How to survive sleep deprivation as a parent

Ahh sleep deprivation! Something all parents know far too well. My first experience was in pregnancy, especially during my last trimester. I was SO uncomfortable, with a mixture of heartburn and restless leg syndrome making it almost impossible to get sleep, not to mention it taking hours just to get comfortable. Of course I still had silly comments like… “Get the most of sleep, it’ll be gone before you know it” – incorrect! At 35 weeks pregnant I felt like I had already said farewell to sleep.

After my beautiful boy was born, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Oliver slept through, that’s right… SLEPT THROUGH! He would maybe wake for a breastfeed at around 5am, but would sleep back through until around 9am, and boy did I brag about it. Obviously karma got the better of me because at around 4 weeks old his colic kicked in and it was “Adios, sleep!” and “Hola, sleep deprivation”. To put it bluntly: The. Child. Would. Not. Sleep. Yet, still I had people making stupid comments like “You look tired, you should sleep when baby sleeps” – assuming that said baby even slept? I remember thinking to myself “f*****g idiots”

Now at 2.5 years Oliver is slightly better with his sleep, I say slightly because last Sunday he had me up at 4am (ON MY ONE DAY OFF). I think all parents have experienced sleep deprivation at some point, and it’s a whole new level of tired because, although you’re exhausted, you still have this little human to care for (and I’m convinced Oliver has this way of sensing when I am shattered).

So here are some of my tips for surviving sleep deprivation with a little one:

  1. Forget the house work, if you have had a bad night with your little bundle of joy IF they nap, you nap too.
  2. Lazy days are a MUST. If both you and baby have had a rough night, a day with blankets, snacks and films are essential.
  3. know your limits, say no to people ” popping round ” Unless of course it’s a close friend or relative who is prepared to help said sleep deprivation
  4. IGNORE any comments on how tired you look. There is categorically no such thing as a perfect-looking sleep deprived parent – they’re a myth.
  5. Caffeine (unless you’re breastfeeding) – I have had and still have many a day where I can be seen clutching onto a coffee first thing in the morning, followed by an energy drink at lunch time to stop me crashing. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and a 7 hour shift with 3.5 hours sleep is no walk in the park, let me tell you!
  6. Accept any help. I’m fortunate that my sister is studying to be a SEN teacher, so she often offers to watch Oliver for an hour if I have had a bad night so that I can get some much needed shut eye (especially if I am having an endometriosis flare up/PCOS flare up)!

My final piece of advice is remember that sleep deprivation isn’t permanent. It does get better, and although you may feel like a complete Zombie right now, it will pass, and to put it bluntly (because I never have and never will sugar-coat parenting), you are not the only parent going through this. Anyone who says their child has always slept through the night is lying, all children go through a phase of not sleeping!

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What is this thing you call ‘sleep’?

Sleeping through the night… It is that one thing us parents all desire. Yet we still don’t feel refreshed when we finally get it.

It quite simply seemed to me that my baby was the one and only child that wasn’t sleeping through the night. Every parent I spoke to was telling me that their little angel was sleeping through.

I kept thinking come on! We can’t be the only ones, surely? There must be someone out there who feels my pain!!

I know for certain that I didn’t sleep through as a baby.
I know this because my mum likes to remind me of this constantly.
“You only stopped waking us in the night when you knew how to open the fridge…” So this is my come uppance for not letting her sleep for 3 years… Sorry mum!

We tried what felt like everything!
Playing soothing music, singing lullabies, reading at bed time, low lighting, rocking, figure of 8 rocking, extra naps in the day, dream feeding. We were encorporating each new idea into a routine which we meticulously stuck to each evening.

This is the one! This is gonna work…

Nope.

…just as you are in a nice deep slumber the bear stirs and wakes from her den. The crying feels like pure torture as you wake. Your eyes can hardly open. You feel startled and confused trying to maneouvre yourself safely through the dark, headed straight towards the commotion. Not knowing if you will be in the den for 5 minutes or an hour. What fate awaits you?

Will this bottle of milk be enough for you? Where’s your dummy? Has it fallen behind the cot? Is it colic? Are you teething? Where’s the calpol?! We need calpol up in here, stat!

Back to square one.
What is going on?!

One evening we thought we would try the old ‘cry it out’ method in desperation and it was quite possibly the worst night ever. Our daughter screamed and screamded while I sat and cried in the next room. I felt absolutely rotten. It just wasn’t for us.

That’s it. We’ll just have to try letting her sleep in our bed, but only on this one occasion we thought.
But it never is ‘just the one time’ though is it? And then she’s loving the bed.
She’s loving the entirety of the bed…
…and we’re falling off the edges of the bed.
Right, that’s it, change of plan.

But then, one night completely out of the blue she started sleeping through! I don’t know what happened.
It’s amazing!
Eureka!
It’s a trap. It’s got to be. It’s too good to be true!
You feel elated. You quite honestly feel as though you’ve never had it so good. This sleep is pure gold. Your birthday and Christmas have come at once.
Rock and roll, people.

You’ve built this moment up. There’s so much expectation.
You wake up.
You feel the same.
Why don’t I feel refreshed?
Why? Why!???

You know what though? I will wake up as many times as I need to, to make sure my daughter is ok and comfortable. This is a sacrifice I am willing to make and if I don’t sleep a full night for the next few years then that’s just the way it is. This is the life of a parent and it’s the best job in the world.
Besides a full night of sleep is overrated anyway because I don’t ever wake up feeling refreshed at all! And there’s always eyedrops and coffee…

My daughter like any other baby has her relapses too when she’s teething, she’s too hot, too cold, or poorly, but it becomes so much easier to understand as your little one gets older. I feel I’ve become so much better at working it out too.

Just know that you’re not alone. When you’re up at the crack of dawn and tearing your hair out, there is another parent maybe only a few roads away doing the same thing.
It might seem that other parents have got it all figured out, and maybe they have, or maybe they’re stretching the truth a little bit. It’s all okay! The main thing is your baby is safe and well and you are looking after yourself, the best you can.

This time goes so quickly. You blink your eyes and before you know it a year has flown by and you’re celebrating your little bear’s first birthday. It is all worth it, every second.