pregnancy and parenting

Sleep Thiefs: When your children steal your slumber


There’s nothing sweeter than watching a child sleep. Especially your own child. All that fresh, soft innocence stilled and at rest. The curl of their cheeks seem somehow plumper, squishier, under the dimmed, quieted light of night. Their eyelashes become impossibly long and thick, brushing against skin like fairy wings.

And there’s nothing quite so infuriating as when they don’t sleep. Won’t sleep. Screaming, stamping, red-faced, balling, standing in the cot, getting in-and-out of bed, NOT sleeping. Especially when the not sleeping seems almost more common than the sleeping. That’s been happening a lot lately. At least in our house.

In fact, lately is more like longly. I think I must have lost days, months even, of sleep over these last four and a half years or so. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that my current fantasy of the perfect holiday is not dependent on location, but rather on the necessities of crisp white sheets, a firm, but not too firm mattress, and a soft pillow; a place where I can sleep as much as I want. Did I emphasise the word ‘fantasy?’

I’m ashamed to say I used to squander sleep. I was talking to a friend the other day and we were equally amazed that in our early twenties we’d often stay out until after midnight. Midnight! Dr M and I would stay up talking late into the night as well. And all that time there was my bed lying blissfully untouched. It seems like a travesty these days.

These days I snatch sleep wherever I can.

The deprivation started with our first baby. Everyone knows the newborn phase runs rough-shot over your body clock. But to be honest, it’s gotten worse and worse with the more kids we’ve had.

Its not that all of them are awake all the time. That at least might have a sort of synergy. It’s that they seem to have mastered the tag-team waking. They’d make a great relay team. Some nights all three take their turns. Each stalling until the moment the other has finally dropped off again, and launching their waking like another fissure in the fractured night.

Other nights its only one. But those nights tend to happen in succession. And then there’s the virus train, the sickness that shatters sleep. Not to mention our eldest, E, has a tendency to night terrors.

The nights are bad enough, but it’s the daylight hours that really pinch.Lack of sleep affects everything from one’s stomach to one’s state of mind. Walking around in the haze of sleep deprivation, I’m convinced, is like putting one’s emotions in a blender without a lid on and flinging them around the room. Or wherever you happen to be.

But is it all a picture of darkness and gloom? Of screams in the night, and dark shadows under eyes in the day? Fellow parents of the night out there, for what it’s worth, here are some thoughts from me on this topic.

Firstly, it helps to know you are not alone.

From countless conversations I’ve had with numerous parents it appears that there is a whole army of us out there, wandering dim hallways, lying on couches. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, tending to small people’s nightmares and night-ailments. It’s the common condition of the parent – especially of the young.

Secondly, though it seems like it, it won’t last forever.

It can’t. Our darling sleep-eaters will grow into teenagers, sleep-addicts, sleeping in when we long for them to rise. Shutting doors when we long to hold them open. Like any life stage, what perhaps feels interminable is in fact fleeting. So drink in those close cuddles and needy crys.

Thirdly, the tiredness is for a good cause.

This sort of tired is what I’d call good tired. It has a purpose, it comes from a known, and admirable, cause. I’ve known bad tired. Tiredness induced from self-inflicted reasons, or from anxiety. But this tired is because we are loving others. It is tired tied to strings of love

Lastly, remember, always remember, that there is one who neither slumbers nor sleeps. There is one you can always call on. I said to Dr M the other day, I sometimes feel like I go through the days just one prayer away from crazy. Aren’t we all. Pray for the strength to get through. And what better time to pray but the still of night.

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