This is one of those posts that’s been in my head for a while; it stopped being relevant for a while when Joss started sleeping better again but it’s now very much at the forefront of my mind. I wanted to share some ideas on being kind to yourself when sleep deprivation hits because it’s important not to become desperate for sleep or to feel desperate about the situation. It’s an issue that comes up so much in the postnatal depression groups I run and attend that it felt important enough to need a post in its own right.
For four weeks now we have had some pretty horrendous night’s sleep. Normally we can cope with night wakings but these have been coupled with it taking two, sometimes three hours to get Joss back off to sleep by which point it’s 11pm, we haven’t had any time to talk to each other as husband and wife, we haven’t had any real ‘down time’ and then from 1am to 6am we’re up and down like a couple of yoyos and let me tell you it’s taking its toll on us, I feel like the walking dead some days.
The longest day after the worst night
Things came to a head last week when, after another 4am spent in the freezing cold over the cot I did something stupid, sleep deprived and very stupid. I forgot to put the Calpol away and the seal on the bottle was broken. The next day Joss got the bottle and we couldn’t be sure she hadn’t drank any so we took a trip to A&E, a blood test and six hours on the ward later and we found she had not a drop of paracetamol and was perfectly healthy but the damage was done, we had reached peak tired and I felt like the world’s worst parent as the hospital filled out a ‘cause for concern’ form. We all know the unthinkable consequences of this stupid mistake and I really went to town worrying about ‘what if’. A week on and I have forgiven myself for this mistake but the enduring tiredness continues.
These night wakings can be relatively short, they’re probably owing to cutting teeth at the moment so they’re only five to 10 minutes long, but they disrupt the natural rhythm of our sleep in their frequency.
How sleep affects mood
There is undoubtedly a connection between lack of sleep and mental health, our sleep debt is racking up and Joss is tired too, so we all feel slightly emotionally frayed, except she cannot yet control and understand her emotions so tantrums ensue. They’re harder to deal with after sleepless nights and before you know it the wheels have come off and we’re all grouchy, sometimes it’s hard to tell who is the toddler and who is the grownup.
The 11pm bedtimes mean the housework doesn’t get done, we snap at each other, neither of us have had a break for even an hour in weeks and it’s just relentless when work is thrown in the mix. Then back to mental health, the black dog pops his head in…”it’s never ending…it will always be like this…look at the state of the place…things are slipping…you’re a terrible parent/wife/colleague” then the “what ifs” and anxiety begins to spiral- “what if she never sleeps through again…what if we can’t cope” – I’ve blogged about this awful spiral before, not good.
Seemingly my own mental health becomes more precarious when I don’t get the rest let alone the sleep that I need to keep me on an even keel.
These last few weeks have brought some revelations though. I can cope with less sleep than I thought I needed, I can go to work, be a mother, feed the family, wash the clothes and yet I can’t be as present as I would like, or as positive as I would like.
So what have I learned after probably five or six of these cycles of sleep deprivation?
- Firstly it’s important to remember that your child is not giving you a hard time but is having a hard time too. You’re all having a hard time of it, they are likely feeling as miserable at night as you are, so do what works, take them into bed with you, share responsibility with your partner for ‘nightshifts’ or arrange for yourself to get some time for a catnap if you can. Asking for help is not a weakness, be kind to yourselves and each other, apologise if you row more frequently and remember it’s because you’re exhausted
- If you do decide to sleep in shifts as is sometimes necessary here one of you could use earplugs to make sure you get the most of your hour or two
- I also find that if I feel frazzled and am blaming Joss even though I know she’s not at fault it really helps me to reconnect with her in some way, whether its sitting by her as she plays, cuddling or just enjoying five minutes of a TV programme she likes together, I cope better when I’m connected with her and with her Dad, those short moments bring me back to reality and out of my anxious thoughts.
- Another thing I’ve learned is that the old ‘sleep when they sleep’ mantra rings true, genuinely there will be a point when they do sleep, even if its not ideal timing, get your head down. When Joss naps I will nap, now she naps less I go to bed really early if she goes off easily or I sleep when she does, even if it’s just for an hour or two (and they do sleep eventually, just not necessarily when you want them to!) to catch up, the other stuff can wait, leading me nicely to my next point
- Forget the housework, I know this sounds like something people said when you had a newborn and it sounded ridiculous and you wanted to do it all but genuinely (even if you are unlucky to have a poor sleeper) this current period of real crunching all-consuming tiredness will pass and you will pick up the time and energy to get yourselves sorted out again, to sort out your home and feel more ‘together’
- Try to eat a healthy diet, even if it means cutting some corners, it’s so tempting to slip into bad food habits to get you through, after all you probably feel down and crave comfort, but eating well will help you to have more energy to get through the day. Try and reach for nuts, bananas, dried fruit, oaty snacks etc that will give you a healthy boost
- Use relaxation techniques and breathing techniques to help you stay calm and make the most of the odd moment of rest that you get. A friend of mine swears by a 20 minute catnap at work, I like to take an hour on a weekend when I’m really flagging to have a massage and I use essential oils to calm and relax me during the periods when Joss is awake but should be sleeping
- Get out in the fresh air. It’s so easy to stay home in your PJs lamenting your lack of sleep, but in reality tiring your little one out with a walk and waking yourself up in the fresh air is a air is a great tonic. If you’re at work take a break and get out, and try to do your hardest tasks first thing as you may flag during the day and could use that time for basic admin etc
- Ask for professional help if it’s really getting too hard to bear; I know sleep training is controversial but there are gentle methods for supporting a good sleeping routine if other methods are not for you. When things were really rough last year at the height of my postnatal depression just talking to my GP helped me gain perspective and feel less alone
- And finally, ditch the guilt and being hard on yourself, this is so important. That someone wrote a book called “go the fuck to sleep” should tell you that you’re normal and only human, it’s bloody hard being a parent and you should use kind words about yourself
If you have ideas for additions to this list do let me know what works for you by leaving a comment, and I will try to add them as I hope this will be a useful resource for other parents
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