Published On: Fri, Oct 10th, 2014

Desperately Seeking Sleep

Eyes closed but noDesperately Seeking Sleept calm, body in bed but not relaxed, mental clock ticking away the night hours knowing that it’s just moments before the inevitable sigh, cry or call out. While some parents may experience sleepless nights during the early months of babyhood, others may find that there is no easy end to children’s night waking. Yet, despite the challenges, it’s important to find ways to thrive and not just survive the sleep deprived times.

Caring for a baby or young child who doesn’t sleep well can be the most challenging part of parenthood. For most parents in this situation, having a child that can’t sleep means day after day life grinds on without the mental and physical recovery a good night’s sleep can bring. Amnesty International has classed more than 30 days of sleep deprivation, where prisoners only receive 4 hours of sleep a night, as cruel and inhuman treatment. (This was in response to the USA’s Army Field Manual which allows for 30 days plus potential extension as a method for dealing with prisoners of war.) With side effects of sleep deprivation ranging from headaches and high blood pressure to depression and cognitive impairment, don’t you wish there was an easy fix for parents who are forced to push on past 30 days in their own personal war against the absence of sleep?

The first thing to consider in fixing the sleep situation is that the concept of sleeping through the night is in itself slightly misleading. The very definition of what it means to sleep through and how it is achieved can be variable. Is it sleeping through the night to sleep if a child goes down for 5 hours, and then need resettling before she’s back to sleep again? Is it sleeping through the night if a baby takes a breastfeed while co-sleeping with mum and dad? Or is it sleeping though if the baby or child is kept awake until as late as possible in the hope the next waking comes closer to morning?

If the situation the family is in is leaving mum and dad frustrated and exhausted then months of sleep deprivation can turn the family home into a Gitmo prison camp. If you’ve ever realized 90 minutes after a midnight settling that you’re still awake and waiting for the next sound you know that frozen frustration of life in the no-sleep zone. But if some strategies are effective even some of the time then the goal of sleeping through the night should be seen as a family compromise. You can say, “My child sleeps”, when the baby or child’s sleep patterns come as close as possible to the limits of what the family can work with. Once there is acceptance of the situation, sleep and achieving it in any form it comes in, can be easier.

Putting aside hopes for a textbook sleeper; a 7pm-7am touchdown, there can still be plenty of worry that something must be wrong if your child doesn’t textbook sleep. After all, plenty of parenting manuals (hello Gina Ford and co) promise that children can sleep through the night. Before we go any further, it is important to know that having a child that struggles to sleep does not reflect parenting failures or child behavioural issues. Instead of quantifying children’s behaviour on the spectrum of normal to abnormal, it’s important to focus instead on the very essence of every single child – their uniqueness. How much a child sleeps and when and how well can very much be part of who they are. While we can try and bring social and cultural rituals to their sleep cycles, some kids will take longer than others to fall into block patterns of night sleeping and daytime naps. And some kids never will. There are strategies to aid and assist a child to sleep but if wrapping, shhing, soothing and comforting aren’t cutting it, be reminded that maybe your baby or child just won’t be sleeping when you want them to. So just keep doing what works for you.

When there are some improvements on the sleep front, take them and be grateful. I’ll write that again: Take All Improvements and Be Grateful. There is nothing harder than those moments of sleep epic fail when the peace and quiet has been broken once more by tears, tantrums or terrors. But you will be more able to keep to your own personal strategies if and when you’re feeling strong in yourself. At the moment, my daughter still can’t sleep well during the day which makes for a cranky, cranky baby. Yet during my 5 months of house arrest I’ve gotten better at focusing on the positives. While we can’t really leave the house much, I’ve gotten to know the postman and all the couriers who have been delivering all my net purchased goodies. And I know that my daughter at 5 months is so, so, so much better than 3 months whichgives me hope for the months ahead.

Whether you go back to work, take maternity leave or are a stay at home parent, long term lost sleep can be the sacrifice that wasn’t on the post-baby agenda. In whatever you do to get through it, remember that this experience will end by the time they hit their teenage years. Saturday mornings are the perfect time for long term revenge.

By Kelly Cheung
Copyright 2012 Mummy Weekly

Kelly Cheung

Kelly Cheung is the mother of a 5 month old struggling sleeper. She recommends shopping on the Internet and interior decorating* as ways to thrive in the survival months. “Okay, so maybe it is just a lot of house cleaning and refreshing the bed linen but it’s keeping me sane”!

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