Five Consecutive Hours of Sleep

I completed medical school, and half of a four-year residency, prior to the institution of work-hours regulations for trainees. What this meant was that students and residents were expected (required) to be in the hospital and caring for patients (and doing paperwork, and attending conferences, preparing/ presenting reports) for ridiculous stretches of time.


I recall getting up at 5 a.m. for ICU call shifts, only to leave at 6 p.m. the next day (Hello! 36+ hour shifts! Insanity!), and knowing I had to be up at 5 a.m. the morning after for a ‘normal’ 16-hour day. Call shifts were every 3 nights, with few days off. Maybe one or two Sundays a month. Sleep on-call? A rarity. In any case, it was nauseatingly painful to be asleep in the call room, and awoken by a pager (inevitable), or worse, by the code alert (frequent). Better to just be awake in the first place.


It was a well-publicized fatal medical error on the part of an overtired resident in New York City that was the impetus for the beginning of some limitations on consecutive hours worked, and some oversight of the schedules on trainees.


And so, to make a long story short, the hours changed somewhat. I was 2 years into a med-peds residency  when the new 80-hour workweek rules started. I don’t recall feeling too different, as the schedule just became infinitely more complicated. Calls were shorter, but more frequent, and the amount of work one was expected to complete during call was increased. This was a gazillion times worse for the surgery residents, who were, and still are, expected to lie about their work hours to the regulating organization so their program doesn’t get in trouble. (Verified by multiple residents at our prestigious hospital this past year.)


In short, anyone who has completed a residency has suffered major mega sleep deprivation.


I expected being a new parent to be somewhat similar, and I didn’t worry about it. Hey, if I survived FOUR YEARS of psychological and physical torture (of which sleep deprivation was only a small part), how bad can being a new parent be? … And with Babyboy, our first-born, it wasn’t that bad. I slept when he slept and everything was cheeky. AND he slept through the night at 3 months.


But this second baby is a doozy. She is not a colicky baby; she is pretty chill, and she does sleep, sometimes, but rarely for more than 2-3 hours at a time. She ‘fussles’ (fusses weakly) after feeds, unless she is held at a certain angle and patted on the bottom endlessly. She ‘snoozles’ (snores and sighs while snoozing) loudly when she does fall asleep, keeping me awake and on guard lest she awaken, fussling. And she does awaken, often.


We have tried gas drops, a sleep positioner, etc. And sometimes, she sleeps well. Problem is, this tends to be during the day, especially all morning, when Babyboy, our 20-month old, is awake and raring to go.


And so, Since Mid-December, I have only once had 5 consecutive hours of sleep. That once, which was last week, felt amazing!! I felt like a new person. I thought about going back to work early. I thought about writing my book.


That was a brief celebration. I am back to catching sleep in 30-minute to 3-hours shifts. This cumulative sleep deprivation has me basically almost insane. Hubby is a great help, but we have to be careful as he is back at work, and needs his brain. My mother is also a great help, watching Babyboy during the daytime. But I really need to be the one on the overnight shift.


In the grand scheme of things, this is better than residency. We chose this; she is a very cute baby; Babyboy is an adorable toddler; it is all worth it. It is a fulfilling endeavor.


Residency, on the other hand… don’t get me started. I am grateful to have had some decent training, but I could have done without the psychological torture. That experience will definitely be in a book, someday…


For now, I am glad I don’t need my brain too too much (except for some writing!) and I am glad that our Babies are happy and healthy. I can deal with this… for awhile longer.


Meantime, I dream of another 5 consecutive hours of sleep….

3 thoughts on “Five Consecutive Hours of Sleep”

  • I know I felt a lot better about myself and my trouble dealing with infant-induced sleep deprivation when a friend in my mom’s group, a doctor, said that this was way harder than residency, running an internal medicine ward, you name it. Your #2 sounds like my #2. Pleasant, but not willing to sleep in larger-scale chunks. For me, it seemed amazingly good since I was comparing it to my #1, who was not exactly collicky, but needed to be walked around for 20 min after every feeding, nightime included, and often needed to be re-settled multiple times, which made me afraid to go back to sleep, lest I need to jump out of bed again in 10 minutes. I was supremely thankful that I got my easier one second, even if it was “easy” only in comparison. I also gained mountains of respect for my mother, who I now know is one tough lady, doing all this with 3 kids and not thinking it was worthy of complaint.

    • It always helps to hear from other moms who have had similar experiences! And I agree, trying to go to sleep with a ‘precariously’ settled infant is similar to expecting a page in the middle of the night- in neither situation can I fall asleep. Babygirl often needs to be ‘resettled’ multiple times… Ir gets better though, right?

      • Yes, it gets better, thank heavens! (And better, and better… and I am at ages 7.5 and 4.5.) My older son had the “resettling” problem for about 3 months, if I recall correctly, and then it substantially improved. He got up every 2-3 hours until 6 months or so, but I could pretty much nurse him and put him back down after 3 months. It made a huge difference in how much rest I got out of my laying-down time. And he developed more of a pattern by 3 months, which allowed my body to develop a rhythm, which also helps a lot with rest.

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