When will I sleep again?
One of the most difficult adjustments to becoming a parent is the sleep – as in lack of. One of the great things about being an adult is that you can sleep when you want. Of course we have things to wake up for like jobs and exercise, but on the weekend we can sleep past 7am if we want or we can choose sleep over 5am gym notions.
When we were kids our parents told us when to go to sleep and when we were teenagers they forced us to to wake up for school. So it is wonderful to be an adult and have full control over our waking hours. Then we we have kids of our own.
Then we google…
“how to get a 6 week old baby to sleep”
“how to get a 4 month old baby to sleep”
“what is sleep regression?”
“why won’t my baby sleep?”
“how much coffee is okay when you are breastfeeding?”
I did. I read books and articles and forums where mothers in far away countries recounted similar sleep-deprived scenarios as to what I was facing. There are ‘solutions’ to sleep problems to be found in these books, articles and forums, but still babies all over the world are keeping their parents up all night.
My younger sister has a toddler and a 3-month-old baby. I have a four-year-old and a toddler and a bit more context than her. She is currently stumbling through a sleep-deprived haze and the only advice that I could muster up for her is, “it will pass.” The intensity of her newborn’s need on her during the night will pass but I know she is looking for some more practical advice.
I think back to the early days of my parenting journey as I sought some kind of advice on the internet and in my best-selling baby advice books. Before I get to my top most helpful practical tips, here are the top most helpful ‘how to cope’ tips.
1. Closing your eyes can count as sleep
This might sound ridiculous and possibly isn’t even true, but I held onto this belief whenever I had a moment to rest my weary head. Baby on the boob and head against a propped up cushion with my eyes closed. There was now value in this simple act of rest, I was recharging and accruing some kind of points against my sleep deprivation.
2. Refer to the experience of early motherhood as “siphoning” instead of “draining”
Every little ounce that you give is leaving you feeling tired and empty. This is why you exclaim that you feel so drained. The thing is, everything that you are giving out is not being wasted, it is being siphoned into another little being. Siphoning is the process of transferring from one to another. Try this out, “I feel so siphoned all the time!”
3. Every mom is different, every child is different, every situation is different
There is certainly value to be found in other’s experiences of how practical steps can be taken to improve the sleep situation for mom and baby. But you have to accommodate your own personality, that of your baby’s and your unique life circumstances. Not every solution out there will fit and that’s okay.
My first child was the difficult sleeper. He has an intensely strong-willed personality, a born leader. He quickly took the leadership role in any form of sleep training that we tried to implement. My daughter on the other-hand is a much more naturally compliant child. Had she been my first guinea pig, I would have thought that the results of the experiment were, “Stick to the plan and you will win.” I would have then confidently shared my break-through sleep training methods with every struggling parent that I crossed paths with.
I am well aware that practically speaking, trying to force your ideals about sleep on your baby is not practical at all. The below advice however is what I have found to be true to my family and my children.
1. Sleep begets sleep
Get their naps right and it will set you up for a better night. How to get their naps right? I don’t know, but it is a principal that is founded on truth. Our lifestyle during the first few years when my babies were small was very busy and we were not yet living in our own home. We didn’t always get this right, I do believe however that if you can prioritise this, it will improve sleep overall.
2. Bedtime routine
Much easier with the first child. Bath time can be made into a special bonding time that signals sleep. We were consistent with the bed time routine with my first child. I believe that it did help him to understand that bedtime was a given and not an erratic misfortune that could be imposed on him at any moment. Ironically, due to lifestyle changes we were consistent until he was about two-and-a-half. We dropped the ball and I can attest to the fact that a lack of bedtime routine makes putting your toddler to bed every night a lot more difficult. We did however relent to lying in bed telling stories and cuddling (mostly my husband), and I think this is a special time that he would not have exchanged for the world. Every family is different.
Choose to co-sleep if it means more sleep. I know that this is a contested theory because they will still be in your bed by the time they are ready to leave for university. It’s not for everyone, but if you value sleep so much that you are okay with the idea of sharing your bed with your entire family for the foreseeable future, then get a bigger bed. Again, every child is different. Co-sleeping works for my son because from a young age all he ever wanted was to snuggle up to (kick/climb on/lie on top of) another body. My daughter on the other hand is under strict instruction that, “It is still night time and everyone is sleeping, you must stay in your cot.” This is because she is way more compliant and will actually submit, and because being with us in our bed tends to get her up and going. She starts playing games like, “Let’s pretend we are sleeping” which is way too tragically ironic of a game for 3am.
4. Share the load
Work something out within your family unit that ensures that Dad is involved in night time antics. When you only have one child, the nice things is that you can take turns and one of you can rest. Enjoy that while it lasts.
5. Lower your expectations
A mom friend asked me the other day, “Do your kids sleep through?”. I said, “Yes, but what is sleeping through even?” There is always some kind of night time disturbance and that’s just par for the course. Be excited about any actual sleep that you get.
There is a reason why there are so many coffee-related parenting memes.
What has been your experience when it comes to the big sleep question? How did you/are you dealing with the early days of sleep-deprived parenting?
I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.