6 steps to getting sleep as a parent
Dazed and confused? Well I’m cream crackered!
Occasionally it happens but often not, that I get to sleep while my almost three year old sleeps through the night. Most nights he’s in with me. Anytime between 1 and 3am he tiptoes into my room and I unconsciously lift him into my bed and we snuggle back to sleep. So I do like it really. Sometimes. But it honestly does leave me wondering if I'm ever going to get some sleep, by myself!
But that’s a rare good night, the worst ones which I have to admit are becoming less frequent now are when we have the dreaded night terrors. Those horrendous never ending nights are testing to say the least! Always when they’ve been overstimulated, are overtired and the night becomes a write off.
In all honestly, talking about sleep is actually quite boring!
Yet I do it daily! The amount of hours I must have bored people for talking about my lack of sleep and how ridiculously exhausted I am. What a fun friend! In fact as a parent exhausted doesn’t cover it, doesn’t even touch the sides. I always have an eye roll ready when I hear of those celebrities signed off work with exhaustion. I wish someone would check me into a private clinic aka hotel to relax, be served organic juices and nutrient dense smoothies, practice yoga and sleep! We need a new parent only word for ‘permanently cream crackered!’
I remember when my first was born, just a few weeks after I was sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and congratulating myself that I’d got out the door within four hours, when a little old granny came over. She peered into the buggy and said ‘Is he being good for you? Don’t let him sleep all day!’ My little girl was dressed in pink. Anyway, I was a bit shocked but covered up by smiling sweetly, and then started to Google ‘How long should newborns sleep for?
The early years are tough and the first few years are dominated by getting them to sleep, getting them to nap, worrying when they’ve slept too long, too little. Are they sleeping in the right position? Too hot, too cold? Should I wake them? No wonder I couldn’t sleep even when she was finally asleep for all the stressing! Once they can communicate things change, so it’s not necessarily easier, but different. New challenges, by which time you’ve got the hang of it. Sort of!
We all know how important sleep is, for both us as parents and for our kids’ development. It’s always a hot topic at mother and baby groups or in the playground. Lack of sleep really affects me, well most of us to be honest.
The science just proves what we already know, that without it (Sleep) we are pretty much f@@ked!
Excuse my French but it has that big an impact. Studies show that sleep makes us feel more content, there is less strain on the body and its functions, and we are smarter and more productive. I know the brain fog of exhaustion all too well! Plus getting enough sleep, and that’s different for us all, even keeps us looking younger.
Long gone are the days where I use to wake up with time on my side, refreshed with only myself to cater for. Sleep, or the lack of the of it, has dominated my thoughts for the last ten years of parenting. I seem to be permanently knackered, pooped, worn out.
When I am that tired I am an emotional wreck!
Prone to mad outbursts at the silliest of things. I plaster on the makeup and use up a ton of dry shampoo, my self-esteem and confidence take a dive and my general outlook on life is a shade greyer. My energy levels are minus zero and from the moment I wake I am thinking about when I can next climb back into my bed!
Oh yes the struggle is real. I know this, I’ve many, many, mum friends (and dads but we know how in the early years a LOT MORE often falls into mums’ lap) who feel the same. And that helps, just a teeny bit, knowing we can all be dazed and confused together.
However the biggest impact is on my relationships.
The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships and so if you are permanently operating on empty, when the giver has no more to give, everyone else starts to feel the heat.
You are left feeling alone and praying that your fairy godmother will pop up and wave her magic wand and take care of it all!
Hey, It’s 2020, I know and us ladies are doing it for ourselves. It is funny though, well I have to laugh or I’ll cry, I keep chasing this dream of the perfect future life where we all get enough sleep and I’m ‘back on it’! My super self, full of wit and wisdom, patient, organised with spades full of energy. Revitalised.
And…. back to reality! That’s not going to happen in the short term so what have I learnt so far on my parenting journey, what can we do to ease the pain?
1. Nap, sleep, doze, just stop and rest when the baby sleeps.
This is the hardest yet most important thing to do. As tempting as it is to clear up, pay the water bill, and reply to a text, don’t. A quick power nap really does help and could be just enough to keep you going! Accept the chaos for a bit. This is still my biggest challenge.
2. Ask for help
If you have help from family with your childcare hold them close and show your appreciation regularly, even if they don’t do it how you do it. And if you don’t, like me, hang on in there. Asking for help is something I hate doing and it makes me feel like I’ve failed if I don’t do it all (how ridiculous does that sound even as I type!) yet whenever I do it really does ease the load, practically and emotionally. Whether a friend can watch the baby or not whilst you sleep, have a bath or just to simply pop in for a chat. It’s important to reach out. Maybe they could drop off a bit of shopping too. What goes around comes around and when things have moved on you can help someone in need too.
3. Accept it, embrace it, wing it!
Lack of sleep makes everything seem so much more serious. Sometimes I’m trying so hard and concentrating on getting everything spot on and ‘perfect’ that I can forget to have fun along the way! Negative thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I often trip myself up with all my rules and to do lists. The days and nights and months just all blur into one.
Break it up a bit. Put on your favourite tunes and dance like a loony around the kitchen. Get outside for a few minutes and soak up the sun (or rain!). Try and spend just five minutes meditating each morning to help start off with some positive thoughts and maybe try journaling before bed. It’s all about reframing your mind and soothing your own pain. It’s a tough period but you will find light at the end of the long sleep tunnel. Do something you enjoy that can lift the fog even if it’s just temporary.
4. Set the scene and routine.
Practically, and I’m sure you’ve already been through all this already but I’ll say it again for the greater good, start the bedtime routine before bedtime. Where possible keep to the same timings to regulate their circadian rhythm. In fact start the day with plenty of fresh air and sunlight no matter what happened the night before. At bedtime, check the mattress, use organic cotton bedding/pyjamas and make sure they’ve enough layers on.
Have drinks, milk, snacks early on so they have a full tummy and check their room is dark, lights are low throughout the house (especially in the bathroom) and play some soothing chill out music, whatever works for you. Spend an hour together before bed making bedtime something your little one looks forward to. Devices down, quick soothing salt bath, black out curtains drawn, room temperature to cool with baby all wrapped up. Storytime with a warm night light (non-blue light emitting) and a lavender pillow spray works for me.
5. Interruptions and opinions.
Whilst establishing your new routine, keep the travel and sleepovers to a minimum. Ignore others’ opinions and stick to what you feel is best, give things a proper go before changing again as it can often take a little time for things to settle down. Our babies aren’t puppies in training and each child is different, there is no one size fits all! By all means listen to Granny as she may have a useful tip, but where possible smile, nod and filter out the fact from the fiction. And don’t compare yourself or your baby to your best friends or neighbours. Tread carefully on social media and only share with those you trust.
Two books I found really helpful during this time were "The No Cry Sleep Solution" by Elizabeth Pantley and "The Gentle Sleep Book" by Sarah Ockwell-Smith (which you'll find on sites like Dymocks, Amazon, Goodreads, Booktopia & Goodreads. Both come in an audio book file too, so you can listen to it while trying to sip on that luke warm coffee you've been trying to get to for the last hour. They provide lots of insight on this subject matter and offer achievable, practical tips and advice that really do work, tailored to the age of the child. The books give you a bit of back up, renew your parenting faith and most importantly give you a plan!
For music I play some soothing quiet jazz on Spotify and feed it through my wireless speaker so that when I creep out (or if someone else is doing bedtime!) it’s the same tracks continually.
And of course, my last feed is with my Prontobottle so I can see how much milk he’s had and there’s no need to wash it up again ready for the morning.
So remember you aren’t alone! And this moment will pass.
No one knows everything or gets it right the whole time. We are all just muddling through! Becoming a parent is such a massive learning curve, it doesn’t ever stop, and I always find when in doubt just pause and take a moment. Then figure out with the best of your knowledge to hand what’s best for you and your child.
The more you can accept the current situation the more the path opens up ahead. Go easy on yourself, lower your expectations and do whatever it takes to schedule just a tiny bit of time off. Being a mum is amazing but hard work. Our babies are hard wired to need us, at all times. Nurturing that secure attachment now will pay off dividends for both of you in the years to come. Take your time and be kind to yourself. Our babies love us unconditionally and we owe it to ourselves to slow down and try to enjoy the moment.
by Suzy Cashman - a Mum, blogger, writer and fellow exhausted parent
Shannon Gilleland is a mother, entrepreneur and the genius who's making the toughest job in the world easier with Pronto-Bottle, the world's first self-cleaning baby bottle. Find her at @prontobabybottle