Time for a more personal and difficult subject…

Sleep deprivation.

I don’t pretend to be a specialist and I don’t claim to have the worst experience of sleep deprivation because neither are true. I don’t believe it is a competition anyway. I know a lot of parents went through a similar situation (and worse) and some of you are probably going through it right now and might find that one of my little “trick” will help you too, and that’s all that matters.

This is not an article about how to end the sleep deprivation or get your baby to sleep through the night. It is about making it a little bit easier to bear…

Tips to survive sleep deprivation

A bit of background story

Let’s start with a little introduction… (EDIT: Hmmm ended up not being so little after all. Looks like I had a lot to say about it!)

Sleep has always been very important to me. I was the kind of teenager who could sleep until 11am in the morning or even later than that, although that might be because I was the kind of teenager going to sleep at 2 or 3 am :) It’s not that I am not a morning person, but I always loved to stay up at night and always found it difficult to get up in the morning. Before getting pregnant, I have been lucky enough to sleep around 8 hours every night. Being self-employed certainly have some advantages! I was always rested and what a great feeling!

Now, fast forward to the birth of my little one in March 2015. I won’t even talk about the first week. Obviously, sleeping 2 hours in 3 days meant I was extremely tired, but I also fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow, and I had enough support at home to take a little nap here and there in between feeds.

The first 3 months were also relatively easy. My little one would sleep from 7pm until around 1am, then wake up around 3am and 6am. Pretty standard for such a small baby. Being on maternity leave also meant that I didn’t have too much pressure and could relax during the day. My brain was probably not at its full capacity but I didn’t need it to be :)

I should also mention that my little one was sleeping in her sidecar bed which was brilliant, but I would still get up and sit down in a chair to nurse her at night because she needed to stay upwards for about 20 minutes after each feed. Actually, that was the hardest part! I couldn’t stay awake and had to use my phone to keep myself from falling asleep (and dropping the baby!)

Co-sleeping and nursing in bed was not a solution for us after that either. At 6 months we transitioned her to her cot for the start of the night so she wouldn’t roll and fall from our bed and she would come back beside us after the first feed. Then little by little, she ended up spending the whole night in her bedroom. She didn’t sleep any better or worse when she was beside us, and it turned out I was sleeping better when she wasn’t. Going into her room, feeding her, coming back to bed 15 mins later and sleeping soundly until the next time was better than sleeping badly for the whole night. It worked for us even if a lot of breastfeeding mothers co-sleep and suggested I did too. I think whatever solution allows for more sleep is the best solution, and that can be different for each family. Also it changes over time or according to circumstances: we do co-sleep from time to time on holidays when she won’t settle otherwise.

Around 3 months, she started to wake up once between 7pm and 1am. And a few nights later, she woke up every HOUR. I wasn’t prepared for this because the people I know made it sound like the stretch between the feeds was only going to get longer…

During the following months, we alternated between really awful nights (waking every hour / every half an hour / every 2 hours) and better ones. It became THE subject we always talked about. The reports to my mother would nearly always include how many times she woke up the previous night. I read books. People recommended books. We were told about the 4 months sleep regression… but it never went away :)

At around the 6/7 months mark, I can now say that I was depressed. I couldn’t cope with the daily tasks of taking care of a baby / working / cooking a lunch / doing the laundry etc. My husband was helping a lot (he is self-employed too) and he was a great support but I don’t think he could really understand what I was going through. He would kind of defend our daughter when I was talking about how bad of a sleeper she was to other people. He wasn’t reading the books I wanted him to read with me. I felt really alone and lost. I was crying multiple times a day, telling myself that maybe I wasn’t cut to be a mum (this is the first time I am saying this out loud). Mornings were the worst for me when the whole day would lay in front of me with all the responsibilities associated with it. I felt really anxious which is not in my nature. Everything looked like a mountain to climb. My memory was really bad. It was like a thick fog in there. I would do silly things and still today I can see that my brain struggles to make some connections.

Sleep deprivation.

I was the one putting most of the pressure on myself. Trying to do everything. Feeling like I was failing at so many things. Why was motherhood so difficult? Why couldn’t I cope with all those simple tasks when I wasn’t even working full time? Some mothers had it worse than me!

Someone asked me at that time if I thought motherhood was easier or harder than I imagined. Back then, I had no hesitation. It was much harder, and mostly because of the lack of sleep (and the difficulties to get her to fall asleep).

And this time around, no time for naps. If I tried, I couldn’t fall asleep. And in the evenings or at night, I would sometimes be wide awake, not being able to get back to sleep.

I read that sleep deprivation can make you paranoid. It’s so true. Apparently it’s also been used as a torture method. It’s very hard on a couple at a time where we need to support each other. And yet, it’s considered “normal” for new parents, so you don’t really get compassion…

Before I tell you what helped, let me tell you what didn’t:

  • Unwanted advices on things to try to get her to sleep better (when you’ve tried everything, you don’t have the energy to justify your choices or why you won’t try to let your baby cry it out)
  • Hearing things like “I don’t know why you find it so difficult, I don’t remember it being so hard, and I had three of them.”
  • Mothers saying “I wouldn’t have been able to last that long.” which kind of meant “I would have found a solution where you didn’t.”
  • Having to answer the question “Did she sleep last night?” “How did she sleep?” on a regular basis.

10 things which helped me “survive” sleep deprivation

Finally! My little tips and tricks. The little things that helped me get through the worst of it. Nothing magic. No advice. No solutions!

  1. I adjusted my expectations. Which means that I told myself that in a year from now, my daughter wouldn’t be sleeping any better. That’s it. My mum thought I was crazy. But it was so liberating. And I was right so I saved myself a lot of heart ache.
  2. I stopped reading books and articles. Some of the advices from some of the books were great, but most of them contradict each other. So I stopped and it was hard but I tried to listen to myself, to my baby and see what advices were right for us and which ones weren’t, even if they were written by specialists. I stopped feeling like I was doing something wrong by letting my baby use a soother / feed on demand / etc. It was hard because I felt so low that I needed somebody to tell me what to do, but after all I was the specialist of MY baby.
  3. I stopped looking at the clock every time she woke up. Well, it’s not entirely true but most mornings I don’t remember how many times I was up. And I definitely stopped reporting it to my mum :)
  4. I chatted to other sleep deprived mums. This was so helpful! I went to a few breastfeeding groups / mum & baby groups / baby massage classes. I told the truth. They listened. They said “me too” or “you’re doing great” or “I went through it, it was so tough”. I felt so much better. No advice, no judgment.
  5. I bought a comfortable chair to nurse at night. Yep. It took me 6 months. Because “There was no point buying a new chair when she was going to sleep through the night soon”. Best purchase ever. We bought the Poang chair from Ikea and we use it to read books at bedtime as well. It’s not comfortable enough that I fall asleep in it, but better than having no head support at all.
  6. I was getting ready for bed 3 hours before actually going to bed. This tip is very silly but it made a big difference for me. You see, when I was going to bed at 10pm, after watching a series or something, I was so tired that changing into my PJs or brushing my teeth was like climbing a mountain. So I used to get all ready for bed after putting my LO to bed, then relax for the evening and then later on, jump into bed with nothing else to do. Bliss!
  7. I got nice comfy PJ trousers. Because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I made the sleep I was getting as comfortable as possible! Going to bed was like the highlight of my day :)
  8. Instead of focusing on the getting up, I focused on the getting back into bed. This was probably the most important little trick for me. You see, when my daughter is waking up, the most difficult part is actually getting out of bed. It’s like torture. But I made the conscious decision to be mindful for 30 seconds when I was getting back under the warm covers, resting my head on the pillow, closing my eyes and letting sleep take over my head. Focusing on the good instead of the bad. Which means I was looking forward to this perfect moment when I was getting up and it made it that little bit easier. I stopped taking that beautiful feeling for granted. I don’t mind if I sound crazy!
  9. I tried to enjoy the time spent with my daughter. I was up anyway, so instead of resenting her for being up, why not enjoy this precious moment with her instead? It’s all a question of perception after all. This is difficult. It doesn’t always work. But it helped to look at the big picture. Knowing that it wasn’t going to last forever and that I was lucky to be holding her right now.
  10. I bought a nice shower gel with an uplifting smell. Actually, someone offered it to me when I was pregnant but I hadn’t opened it yet. I did. And when it was hard (so hard) to get out of bed and into the shower, I needed something to look forward to. It could be something different for you: a cup of coffee, your favourite green tea, some food you really love, your favourite song.
  11. Bonus tip:  I bought and tried Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy and “Olive”. I took Rescue a few times when anxiety would overcome me and it really helped. “Olive” is meant to be used when very tired but I haven’t used it enough times to give it a review. I think I’ll give it an other go! I also took some of the pregnancy/breastfeeding vitamins and it might have helped actually. Some vitamins and minerals are known to have positive effects on the mood.

I was also very lucky to have a supportive husband who was understanding and told me that it was ok to feel that way, that it was ok to cry, that a lot had happened. He was sometimes telling me things I didn’t want to hear such as “There might not be a solution.” but he was right. It was just easier for him to say it :)

And something I should have done was being more gentle with myself, but it seemed that I was already doing so little…

My “baby” still doesn’t sleep through the night. One night every blue moon, she will sleep 5 or 6 hours in a row, but most of the nights it is 3 or 4 hours – and believe me, I am delighted with 3 or 4 hours! You will only hear me complain when I have to get up every 2 hours or less :) If I sleep 3 or 4 hours in a row at least once during the night, I can function. Since she has been 8 or 9 months, I have been feeling much better. I am not crying anymore. 3 or 4 hours is all I need. I am not back to my full self (my memory and sharpness especially) and I am still tired but the worst part is behind me.

I am aware it could come back though. When people ask me if we are thinking of having a second baby, I honestly say “no”. It’s not only about sleep, but it has A LOT to do with it. And it’s ok. I feel like the grounds under my feet are more or less stable at the moment and I will do everything I can to keep it that way.

Feel free to comment with your own tips and experiences!

How could you be mad with this cute little thing?

How could you be mad at this cute little thing?

  • Lucia
    August 1, 2016

    You are doing so well! It’s such a tough part of parenting.. I can really relate to what you are describing, we had a very bad sleeper too. It was torture. But went away with time (mostly), it got easier after 1.5yrs. My main coping mechanism was to surrender and to accept. Forget all the methods and tips etc, i just learnt to go with what my baby needs. But I do have to tell you, the second baby can be soooo different.. We can’t believe it ourselves. Yes, we are currently going through the 4 mths sleep regression but even now it’s easier than with my first. They are different little people, their little brains wired in different ways. I hope that a day will come (soon!) when you normalise and the thought of a second one won’t scare you (if bigger family is what you wish of course!!) Best of luck on your parenting journey and mind yourself!

    • Johanna King
      August 1, 2016

      Thank you Lucia for the kind comment! (Our daughter is named Lucia…)

  • Aoife
    August 10, 2016

    This was lovely to read, after a night of being up every two hours with a 7 week old and a sick 2.5year old. There is nothing easy about any of it. Our 2.5year old was sleeping thru the night by 8 weeks and still doesn’t (when she isnt sick) our second daughter is a little different tho ???? Like you said I’m not sleeping because she is restless I hear every move she makes (very noisy baby) .

    Of course my husband snores blissfully through the night.

    An exhausted Mam of 2 beautiful little girls.

    Thank you for your support and kind words!

    Aoife xx

    • Johanna King
      August 10, 2016

      Hi Aoife, I’d love to tell you that it will get better soon, but it might not. The Internet offers so many articles about how to get them to sleep better, but very little about how to cope with it, so I hope it helps a few mums!

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