before I was on mat leave I used to try to get stuff ready the night before too, but sometimes I didn’t even manage that because I’d get distracted on the computer, etc. Vicious cycle.

  14. Vacation was wonderful because I had that chance for me time and precious sleep. Now that we are back from the holidays, I am sacrificing sleep for me time even if it’s just to read a book.

  15. I’m one who will give up sleep for me time, every time. It’s not unusual for me to see 2 or 3 in the morning, even knowing that I have to be up at 6:45 to wake up the cherubs and get them ready for school. It seems like every day I say to myself, “tonight I will go to bed earlier”, but when night time comes and the kids are tucked into bed, I have so many things that I want to do while I’m not being needed constantly, that I stay up way too late again. It’s a vicious cycle, and I do miss sleep, but I would miss my alone time even more!

  16. Robin, this is my life. Since my kids stopped napping, I have NO me time until they go to bed, and that’s when I also do my freelance writing, blogging, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errand running, or even QT with my husband. I’ve found myself not even considering turning my light out until midnight. If I get in bed, I’m reading on my phone or maybe even an actual book, and if it’s 11:45, I think “Hey! I have 15 more minutes!” That coupled with the fact that 1 child comes to crawl into bed with me each night, her twin sister comes looking for her, and the 2 year old cries out randomly all night….well I am severely sleep deprived.

    In other words, I can relate!

    • Being a mom is so tough. Quiet time for the 4-year-old saves my sanity sometimes (except for the constant yelling downstairs asking if quiet time is over).

  17. Yep, I’m also guilty of this! I will stay up until midnight if it means a couple of hours of quiet.

  18. Hope you get some more sleep soon :) Sleep deprivation is the pits!

  19. I sacrifice sleep for “me” time pretty often. It’s not that I necessarily WANT to be sleep deprived, but I have to have that time to myself to unwind and clear my head. I usually only give myself an hour, but it’s better than nothing.

    • I sometimes wish I could draw the line and go to bed when I intend to, but I often don’t. But that’s just it – I need to clear my head.

  20. Ha, yes! I frequently choose “me” time over sleep time, even though I should not. But, like you, I need both in my life to have (keep?) my sanity. Especially since my daughters have historically never been good sleepers!!!

  21. Here I am at 4:30 AM up with sick little ones, after finally getting enough downtime just 2 hours prior. Seeing this blog made me VERY relieved to know i’m not the only one. It easily became a vicious cycle after my husband left for work since Jan 10th (not back until Mar 3rd). Living in a small town, where you know no one eventually makes you scream inside for you time. Then you end up moody from lack of sleep, say/do things you regret, swear you’ll go to bed on time this night, but after yet another long day………..

    • Yep, exactly. And wow – Jan 10 to March 3? I’m not sure I could do it all on my own for that long!

      • I literally have to “Grin and Bear it” some days. The adult in me knows he’s our breadwinner, and i’m very lucky to be able to stay home with my girls. but the sulker in me wants alone time 😀

  22. I’m a gay dad, but you’ve described my predicament perfectly. I’ve learned to get by on five, maybe six hours a night. Sometime four, but not for long. Still, I find myself nodding off on the couch, and waking up at four in the morning.


  1. […] Robin of Farewell Stranger poses this dilemma universally shared by tired mothers the world over in Bartering Sleep, in which she struggles to reconcile her need for more shut-eye with her cravings for more downtime […]

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