Surviving with Less Sleep as a Parent

It surprises me sometimes how little sleep or broken sleep I can survive on these days. You see, before BattleKid came along I was a hound for sleeping. I could sleep and sleep and sleep, almost to the annoyance of BattleDad. I’d have long lie ins at the weekend, afternoon naps and still be ready for bed by 10pm.

BattleDad would often remark I could sleep on a washing line as I have always found it easy to nod off. Even when travelling I would only just sit down on the ferry and I’d nod off. As soon as my bum hit the seat on the plane I was gone before we would even taxi away from the terminal. I could sleep just about anywhere, anytime.

So when we fell pregnant and did our NCT course, the one thing that worried me besides giving birth was the lack of sleep. I wondered how I would cope, if at all. But I’ve been surprised at how I can manage on reduced sleep.

Don’t get me wrong, it was torture in those first 6-12 weeks, being woken from sleep every 2 hours to feed BattleKid but I did it. BattleDad supported me alot of those nights by getting up and doing the nappy change with me, even though I told him to stay alseep. Occasionally I’d get a snooze on the couch in the afternoons with BattleKid. As he got older and 20 minute catnaps stretched we’d often get into bed by 2pm and sleep together for a few hours, me under my duvet, BattleKid safe in his Sleepyhead® pod. I found this was the only way to get him to nap for longer, with me resting my hand lightly on his hand or chest. It may not have been dream-inducing sleep but it was much needed rest for me. It was part of my maternity leave that I loved.

Fast asleep in his Sleepyhead at 3 months old
Fast asleep in his Sleepyhead® at 3 months old
Almost 4 months old and sleeping well in his Sleepyhead
Almost 4 months old and sleeping well in his Sleepyhead®

You would have thought the constant getting up at night to pee in the third trimester would somehow prepare you for it but nothing does. It’s also easy to see why sleep deprivation has long been used as a form of torture.

The Holy Grail for parents is a baby who ‘sleeps through’. Now many of us think this is 7pm to 7am but it is actually classified as one full 6 hour stretch! This didn’t happen for us until 14 weeks old when BattleKid slept from 9.30pm to 3.30am. Then it was another breastfeed before another stretch of 2-3 more hours until we got up at 6.30-7am. When I hear of babies sleeping 8-12 hours a night by 6 weeks old I wonder how the hell that’s happened. It certainly didn’t happen for us. It wasn’t much before 7 to 8 months old that BattleKid slept from 7pm to 6am.

I also wasn’t sure how I’d cope with being woken early, every day of the week as weekends always consisted of a lie in. You can’t ask a baby or toddler to stay in bed until 9, 10 or 11am just because you want to. Once they’re awake that’s it. In our house there’s a saying

“I’m up, we’re all up!”

This used to be in the context of when we were teenagers and our mums tried to get us out of bed at the weekends but it applies to babies, toddlers and younger children. Once they’re up they expect you to be up too. And you can’t blame them. They’ve slept for the best part of 12 hours (if you’re lucky), it’s not their fault you didn’t go to bed at the same time as them. But I don’t mind the early mornings anymore and would rather get up early at the weekend and enjoy lots of family time together as we get none during the week.

I’m very lucky in that BattleKid found a natural rhythm with his sleeping, can nod off himself and is generally quite settled at night. And I’m thankful for this, especially when I returned to work as the afternoon naps I’d become accustomed to vanished. Don’t get me wrong, there are still times he wakes during the night, and as the terrible twos have hit with a vengeance, it can be hard to convince him it is still night time and that the stars are still out, but mostly he’s a good sleeper, thankfully.

When we do have occasional disturbed nights due to teething or illness, they are few and far between, and the number of good night’s outweigh the bad, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. These episodes do exhaust me but I can just about cope if it’s a week day by going to bed earlier than usual to catch up.  If I’ve had a few successive bad nights during the week BattleDad will try to give me a lie in on a Saturday to rest. Two extra hours can make all the difference between grumpy, tired mummy or happier, rested mummy. The latter is always preferable.

Generally I’m in bed by 10pm and asleep within 30 minutes, as I have to be up by 6.50am on a weekday. Occasionally at the weekends I might stay up a bit later, like games nights with friends where we might finish at midnight but I couldn’t do this every weekend or go to bed any later during the week.

Being a parent in the first few months is exhausting due to lack of sleep but I think it trains us in a way to deal with less sleep in general. Before having BattleKid I had to get no less than 8 hours or I was tired and couldn’t concentrate. 10 hours was more my average. Now as long as I get a stretch of 5 hours I can manage. Less and I’m tired and in bed early. On average I get 8 hours sleep a night, perhaps with one slight disturbance due to a cry out from BattleKid if he’s dreaming or has roused and is finding hard to drift off again. And I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I often read about mums whose babies have never slept through and I really feel for them. And yet they too manage to cope, just, with the minuscule amount of sleep they get.

Whether it’s down to our bodies getting used to less sleep or what, I don’t know but we parents manage. Somehow!

Are you one of the lucky ones like us or have your little ones kept you awake during the night?

Cath x

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