Lack of sleep? You must be a parent! Don’t find that joke funny? Fair call – sleep deprivation has a way of surgically removing our sense of humour. Besides, there’s nothing terribly funny about walking through your days in a zombielike state, teary, fatigued, permanently forgetful, and did we mention moody?
Ok, let’s not mention moody.
I have three children – which for some reason I was cursed with them having the inability to just sleep!
Having kids and being deprived of sleep go hand-in-hand. Sadly, it’s just part of the gig. Everyone goes through it. Take no notice of the perfect mum on the playground that declares her children sleep like a dream from 6pm to 6am. She either possesses children that defy the laws of nature oorrrrr she’s lying.
Doesn’t happen. Does it? Maybe it does. Occasionally, yes occasionally, you’ll witness other people’s children quietly taking themselves to bed at 7pm or sleeping through the morning, not even stirring till 9:30am but these are rare events like unicorns.
There are ways of coping though and over time, you’ll acquire skills to cope with lack of sleep.
Top 10 Tips
Let’s talk about ways of changing our thinking and behaviour around this issue and here are tips that may help:
1. If you find yourself overwhelmingly angry with your children, that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that you don’t love them. You’re simply annoyed (alright then, extremely annoyed) with their behaviour. It’s okay to occasionally indulge in less than perfect parenting techniques. You know, like bribery, threats and temper tantrums (your own – by that I mean yes I have tried the technique of laying on the floor imitating a screaming child for them to laugh at you yet then continue… Hey, this isn’t the Perfect Mama blog here)
2. When it comes to parenting, there is no strict right and wrong. We’re human beings; parenting is not an exact science. Books, mothers groups and advice are just guides, not gospel. Remember: most advice is simply information that works for other people. Advice can be a great thing, which is why people often give it. But sometimes it doesn’t work.
3. One more thing on advice – practice the art of smiling and nodding. If you’re feeling generous, you may even say thank you. But don’t feel you have to take up these nuggets of wisdom. Just smile and nod. Do what works for you and yours.
4. You’re not the first person to go through chronic sleep deprivation because of your less than perfect children – you aren’t unique so forgive yourself and if you feel that you’re the only one going through this pain, it’s time to connect with others. Now obviously, if you’re at home with a young child or children, jumping in your car and finding friends to have a few hours of fun and let off steam with is not the appropriate solution but you can jump onto the phone and rant to a friend as people going through the same issues you’re going through. Once again, you don’t have to take others’ advice but you can share how you’re feeling and coping with your lack of sleep.
5. Listen to your instincts – common sense – like when you know that your child is simply really maybe if you slip into bed next to your child and sleep, all will be fine. Just go with it.
6. School age children need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep each night, but there’s a lot of variability in sleep needs and patterns. Most kids have patterns that don’t change much, no matter what you do. An early riser will still get up early even if you put them to bed later, and a night owl won’t usually fall asleep until their body is ready. Know how much sleep your child needs to wake up refreshed and set an appropriate bedtime.
7. Set a wake-up time – if you know how much sleep your child needs and what time they go to bed, it’s simple math to set a daily wake-up time. Allowing your child to sleep a little later on weekends and holidays is generous, but it can set you up for a long, sleepless night. Those extra hours of sleep will affect your child like jet-lag, making it hard for their body to feel tired at bedtime. Keep bedtime and wake-up time the same, within and hour or so, every day.
8. Create a consistent bedtime routines – especially important for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Doing specific things before bed, such as a bath or story time, signal to your child what’s coming next. Knowing what comes next is comforting and relaxing, setting the perfect bedtime atmosphere. Before long, your child’s body may automatically start to become sleepy at the beginning of their routine.
9. Turn off the TV at least two hours before bedtime – research has shown that the light from a television screen, phone, or computer monitor can interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is an important piece of sleep-wake cycles. When melatonin levels are at their highest, most people are sleepy and ready for bed. Just a half an hour of TV or other screen time before bed can disrupt that enough to keep your child up an extra two hours. Make the bedroom a screen-free zone or at least make sure all screens are completely dark from bedtime on. Phones are better left out of the bedroom at night.
10. Reduce stress before bedtime – another hormone that plays a role in sleep is cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” When cortisol levels are high, your child’s body won’t be able to shut down and go to sleep. Keep before bedtime activities calm, the lights dim, and the environment quiet. This can help avoid excess amounts of cortisol in your child’s system.
As many a ‘wise man’ has said this too shall pass. Your child’s reluctance to sleep will pass at some point, they won’t need you so much. They won’t be so afraid of the curtains forever. They won’t be afraid of the dark. They won’t want to play that game. Who knows? They may even want to go to sleep now there’s something to look forward to.
Be on the lookout for sleep disorder – if despite your best efforts, your child continues to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or persistent nightmares or night terrors, they might have a genuine sleep disorder.
Talk to their pediatrician about your concerns. There are sleep charities available in areas local to you – ask your local Sure start, Health visitor or GP.