Isn’t it strange to think how our dreams change as we get older. If you ask a child what they want most in the world, chances are they will name the latest toy they are interested in and maybe a later bedtime. Ask a teenager and they will tell you that they want more freedom and independence and the later the party the better! Now ask a parent whose child is having issues sleeping….. the more sleep the better!
Picture the scene – you wake up when your alarm rings at 8am having slept for the full amount of recommended 10 hours….
For many of you reading this, that is a reality that vanished around about the time you became a parent or possibly even during pregnancy. The idea of undisturbed sleep is now your greatest dream! Whether you are being kept up by a baby who is waking every hour, spending hours lying with a toddler who can’t self settle or lying awake anxious about all that you need to pack into your day tomorrow, you are not alone.
Sleep deprivation is one of the less glamorous side effects of parenthood and raises both long and short term issues for parents.
The long term issue which parents want solutions that are easy to manage and long lasting, no matter what age the child, is what can I do to make the situation better? The question for which parents want an answer yesterday is – how do I learn to function on less sleep?
The question as to how to make things better has a huge range of answers! There is no one size fits all when it comes to sleep solutions. Part of this is because there are MANY different reasons for a child’s sleep pattern to be disrupted. The age of the child is a factor as could be their diet, how light a sleeper they are and what the pattern is when it comes to their “bad sleep.”
Somehow, the modern world has told us that lying with children to settle them is bad for them and they will never learn to sleep on their own. The truth is though that in my experience, the time spent lying with your awake child (as long as it isn’t for hours at a time) is precious and something that parents rarely regret.
If your child is needing you to make them feel loved and secure – how amazing a job are you doing as a parent!!! We are told to see it as a negative but it is the biggest compliment your child could give you.
It is hard to think logically whilst feeling like you need a nap BUT… if you are able to try and see patterns of what is happening with your child’s sleep by keeping a diary it can help you eliminate obvious issues. For example – is there a link between what they eat at dinner and if they sleep through the night? Is there a difference between putting them to bed 15 minutes later than their current bedtime as to how long it takes them to settle? Does the room they are in make any difference?
For every problem there is a solution and so it is really helpful for your relationship with your little one if you stop thinking of them as a “difficult sleeper” and rather try to identify what is the tricky part for them. Is it the settling, waking in the night, wanting to sleep in your bed (and kicking you out in the process) or waking too early in the morning? Whichever of these issues it is, you will feel it is the most stressful of all!
Be assured that there are real and long term solutions out there and it is often a matter of trial and error to find which one works best for you and your family.
In order to sleep through the night, we as human beings want to feel safe. None of us sleep well if we are worrying about waking up early for a flight or are mulling over a big decision or if we don’t feel well. Children are little human beings and so are no different. A bedtime routine which starts before dinner and has set activities on the way to bed ( these may include stories, bath time or lullabies) can help your child to feel more secure before light’s out. As adults many people wind down by reading or watching TV and children also need the opportunity to unwind from their day before they can be relaxed enough to sleep all night long.
Being relaxed is a feeling many sleep deprived parents long for and the question of how to survive on less sleep is therefore of tremendous importance.
This issue seems impossible to solve whilst being so tired that you can barely remember where your bed is, let alone the names of your children. The old adage goes – “sleep when the baby / child sleeps,” but you know better! After all, when else could you shower, grab dinner from the freezer or attend to the never ending list of admin jobs or chores around the house which are neglected whilst your baby is there?
Practically, as much as the medical research tells us the ideal amount of sleep ( 8-10 hours) we need as adults, the truth is that different people are able to cope on different amounts of sleep. Be guided by your body and if you feel you need more than you are getting to be a better parent/ partner or person do what you need to in order to try and get it.
Don’t be afraid of asking someone to watch your baby for a while so you can get a well deserved couple of hours sleep. Give yourself permission to be tired and to ask for help with the things you are struggling with. Sometimes, the people around you aren’t the most empathetic. In your exhaustion, you won’t have the patience for them at the moment so allow yourself to be surrounded by those who are able to commiserate with you rather than tell you to “suck it up- that is what parenting is about !” Don’t allow your to do list to govern you – the dirty dishes aren’t going anywhere!
The most important thing in dealing with this concern is to prioritise yourself, your body and your needs. Try not to allow well meaning friends and family to make you feel bad. You are doing great and you will survive this.
According to fairy tales, “a dream is a wish your heart makes when you are fast asleep.” I disagree, I think a dream is a goal and an aspiration which gives us the confidence to hope that things will improve. My dream is that parents of children of any age, who are struggling with any aspect of sleep, have the support they need to enable them to be kind to themselves and to remind them that one day their dream of a full night’s sleep will come true.