“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
- Ernest Hemingway
Anyone else feel like that?! Sleep is a funny old thing but something, that as parents, is so crucial and yet so unobtainable. Why is that? Why is the hardest job of our lives one we have to do with an inadequate amount of sleep?
It’s been a while since my nights were interrupted by a baby crying for a feed, but nevertheless the need for good sleep is still so important. As the challenges of parenthood change and develop the importance of sleep remains constant. We all manage tiredness differently. Some of us cope very well and others, like me, do not.
Sleep deprivation as a new parent is real and difficult. The demands of such a tiny life numerous times in the night have a huge effect on our emotional wellbeing. Because Poppi was prem I was on a strict feeding regime with her when we were in hospital. I remember having to set my alarm in the night so as to get up and start the whole feeding process. She couldn’t yet latch on so I had to express and then feed her from a little cup. All in all the whole process took the best part of an hour and a half. By the time all this was done I only had 1 ½ – 2 hours sleep before starting the cycle again. I can only say it was manageable because I was in hospital so during the day I literally had nothing to do other than feed and lie in a hospital bed. However, on the return home I remember the tiredness becoming much more real. Suddenly, there is a house to manage and jobs to do. And, if you have other kids, their needs to see to as well. The lack of sleep suddenly becomes a much bigger deal.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps”. I expect many of you have heard that before. And to a certain extent, I agree. However, isn’t that when you get anything done? Like have a shower, or have your own breakfast? I remember taking this advice once and fell asleep for about two hours. Error. It took me well over two hours to actually come round afterwards. I felt worse than I had done before going to sleep. Fortunately (?) for me, my husband, Daf, loves a fad. What’s that got to do with anything? Well, his latest fad was polyphasic sleeping. He had read some research on the most effective way to nap. The 20-minute nap was revolutionary for me. Although I didn’t necessarily drop off in this time, it was long enough to rest my body and my eyes but still gave me time to get some things done whilst Poppi slept. I also didn’t feel totally rough when I got up.
I am not a good sleeper and I never have been. In hindsight, I think this was a blessing as it meant I didn’t miss my sleep as much as others. That doesn’t mean I don’t need the sleep. The battle with tiredness and how to manage it continues. Isn’t it funny, though, how despite having crawled our way to get the kids to bed, when they are all tucked up and sleeping soundly we want them back or want another cuddle? Where is the logic in that?! One thing I will never forget is Poppi’s first smile. It was after a 5 am feed. She looked up at me and smiled. That was when it started to all feel worth it. It was about eight weeks into motherhood, but what a special moment.
I haven’t got the answer for tiredness and I’m not sure I ever will. It’s a work in progress. But here are some of the things I try to do to manage my patience when I fear it is running low due to being tired;
- Sing – what a mood lifter!
- Try and put myself in Poppi’s shoes – she’s just started school and is so tired herself. I try to understand how she’s feeling and acknowledge that for her to help her feel listened to and accepted. In turn, that helps her to respond better to me
- 20-minute nap – when I can (not often)
- Get out of the house – fresh air and a change of scene help both Poppi and me when we’re feeling fractious
- Meet other people – I’m not an extravert so lots of company can be tiring, but it becomes less intense between Poppi and me when there are others around
Just a few ideas which might help those tricky nights. I’ve said it so many times now, but we are all in this rocking boat together so let’s keep those waking hours from falling apart. Sweet dreams.