The truth about parenting and sleep deprivation. It's not pretty.
We all know sleep deprivation is tough. As new parents, someone has jovially told us, “It’s used as a torture technique, you know.” We’ve staggered, bleary-eyed, towards the coffee machine after a rough night with a teething baby. Or after a few nights of sleep regression. Or when the clocks change. Or when they change room at nursery. Or when they are sick. Or when they are in a travel cot. Or when it’s hot. Or when… well, anything really. I’m 3.5 years into parenting (not counting pregnancy, when I also slept badly, kept awake by the trapeze artist in my belly) and 3.5 years of broken sleep has hit me. It comes in waves, the tiredness, but recently it’s been really bad. My husband’s in a new job pulling long hours, I’ve got a new boss who I’m keen to impress, and the littlest has been starting his day at 4am every morning. Every. Single. Morning. As an equation, it’s flawed.
I know there are techniques by the gazillion to get them back to sleep, but let’s be honest, they can be emotionally tough. And sometimes, when you are half crazy with tiredness, just grabbing the toddler and succumbing to Paw Patrol (because CBeebies doesn’t start til 6am and instead plays a trailer that repeats over and over and adds to the crazy) is easier than the sleep-pat technique, or the pick-up, put-down strategy. At least you get to drink tea and mess about on Instagram whilst the toddler drives cars up the walls and turns on each and every battery-operated toy you own.
And it’s not just us that his early waking affects. We live in a terraced house and our neighbours have nicknamed the dawn chorus kid “the alarm clock.” I can’t have him screaming for hours on end with me trying to tempt him to sleep later when other people, whose children are grown, also need their sleep. And frankly, I’m too soft to leave him to scream, and have been known to sob into the baby monitor as I hear him cry for me. It seems easier to cuddle him, and deal with the tiredness. But my goodness, it’s chronic exhaustion by now.
And it affects every single layer of your life. I don’t have the energy to keep up even a vague gym habit. I’m so exhausted that I drink nothing but coffee and can’t avoid the carbs. Perhaps these are poor excuses and there are equally tired mamas and papas out there using their baby as a weight and keeping the biceps strong before mixing a kale smoothie. I don’t know any of them. My husband and I start our days ripped from sleep, staggering into the dark, fumbling for the kettle. We are instantly on the back foot. We snap at each other over nothing. We had a fight over honey – where was it, who’d moved it? (Me. But I was so knackered I couldn’t see it in front of me). Our chat, always functional nowadays and related to dinner plans, shopping lists and naptimes, has lost its kindness. We speak to each other in ways we’d never address friends or colleagues. And we have to stop it. Because one day we will sleep well again. And what if the kindness doesn’t come back?
I don’t know what the answers are. Send them on a postcard please. Or babysit for us, so we can remember what it feels like to have fun. And at least if the tiredness is from a late night with the person who makes me laugh the most, it makes a change from the norm.