How this Panda Mom Went Off Sleeping Pills

It was so insidious.  I needed to get some precious rest when my babies were asleep at night, but my sleep pattern had gotten so disrupted during my seasons with newborns that I could no longer fall asleep on my own. So, how harmful is a little Tylenol PM, right?

I took one little pill my first night and was knocked out. Welcome, sleep! As long as the kids continued sleeping until morning, that is.  If they fussed at 2 or 3AM, I myself couldn’t going back to sleep.  I tried popping another pill at that hour, but it left me groggy all morning.  No worries — nothing that a good cup of coffee can’t fix!

After taking Tylenol PM a few more times, I noticed that it wasn’t as effective as it once was, so I upped the dosage.  Then after a while, that wouldn’t work as well either, so I upped it some more…until I quickly reached my max.

I tried a few other options such as Ambien and Codeine.  I only used Ambien for a short while, because I read about weird things that people did while sleeping: walking, driving, eating, and shopping.  I myself reportedly had a full telephone conversation from Japan with my husband and kids back home which I totally could not remember.

This went on for several years.  I didn’t take a sleeping pill every night, but it did concern me that I was needing an increasing amount and that I was — gulp — starting to form a habit.

My true wake-up call happened one weekend when I attended a women’s retreat with my church.  I was in a cabin with about 8 other women, and at bed time we were all popping Tylenol PM like they were M&Ms!  While I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one with sleeping issues, it woke me up to the fact that I, along with about half of humanity, had become dependent on sleep aid.

So I decided to quit cold turkey.  Here’s how I did it:

1.  I increased my physical exercise routine

I began taking classes at the gym which were not only more fun but also pushed me much harder than working out by myself.  I would collapse into bed at night from utter physical exhaustion.  I used to work out (er, dawdled) about three times a week, but I upped it to five or six.  I also liked the effect that it had on my bathroom scale.

2.  I took steps to lower my stress level

Mental exhaustion has the opposite effect of physical exhaustion: stressful thoughts keep me awake at night!  I was volunteering at my kids’ school and at church but was facing some difficult circumstances which often kept me up at 3AM.  All this for zero pay?  I did a complete reassessment of how I was using my time and energy.  If things could be pruned, then I prune I would.  It was hard for me to let go of my many activities, but I just kept my goal on one thing: sanity.  With less stress, I was able to sleep more.

3.  I cut out all caffeine after noon

I was in denial for so long about the effect caffeine had on me.  When I stopped all caffeine intake after my two cups of coffee in the morning and iced tea at lunch, the difference was dramatic.  Hello, sleep! And this time, all clean!

These days, I usually (9 out of 10 nights?) have no trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.  Sometimes my husband’s snoring wakes me up in the middle of the night, but I poke him to turn over and am able to quickly fall back asleep.

A good night’s rest is a tremendous gift, and I’m very grateful for it everyday and night.

Jesus said, 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30 NIV)

So, tell me — do you have sleep issues?  What do you do about it?

Sleep Deprivation and Its Consequences

Meg and Josh, alive and well today and above ground at a cemetery.

Before I begin this post, I just want you to rest assured that my kids are still breathing and somehow managed to make it through infancy with a Panda Mom like me. It’s amazing that I also made it alive through the long, tortuous period of sleep deprivation. How do other parents do it?

My firstborn was finally out of the newborn phase, now a plump 3-month old. I was starting to get the hang of this new season in my life known as motherhood and getting used to sleeping in 90-minute chunks…sort of. Josh, being a slow and inefficient nurser, demanded a 30-minute feeding session every two hours. He also contractually demanded that I be sitting up while I fed him rather than lying down, which precluded me from drifting to sleep while nursing (which, mercifully, Meg allowed me to do when she was born two years later, but that’s another post). At least I learned the sprinkling system pattern at our apartment complex and when the newspaper was delivered each morning in the wee hours.

“I can do this mom thing,” I said confidently to myself as I hoisted the loaded car seat into the back of my Toyota 4-Runner. I opened the garage door to welcome in the sunny Southern California morning. I strapped myself into the driver’s seat, and I even touched up my lipstick in the rear view mirror which reflected a just-fed, sleeping bundle of joy. I figured I had about an hour to run my errands. I turned on the ignition and put my car in reverse.


The loud noise of two cars colliding startled me out of my momentary peace, and I turned around to witness something really, really horrible:

I had backed into my husband’s Acura Integra.

“Why did he park his car there?!” was my first reaction. Then I realized that I didn’t bother looking beyond my baby in the rear view mirror. “How am I going to explain this one?” was my next thought. I got out of the car to examine the damage, which looked extensive on both ends. Time to call 21st Insurance.

“You’ll be surprise to know that this occurs more often than you think,” the insurance agent reassured me on the phone. While that helped alleviate the pain and embarrassment of this incident just a little, it still was a costly mistake. I told them that I could sue the other driver, but this agent had no sense of humor.

I read on AAA Foundation’s website a sobering fact: “Some studies have found people’s cognitive-psychomotor abilities to be as impaired after 24 hours without sleep as with a BAC of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal limit for DWI conviction in all US states.” We are drunk with sleep deprivation! Maybe those obnoxious “Baby on Board” signs on cars are really there to warn everyone around them that a mom is driving under the influence of no sleep.

Translated: Warning! Mom has not slept in 3 months!

Okay, you might be mortified to know what an idiot this Panda Mom could be. But maybe some of you have a story that can top mine. Would you please share it in the comments here below to help me feel a little better about myself? Thank you.