Living with a sleep thief – all work and no Zzzz’s?
Sleep – it’s one of those things you take totally for granted until it’s gone. Only then do you realise the impact of its loss. It’s fair to say that over the last 15 months we’ve had our share of bad nights thanks to our youngest daughter, Elfin. I probably average around 5 and a 1/2 hours of broken sleep each night at the moment. As you’re no doubt painfully aware if you have your own little ones, that’s woefully insufficient.
That said, I’m one of the fortunate ones: I’ve created a career which means I work for myself, and I don’t have to leave home each day to go into an office. My boss is fairly understanding, and I get to work on the sofa in my jammies if I really want to.
Going Back to work with a Sleep Thief
The reality for me is not quite the pretty picture I’ve painted, but suffice to say I appreciate my situation could be worse; I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those parents returning to the grindstone after maternity/paternity leave. You have my sincere sympathy.
Getting enough sleep is critical for regulating hormones; moods; appetite and weight; physical health and immunity; memory and cognition. With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of aids for encouraging sleep – for you, not them.
1. Routine, Routine, Routine
Cliched for a reason: this is important for you as well as your brood. The human mind craves routine, and with it sleep comes easier.
2. Set up a Spare Bed / Co-Sleep
Of course, if your tiny ones are still very tiny then broken sleep is inevitable. I really didn’t want to co-sleep but needs must! We even resorted to separate bedrooms for a while. As things improved, we moved Elfin to her own bedroom – and I have a great tip for when you’re ready to do that.
3. Set up a Rota
Sadly for us our battles were far from over. Despite having never expected my husband to get up in the night with Pixie (I’ve breastfed both our girls and he’s missing the necessary equipment!), with our second child that was not an option: I couldn’t be in two places at once. So we made a plan of how to deal with things in the night so we could both get the bare minimum we needed to adequately function.
4. Stop Fixating on Your Lack of Sleep!
I think more or less every new mum I know has been guilty of this. We feverishly record every time our baby wakes, and for how long. And then we obsess over it the following day. Not only is this wasted time (on an electronic device – more of which to follow!), but it also encourages you to dwell on how horrendous you feel. It’s a futile exercise in self-sabotage – don’t do it. And as an extension to this point, remember that your baby waking is healthy – which may provide a teeny bit of consolation. Or maybe not.
If you’re breastfeeding then the time will come when you either want or need to wean your baby, at least in the night. This is particularly relevant for mums going back to work, and again, you have my every sympathy – because it’s far from easy. I night weaned Pixie quite successfully at 14 months; Elfin is 15 months and I’m finding it a lot tougher – I thought her sister was stubborn until she came along! And of course I have to consider Pixie too, which means a lot of disruption at night is just not fair. But it’s something to consider, and for tips you can read about how I tackled it first time round over on my blog.
6. Decorate – and Tidy
An excuse for pretty things to soothe your fatigued mind, perhaps – but also a legitimate way to help you drift into sleep when the time comes. Being in soothing, uncluttered surroundings is essential for relaxation.
7. Keep TV Out of the Bedroom
Likewise, television is the antithesis of relaxation. It can amp up your cortisol levels (terrible for sleep), besides which electronic devices emit the vilified blue light which is responsible for keeping your brain wired.
8. Remember Your Partner…
But TV in the boudoir has another negative effect on your bedroom habits… And getting down with your partner is both important for your relationship (ergo your overall well-being, ergo your ability to switch off and sleep), and can be a natural precursor to drowsiness. Win(k)-win(k).
With the above in mind, retiring early enough to allow for a bath, some light reading, reciprocal massages, a podcast or meditation are all great ways to unwind before (or while) hitting the sack. It’s not always feasible (rarely in our house at the moment), but when you reach a point where your children give you back your evening, in terms of catching enough zzz’s these activities are far superior to watching vacuous TV.
10. Go. To. Sleep!
And finally – when you fall into bed and you’ve had your half hour or so of relaxation – go to sleep! It’s so easy for your phone to be a time-suck as you fall into the rabbit warren of Facebook; I do it myself practically every night, much to my husband’s chagrin. But those of us who are full-time parents will understand the intrinsic and illogical need for autonomy during those illicit peaceful hours, when we’re neither being used as a food source or a climbing frame. It’s a pretty terrible habit and I’m a dreadful hypocrite because I’ve no intention of giving it up just yet. Nevertheless, if you can, you should.
Surviving the Twilight Years
It’s about introducing a consistent routine, providing the most conducive environment for sleep, and ultimately – survival. Because let’s face it, we all know that whatever the ‘experts’ say, in the end our babies will sleep when they’re good and ready, and not a moment before.
In the meantime, may the force be with you.