Sleeplessness is a Battle
“Before sunrise, he’s your son”.
A line from The Lion King that hit a particular nerve this morning as I blinked through bleary eyes looking like a missing member of KISS with my panda eyes and forgotten eyeliner. As new parents, we’ve all seen them. The memes about sleep deprivation:
- “The last time I slept well” above the sonogram picture
- The Tired Mums Club
- the video of the mum rocking the bouncer on the floor while she cradles her sleeping newborn in her arms
...and yet, we are so unprepared for it. While the memes are amusing and I feel like I can identify with all of them, at 3:43 in the morning, they don’t seem so cute. The reality of sleep deprivation is so much darker than social media and films would have us believing – there’s a reason why it’s used as a form of torture.
Sleep deprivation is so much more than falling asleep at your laptop or halfway (LOL. More like 5 minutes) into a film. Coffee is great but all it does is keeps your eyelids open…just. Don’t get me wrong, I love my morning brew and if I weren’t breastfeeding, I’d seriously consider dropping a small fortune on a fancy machine to feed my habit. But coffee simply keeps us ticking over – it’s survival juice.
What no one talks about is the way that sleep deprivation makes you mentally vulnerable. It strips us of our mental gatekeepers and leaves us vulnerable and susceptible to dark and negative thoughts. It also feeds the “Guilty Mum” cycle:
Sleep deprivation leads to impatience and being short-tempered which leads to being snappy which then leads to guilt which leads to negative thoughts which can lead to anxiety which can lead to sleep deprivation (seriously) and so the cycle goes.
If you’ve found yourself awake at 3:23am frantically Googling “why won’t my baby sleep” or “will I ever sleep again”, then you are not alone. So, from one caffeine-soaked, sleep-deprived parent to another, here are some of my survival tricks. I’m still not getting a full night’s sleep, but I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so that’s something.
"Sleep when the baby sleeps” is harder than it sounds.
There needs to be a word that describes the sheer panic that is felt by parents when they are overwhelmed with what to do whilst baby sleeps. When H was just a nugget, I remember spending her entire 2 hour nap flitting from the laundry, to the sofa, to her, to the bathroom unable to decide on whether I should get things ticked off of my to-do list or try to sleep or shower. At the end of that nap, I had absolutely nothing to show for it and I remember feeling overwhelming frustration. I have found this to be one of the hardest parts of parenthood – compromising. It’s time to give up the plate-spinning business. For the sake of your mental health and your relationships, give it up. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that you can’t fill someone else’s cup, if yours is empty.
I can picture my husband’s face when he reads this. He has to remind me of these truths on a daily basis.
Some days you will write a short story, wash, dry, and fold 32 loads of laundry and make a cheese soufflé while baby naps and other days you will nap while baby naps. Both of those should be considered successes. Last Saturday, the big boys were home and baby J had woken at 6 which meant that he was ready for a nap at 8. We put a film on for the Big Js and H, put baby J down for a nap and then went for a nap ourselves. It felt scandalous and I loved it and I was a better parent for it.
Download an Audiobook
Weird one, I know, but in the early days when Baby J’s sleep pattern was anything but a pattern, an audiobook was my saving grace. Those early morning hours can be some of the loneliest hours and knowing that I had a good mystery book waiting for me, made the wake up marginally easier. Marginally. At first, I made the mistake of downloading something intellectual and ended up putting myself back to sleep. Coming to grips with the psychology of a toddler makes for fascinating listening during the day, but at 4:21am it’s doing nothing except ushering in the sandman. A crime novel kept me interested and there were times when Baby J had happily gone back to sleep and I was still sat there trying to solve the case.
Download “Precious Little Sleep” on your phone or device so that you can refer to it at all hours. This book saved my life and the lives of my babies. I can’t recommend it enough.
Technology and Tricks
You know the sleep tricks already. Dark room, white noise, routine, swaddling…these methods are recommended for a reason. They may not all work for you but they’re honestly worth a try. Plus, technology these days has made life so much easier. The amazing SNOO Bassinet does pretty much everything except feed your offspring but I’m sure, given some time, that’ll be a feature in the future.
We’ve found white noise to be a winner with Baby J which is easily sorted on Spotify or the Alexa but if you don’t want your entire shuffle playlist completely monopolised by rainbow sounds, then a Moonie Humming Friend is the one for you. If you have yourself a little sprog who falls asleep beautifully if they’re being pushed in the pushchair or bounced or patted but you’re at a point where you’re just 7 pushes away from producing The Rock-style biceps, then it may be time to look into purchasing a Rockit portable rocker. This little bad boy attaches to the pushchair and keeps rocking long after your arms have stopped. There’s a reason why this little gadget has won awards.
If you ever find yourself awake at 4:33am and you can hear the birds start chirping (which can be one of the most depressing sounds ever when it starts to dawn on you that the day is just about to start and you’ve had 28 minutes sleep and you’re wondering how on Earth you’re going to make it through the day let alone be the fun and energetic parent you thought you’d be) just know that you’re not alone. Drop me a message on Instagram. Chances are good, I’ll be awake too and we can be lonely and sleep deprived together. No matter how bad it gets, I promise it does get better. You will find yourself trying to unlock the house door with your phone and you’ll find your sunglasses in the fridge, but I promise it’ll get better.