I started this post yesterday but managed to delete it so thought I would rewrite it today. There’s a certain amount of irony in the timing of this post and what happened last night which can’t go unmentioned. For the last week Isaac has been sleeping from bedtime until 6am without waking up. By my reckoning, this is the first time in 5 years that I have had uninterrupted sleep for more than a night or two at a time. Of course, having typed that yesterday, last night Dan and I were up tag teaming from midnight until roughly 3am settling a very disturbed young man who then ended up in bed with us a few hours later anyway. But such is life, hopefully it wasn’t a freak stretch of sleeping through and he’ll return to that habit tonight! Anyway, I digress…
If you had told a childless me that I would be facing 5 years of disrupted sleep and varying degrees of sleep deprivation I simply wouldn’t have believed you. Society today tells us that babies should be sleeping through the night by 6 months and I certainly didn’t think that I’d be up regularly in the night with a 2 or 3 year old. But turns out, what popular culture likes to tell us is how things should happen and the actual reality of those expectations are miles apart. Having said that, to those that regularly sleep 8 hours without interruption and are feeling horrified at the prospect of that being disturbed for so long, sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep are two very different beasts. Neither are pleasant but the latter is definitely manageable.
The sleep deprivation that comes with newborns and times of illness, teething or developmental spurts is tough, no two ways about it. When it’s your first you can sleep when baby sleeps or at least rest but it’s not so easy when you have older children to care for. This sleep deprivation can leave you surviving on caffeine, with headaches, feeling depressed or unmotivated and falling asleep on the sofa by 8pm. Although I am so excited about baby number 3, I’m seriously a bit worried about how I’m going to manage in the early days with two very boisterous older children at home! I last experienced this sleep deprivation in July when a nasty tummy bug had me up numerous times in the night and barely sleeping for three weeks as first Sophia, then me and then Isaac suffered. At the end of the three weeks I told Dan that I was pretty sure I might have antenatal depression. I had no patience with the children, no motivation to do anything, felt no positivity towards anything or anyone, felt run down and was just absolutely exhausted. Dan gently suggested that it could be sleep deprivation. I was annoyed with him for not taking me seriously but a week later after some much improved (but still disturbed) nights I felt a million times better. I had energy to do my workouts and take the kids out, I felt enthusiastic about things and was generally all round brighter. It was then that I realised how much sleep deprivation can affect us.
In contrast, I personally find disrupted sleep annoying but doable. Up until she was almost 4 Sophia woke at least once (often twice) in the night, she would settle quite quickly but still required attention. Up until last week Isaac (coming up to 3) was waking between one and three times a night. Sometimes he wants water, sometimes he has fallen out of his (very low) bed, sometimes he wants a cuddle or to come into my bed and sometimes he’s obviously had a bad dream. Although it’s no fun dragging myself out of bed to go and soothe him, I find that as long as I get to bed at a reasonable hour, my sleep duration isn’t affected and although I’d much rather sleep straight for 8 hours, it doesn’t affect me too much the next day.
(An aside, when Dan is home he often goes to comfort Isaac in the night if he wakes first but he is away 1-3 nights most weeks and given that he is constantly managing his ME and is our wage earner, I think it makes more sense for me to get up where possible as at the end of the day, let’s face it, if I’m knackered in the morning, I can stay in bed reading books with the kids, cancel plans and if needed, resort to a bit of iplayer downtime!)
One of the things I hate though is the one upmanship that can come into play when it comes to sleep (and just about everything parenting related!) I remember talking about being tired when Sophia was a babe to have several mothers with more than one child telling me how easy I had it and to just wait. Just wait until you have more they said. Now I’m not saying they were wrong (!) but I am saying that this kind of comment is not in the least bit supportive or helpful. Neither is judging someone else’s lifestyle and how they could ‘solve’ their sleep issues (unless of course they’ve come to you asking for ideas or advice). Lack of sleep affects us all differently but it does affect us all. It doesn’t matter if we have one child or four, we’re still allowed to talk about how we’re feeling without it becoming a competition as to who is the most tired.
As parents we should be building each other up, supporting each other and sympathising through the tough times. Not telling us that it will just get worse or that we’re making too much of a big deal of it or probably worse of all, that somehow it is our fault. A cup of tea, a hug, a gentle reminder that this too shall pass. This is what is needed to parents who are suffering under the strain of not having enough sleep.
I’m not really sure what the purpose of this post is other than to maybe try and help eradicate the myth that babies should be sleeping through the night from a ridiculously young age. If your baby is still waking at night, it’s not your fault. I know there is a lot of research and articles out there looking at what natural sleep patterns are for babies and small children that supports what I’m saying but I’m not going to dig it all up right now. For one thing, it’s almost 9pm and I’m exhausted from last night and will be heading to bed very soon! But I just want to encourage anyone who needs it that this really won’t last forever, to go easy on yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. I could wax lyrical about how the sleep deprivation is worth it for their beautiful smiles, heart meltingly cute mispronunciations and general loveliness but that goes without saying. Not getting enough sleep sucks. End of. So snatch the extra minutes in bed when you can and do what you need to do to keep going. We’re all in this together.