Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Economics of Sleep

If you have been curious about the recent lack of posting, please see the in-depth analysis below for a general synopsis of our past week or so.

Sleep works just like a bank for energy. Your body needs a certain amount to get by. That amount varies from person to person, and you must budget accordingly. One night you may get less sleep than you need, resulting in "sleep debt." You can repay it the next night or save it up for the weekend, paying it back all in one go. The best plan is to keep it balanced or even accumulate some savings. That being said, parents of young children have no savings. There is no extra energy in the bank. We spend as much as we earn, so when a heavy sleep expenditure comes along, we plunge headlong into debt. It can take days or weeks to undo the damage.

Currently, we are in a recession.

International travel across several time zones is bound to disrupt the internal clocks of even the hardiest travelers. Days and nights are spent trying to normalize, and the jet lag is always worse for small children who cannot force themselves into the new rhythm and instead adjust one hour per day. Our return visits from the States usually have a particular pattern. Bedtime is normal, with a night-time wake-up and playtime before sleep returns; nap times are long. The night waking and partying happens first at 3, then 2, then 1 and so on until we just start going to bed a bit later until the whole time difference is beaten. Of course, the problem with patterns is that children live to mix things up and keep parents guessing. The pattern didn't happen this time. There was no rhyme or reason to Ellie's waking and sleeping the first week after our trip back; instead, she and Markus (the super-duper-trooper Father of the Year who got up with her while Jennifer stayed in bed with baby Stephanie, who didn't have jetlag but rather has no sleep schedule at all) averaged 3-4 hours of sleep per night, with Ellie paying into her sleep deficit account with naptimes and earlier bed times than her papa. Last night was the first time she has completely slept through the night in over two weeks. Now the sleep deficit remains heavy on the parental side.

Debt is a heavy burden, and it requires regular repayments and upkeep for it not to worsen. Markus has been repaying his sleep debt unwillingly. Naps sneak up on him like demons while he's sitting on the couch or trying to watch a movie. Give him 5 minutes of peace and quiet and he is out like a light. Jennifer lies in bed each morning willing the clock to back up a few hours so she can catch some extra Zs. If we budget ourselves carefully and stick to a strict repayment schedule, we imagine we will be fully back on track just in time to move to Australia.

Oh dear.

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