If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with the fact that both my girls have been what you might call ‘non-sleepers’. I’ve personally been known to call them worse, with Pixie’s original alias being ‘the Devil Pixie’ for this precise reason. Thankfully she changed her ways eventually, and when I was pregnant with her baby sister I was convinced that if there’s any justice in the world, I was due a sleeper. Sadly, where my little ‘Elfin Angel’ is concerned, a moniker which started out as a hopeful premonition quickly became a cruel joke: she’s not on par with her sister – she’s worse. Way worse. Thank Christ I found a solution with Pixie, and today I’m going to share with you how to survive sleep-deprivation.
Pixie is now 3.5 years old and when I stop to think about it, I struggle to comprehend that.
It’s true what they say about long days but short years, and I’m in awe of our little ones’ ability to distort the laws of physics.
(Alas it appears to be a talent we lose as we age. Ah, to think of the things I’d do with a spare hour each day…I’d put away the never-ending pile of washing; cook my husband something more interesting than chicken and veg, and perhaps enjoy a proper conversation with him; maybe I’d even paint my nails!)
Until Pixie was around 18 months, I was that mum: the one all the others feel pathetically sorry for…but not quite sorry enough to stop them looking at your child as though s/he is Damian from Only Fools and Horses. There’s a natural wariness – just in case
being possessed Pixie’s prior affliction was contagious.
She was your classic Sleep Thief.
Yep, for more than a year I survived on six hours’ broken sleep each night. For most of that time I was roused from my bed six times before morning arrived. In case you’re reading while delirious with sleep-deprivation yourself, I’ll save you the brain power of calculating the sum: it equates to rarely sleeping for longer than ninety minutes at a time. Sometimes I’d get a stretch of two hours; rarely, a blissful three. Reading back over this paragraph, I want to give me then a gentle shake for being so naive. Yes, it was tough – but I had no idea. No. Idea. If Elfin slept like that, I’d be a happy bunny. (I checked it out and she should be having around 13 or 14 hours sleep in 24 hours; she can comfortably – and regularly does – exist on fewer than ten. There’s something very wrong with my daughter.)
Incidentally, for anyone perplexed as to where my hubby fitted in to this sleep schedule, here’s a bonus secret for the good of your marriage: if your partner is getting up for work, let them sleep at night.
Accept the help of your mum/sister/neighbour the following day – and take full advantage of your partner at the weekend, sure. But during the week, as far as possible, allow your partner to rest so they can do a day’s graft. Obviously there are caveats, and you can read more about my thoughts on this here.
How to Survive Seep-Deprivation Hell
I know the special kind of torture this amounts to. After Pixie started sleeping, it took months before I felt I was finally emerging from a dream-like state. All memories of that time have a fuzzy, surreal quality. I was basically a walking zombie. And now I’m back there – to the power of ten.
A little disclaimer before I share my secret for how to survive sleep-deprivation… I would truly love to impart a tip which genuinely helps others. But just so we’re clear – I can’t swear that this will turn out to be the inspired wisdom to fix all your problems.
What I can promise is that it will ease your problems if your baby is not a fan of sleep, and you/your partner is not a fan of co-sleeping.
I knew I did not want to co-seep. With Pixie, we tried a couple of times out of desperation, but hubby and I agreed it was uncomfortable and not a long-term solution. So we put Pixie in the bedroom next door – but each night I was getting up to her repeatedly. And every time I would lean down into her cot to pick her up, before traipsing back to our bed with her – and she wasn’t getting any lighter! My back was beginning to protest.
I had other concerns too: absolute darkness was paramount so as not to disturb Pixie as I laid her back down. After months of tiptoeing along the corridor like a cat burglar, I figured that with each new trip my luck was diminishing: our accident-free journeys were numbered and at some point I was going to crash into a doorframe or wall.
There’s no space in the nursery for a chair; I was shattered; I didn’t wish to resort to co- sleeping. There had to be another option. I regularly found myself eyeing up her cot, tempted to jump in, and debating whether my hurdling skills from my youth would betray me. I decided not to risk it for fear of the cot collapsing on impact.
But it did give me an idea…
My Secret to Getting More Sleep
Several months before things with Pixie began to improve, at a point when I’d reached my wit’s end, I asked hubby to dismantle the cot. I wanted to try putting Pixie’s mattress directly on the floor, from which height she could not injure herself if she fell, and – crucially – where I could lay down beside her.
Hubby thought I was making a mistake. My mum thought I was crazy.
We already had a gate across the top of the stairs, and Pixie slept in a sleeping bag anyway, ie. her ability to walk was compromised (unless of course she truly was possessed, in which case she’d merely have glided instead…). I set the space up to look cosy, with bumpers propped against the wall with teddies. I put a spare pillow at the head of the bed (for me), and a spare blanket at the foot (also for me). Granted, it looked a bit strange because it’s not our cultural norm. But it also looked oddly inviting.
She didn’t immediately start sleeping through – the set up may have had a certain allure but it was no such utopia!
But – I was comfortable.
That was not the only positive though, there’s a whole lovely list of reasons it was the best thing I ever did in the history of my sleep-deprivation. It meant:
- No more leaning into a cot to lift a heavy baby out;
- No more leaning into a cot to fail at transferring a sleeping baby;
- No more creeping the corridors in the dark, with only a foot to open doors;
- No more crying baby to disturb hubby;
- No more desperation leading to unsuccessful attempts of co-sleeping;
- It may not have been ideal, but when I had to, I could lay down, with a pillow and a blanket;
- …And – hallelujah – I could SLEEP.
(For anyone concerned about what may seem an inevitable issue, Pixie rarely moved from her bed when she woke during that period. I can count on one hand the number of times we found her anywhere other than her mattress upon waking.)
After desperate, desperate measures making us succumb to co-sleeping this time around – minus Daddy because he left our bedroom long ago (yes, things are truly that awful), we’re about to embark on round two of this solution ourselves. Never mind the lovely brand new cot which remains unused…
So, how to survive sleep-deprivation? It’s the old classic: if you can’t beat ’em – join ’em. Stop fighting it and embrace it instead: make yourself a comfortable space beside your little darling, and accept you’re in this for the long haul. Try it, I hope it works. Let me know how you get on.