The One with Hyper-Vigilance (Why Moms are Always Tired)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I finally found the true and scientific reason why I am SO TIRED ALL THE TIME, even despite working out and eating better (which has definitely helped, but I still crash every single night as soon as my head hits the pillow!) It's called HYPER-VIGILANCE and I found this enlightening article here:

Here's the real reason why mothers are so exhausted #mother #parenting #children
Mothers of young children – particularly stay-at-home moms – tend to get a bad rap. Why doesn’t she do her hair more often? She seems to have a disproportional amount of yoga pants. I’m not sure why she refers to herself in third person. Sure, mothers may sleep a little less and be busy at home during this season, I have another theory on why we can be so tired even when it seems (to the outside world particularly) like we never do much of anything. Why are moms so tired? I have a theory on that.

It is this. Hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance is defined as an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hyper-vigilance denotes a constant scanning of the environment for threats, exhaustion, and abnormally increased awareness (source).

Normally, this term is used in clinical settings. In this post I’m using the term to draw a parallel to parenting. So, for parents, hyper-vigilance is basically being in a heightened state of awareness, fight-or-flight and protection mode on behalf of our children who are too young to do it for themselves properly, if at all.

Fight-or-flight - Fight-or-flight occurs when someone perceives a threat of danger and experiences physiological symptoms that will help them to fight or flee. Anxiety and worry are basically heightened states of awareness. If you are anxious, then it’s almost as if your body is in a low-level state of fight-or-flight. So, how does this concern us? Well, by the time our children are mobile, and perhaps before, they begin to explore their environments. Things that were seemingly safe, like a chair, suddenly become opportunity for big falls. Functional things like toilet cleaners or food processors become objects of potential disaster.

Even after a house is “child-proofed” there will still be many times when your young ones will attempt something (even if they only attempt it once) that is dangerous to them. Since they don’t register this danger, we do. It’s How Mothers Save Lives. Therefore, even when we are sleeping we are aware. One child is out of sight and quiet. Oh. No. Jimbo is halfway up the bookshelf and attempting a Batman-about-to-fly pose. Daisy Mae is trying to lock her 1-year-old brother in the dark pantry. When we are in charge of little ones we are constantly in high awareness. Physiologically, this is exhausting.

Less time to yourself - Spending all day focusing on other people is just very tiring. It is a privilege to be a mother and a joy to sacrifice, but the effects do accumulate. From sun up to sun down you are directly focused on others. Up until motherhood you’ve likely had much of the day to yourself. Even in a 9 to 5, while working, you can go to the bathroom alone. Get a coffee or diet coke when you so desire. Phone calls can be made without worrying that a sudden screech or disconnection will occur. Commutes to and from work offer time to process, read a book or relax.

The commute from your bed to the kitchen table is slightly too short to be of good use. Even with well-behaved children and a good routine (both of which I maintain and greatly encourage) you are still focused on the kids. That is your job. It is good and right, but dadgummit, it is exhausting. This is why I advocate a good routine in place for you to process (read the post on that here).

Multi-tasking takes its toll - I am a multi-tasker to the extreme. Why do one thing if I can 6 and plan another in my head at the same time? When I walk from one room to the other I put away 3 things in the process. I will make a phone call, change a diaper and hold a baby at the same time. This is helpful in that it allows us to accomplish many things at once. It is unhelpful when it means we are so busy that we do not relax and rest. (I’ve recently stopped multitasking and here’s why).

If you are like me (and I really hope for your sake that you aren’t) then you find it hard to slow down, smell the coffee or roses, and not worry about the state of the house, the children’s faces or the laundry room. It seems to sprite girls in their early 20’s (and men of all ages) that women who are at home all day should not be tired and have no excuse for a dirty house. Or to not have perfectly coiffed hairdo. Oh and nails to match each day’s outfit. The simple fact is that the pressures of home are many and they are heavy.

Even still… - I advocate routines and schedules independent play for your children, and a good sleeping systemfor everyone involved. Still, with all these things in place, a busy life and never-ending piles of laundry, stacks of dishes, and food to cook can wear us out. The next time someone looks at you with that “why do you seem so out of it when you are home all day?” look, just smile to yourself and know.

You are tired because none of your children drank bleach on your watch today. You are weary because everyday last week you made sure your little ones had food in their bellies, even if it wasn’t mostly organic and preservative free. You could use a nap because the house has not burned down and the walls are still upright, though perhaps with crayons, markers or fingernail polish you forgot to lock up.

No matter how organized, efficient and structured you are as a mother and no matter how obedient and well-behaved your children, being a mother to young ones requires focus, concentration and a heightened sense of awareness. It makes us tired. But, when I’m 95 on my deathbed sleeping half the day away and bored, I think I’ll look back on these trying days with a smile. Because that’s what mothers do. We do what needs to be done.

It all makes perfect sense! Now please excuse me while I go take a nap :)


  1. This is perfection! I can totally relate!!!!

  2. Excellent post and point. I felt that way for years. It does get better though. My guys are 13 and 15 now and I'm finally able to relax a bit.

    I think the biggest stressor is the multi-tasking. Just let some of it go. It will all get done and it's better for you to not try and do it all at once. The bonus is that you do a better job and enjoy yourself more doing one thing at a time. ;)

  3. Couldn't have said it better Paige! Thanks for sharing!

  4. seriously!!! this is totally it!!! glad you posted, makes me feel like I'm not the only one..

  5. This makes a lot of sense. I remember doing a 15 minute "kid check" for years and years while you kids were little. Every 15 minutes (or less) I HAD to know where each of you kids were. In my mind I would picture you in your room, Eric at a friend's, Allison next to me (or wherever you all were) and I'd ascertain if everything was ok. It usually was. Then, in 15 minutes, I'd do it all over again. I'm pretty sure this was an unconscious act, and it was completely out of my control. But you kids were the most important thing in the world to me and I HAD to know. . . Yup! It's exhausting.

  6. This makes SO much sense! Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I was smiling while reading this superb post, as I completely agree. And imagine what happens when, as you, you are a mom in a foreign country (no family to help you) and on top of it, you work 9h outside home...
    CHAOS!! And 4-5 sleep hours per day...
    Thank you for sharing!


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