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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How (and why) to get rid of the dummy

My daughter is 15 months old, and has used a dummy for the majority of her little life. Recently, my husband and I decided enough was enough. The dummy had to go! Here’s why.

This is my little one at bed time. What you can’t see from this photo is that she was late to bed because we couldn’t find the dummy anywhere. Nearly 2 hours late. Her reliance on the dummy to get to sleep had got to a point that just felt ridiculous. She was usually a good sleeper (with the dummy, of course). I know that lots of little ones sleep with teddies etc and they are used for comfort, but if you read my previous posts on household plastic usage , you’ll know that we try to keep our usage to a minimum, so I was anxious to find a way to get her to sleep without a piece of plastic in her mouth! We also had issues with night waking (think four or five times a night of waking up because the dummy wasn’t right in front of her face).

Our reasons for getting rid of it were a little more than that, too. We recently discovered that long term dummy usage can affect the muscles of the mouth, which can cause the tongue to sit forward between the teeth and affect their position. This could potentially cause speech issues. Experts recommend limiting dummy usage by age 2 and eliminating it completely by the age of 4 to minimise risk of dental issues.

There is also an interesting study conducted by the University of Washington which proposes that using a dummy for too long can increase the risk of speech disorders. Little ones who use a dummy or suck on their fingers after age 3 were found to be three times more likely to have speech problems. This study is 10 years old, but still, food for thought.

Given this, and the fact that my monkey is trying to say new words every day, we decided to bite the bullet and kick the dummy to the curb.

How to get rid of the dummy

There is no right way to get rid of the dummy. What works for one family might not work for another. Here’s what the experts say:

It’s important to remember that most little people use the dummy as a source of comfort. Don’t try to remove the dummy while going through large, unsettling life events like having another baby, moving house etc.

As a newborn, little ones will use the dummy to self settle. However at 4/5 months, sleep patterns can change and so this could be a good time to get rid.

The best thing to do is to begin to limit dummy use to ONLY bed times. We started by letting our daughter use the dummy in the pram for nap time and in her bed for sleep. She lunged for it for a while in the day time if she saw it and it wasn’t time to sleep, but she soon got the message.

Another popular idea is to cut a hole in the tip of the dummy. Once the dummy is broken, many toddlers lose the urge to use the dummy as it can’t be sucked on anymore and is no longer satisfying.

You can also try and swap the dummy for another comfort object like a favourite soft toy or blanket. Lots of parents like to tell their kids things like ‘Santa’ or the ‘Easter Bunny’ needs their dummy, but we decided before our daughter was born that we wouldn’t intentionally lie to her over things like that, so that option was out for us.

If your little one is old enough to communicate effectively, try explaining that they are big enough now to not need the dummy to sleep. Dummies are for babies. This will make lots of toddlers indignant as they are a big girl/boy, and suddenly the dummy becomes much less appealing.

OR you can do what we did. We ‘accidentally on purpose’ left the dummy at Nona’s house in another town, so that we couldn’t give in and give the dummy back on a bad night. The most important thing you can do when giving up the dummy is to stay strong and not give in. The initial few nights could be a bit hairy, but will probably settle down soon after.

And that’s it! There are so many different (and imaginative) ways I’ve read on how to get rid of the dummy, but honestly what worked for us was just to bite the bullet, pull ourselves together and just get rid of the nasty thing.

Have you successfully weaned a little person off a dummy? Are you having trouble? Let us know!

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.