world sleep day 2023

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“Once upon a time there was a woman who slept through the night. And then she got pregnant. The end.”

If you chuckled knowingly at this, chances are, you are a parent. Don’t ask me how “she got pregnant”. The point is, motherhood is synonymous with poor sleep.

Since World Sleep Day is celebrated in the same month as International Women’s Day, it’s a timely reminder for women, especially mums, to prioritise sleep just as much as their achievements at work and at home. After all, sleep is a fundamental physiological need that we, urbanites chasing esteem and self-actualisation, are unfortunately far from fulfilling.

Due to the gender gap, women have been reporting poorer sleep than men since forever. It is not so much about the number of hours spent in bed than it is about the quality of sleep. Large-scale studies (like this) have shown that even though women clock more minutes of sleep than men on the whole, they are a lot more likely to have interrupted sleep due to caregiving reasons, such as tending to young children. We know that waking up multiple times in the night leads to feelings of fatigue and sleep dissatisfaction. Short of ignoring maternal instincts to comfort their child, feed them, change diapers, and do whatever else needs to be done (because very often, their sleeping husbands are dead to the world), what are mums supposed to do to get better sleep?

As a mum of two who co-sleeps with my 4-year-old and a husband who dozes off at the stroke of 10pm (before my kids, let me add), I have come to accept my night duty for the foreseeable future, which includes getting the kids ready for bed, reading bedtime stories, reminding them about the importance of sleep and horrendous consequences of a sleep deficit (like I need to hear more of that)… and being on standby for nightmares, bed roll-offs, and other unexpected events in the middle of the night.

I’m good with this night shift, on one condition: Come weekend, everyone in the house lets me sleep in. That’s my superpower, and it has worked so far because my kids are able to accept this reasoning: “Mummy is tired and needs to rest before I can take care of you. So don’t wake me up unless the house is on fire, okay?”

To fellow parents who marvel at my sleep-in superpower, all I can say is that when sleep is my absolute priority on weekends and non-work days (and it has been, ever since I entered the gates of motherhood), guilt has no place in my life. As for my kids who are dying to talk to me or play with me? They’ll just have to wait till I’m up. To the experts who briskly point out that catching up on sleep wouldn’t negate the effects of sleep deprivation, I’d say, sure, but don’t dismiss the wonders of catching up on sleep. I’ve always woken up from a sleep-in feeling like a queen, ready to take on the world.

In light of World Sleep Day on March 17, The Weekly asked a threatened group – mums with young children – to share what they do for better sleep. Guess what? Having to deal with specific circumstances that are mostly out of their control, mums need to get creative. We got a mixed bag of responses, ranging from using side-lying breastfeeding positions to taking their kids outdoors to tire them out. One also shared that drinking water before bedtime helps! Something I aspire to do: getting both kids to share a room so that they can reach out for each other when they wake up.

I know, it’s easier said than done. For now, I’m celebrating every successful sleep-in and battle with revenge bedtime procrastination (a story for another day).

Have a good sleep tonight.

Estelle Low is the editor of The Singapore Women’s Weekly. She loves her kids unconditionally, but hates how parenting is a severely undervalued job. She thinks the world would be a better place if more mums open up about their struggles and ask for help. DM her on Instagram (@estellelow) if you have something to share.