Friday, June 26, 2009
Photo credit: "At the end of a very long day" by KitLKat on flickr
There was some banter the other day on twitter comparing sleep with sex. I'm not sure if it originated with or ended with Ann Douglas, but the conversation at some point came around to the intro to her book Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler and Preschooler: The Ultimate No-Worry Approach for Each Age and Stage (Mother of All Solutions), which says:
Sleep is a lot like sex. If you're not getting it as much as you'd like, it can become a bit of an obsession. Suddenly, all you can think about is when you last had it, how great it felt when you had it, and what you can do to get some again.
Sounds logical. Maybe sleep is like sex in the way that Ann described. In terms of our obsession with it. And maybe that is where the discussion ends. But as someone that uses analogies a lot and that once wrote an hour long presentation comparing web content with food, I tend to follow the analogy down a path and see if it continues to work.
Let me explain.
Sex makes us happy. Sleep makes us happy. Lack of sex makes us cranky. Lack of sleep makes us cranky.
If you have a newborn baby in your house, you may be starved for sleep. If you are the spouse of a woman who recently pushed a baby out of her vagina you may be starved for sex. If you are starved for sleep or starved for sex, then you might, as Ann explained, be obsessed with it, be thinking about when you last had it, how great it felt when you had it, and what you can do to get some again.
So what can you do to get some again?
First of all, it is important to recognize that it is normal for newborns to not sleep through the night and it is normal for women to not be interested in sex right after having a baby. It is also a reality that some babies are ready to sleep through the night earlier than others are, just as some women are interested in sex earlier than others are. And we like to compare. Why does her baby sleep through the night and mine doesn't? Why is his wife dragging him into bed every night and mine has no interest in sex?
If you are on the losing end of that equation, you are probably trying to figure out what you can do to get some more. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to deal with that. If someone is obsessed with sex, it is appropriate for them to use gentle, loving, techniques to try to convince a partner to have sex. It is not appropriate to use force to get someone to have sex with you. It is also not particularly respectful to complain and push, complain and push, complain and push with intermittent reminders that you love the person until that person finally gives in. Same with sleep. If someone is obsessed with sleep, it is appropriate to use gentle, loving techniques to try to get your baby to sleep so that you can get more sleep too. It is not appropriate to force a baby to sleep using methods like the extinction method of cry it out. It also isn't particularly respectful to say you have to sleep now and I'm going to let you cry for a bit, remind you that I love you, let you cry for a bit more, remind you that I love you, and then let you cry some more again until you finally go to sleep (otherwise known as graduated extinction).
But it is different too. Sleep is a necessity. We need sleep to live. Sure, many of us can get by with less than desirable amounts of sleep, with constant interruptions to our sleep, but we do need it. We don't need sex in the same way. We desire it, it is healthy, sometimes we want more of it and sometimes we want less of it. We may be obsessed with it, but we can survive without it. Does that make it okay to use force or disrespectful techniques to get sleep? I'll let you decide for yourself. But for me the answer is a very clear and unequivocal no.
There are countries where it is appropriate, accepted, and normal for a husband to force his wife to have sex. They would call it normal, a wife's duty. We don't think that is acceptable. There are also countries where it is appropriate, accepted, and normal for parents to use cry it out to force their children to sleep. They call it normal, a parenting choice. I don't buy it. Just as we need to challenge cultures, religions, regimes that allow women to be disrespected in that way, I believe that we need to challenge cultures, religions and regimes that allow babies to be disrespected in that way. (note: this paragraph was rephrased to remove a word that some found offensive and clarify that I was referring specifically to cry it out).
Whether we are talking about sleep or sex, I conclude that a gentle, loving approach the best way to get it. It is the humane way to get it. It is the respectful way to get it.