(First published on The Contented Calf website on Tuesday 12th February 2013. With a three year old and a 10 month old in tow, sleep was always on my mind....)
To be honest, all I really want to do when I go to sleep is sleep. For the whole night. And wake up naturally. If I could do this for a whole seven nights in a row, I would be in heaven. I would be a new woman.
This morning however when the alarm went off at 6:45am I was a tiny bit less tired than I often am. I think this is because we’d had a ‘good’ night. We’d only had one set of waking around 4am: 3YO had had a nightmare, 10MO’s breath pad alarm had gone off (she’s taken to moving a LOT around her cot), followed by the obligatory post-waking loo trip for both Contented Hubby and myself.
But having gone to bed at 9:30pm, fallen back asleep around 5ish I guess and not woken until 6:45am, my sleep tank feels a miniscule bit more replenished. I could tackle the day ahead.
This got me thinking as to just how important sleep has become to me, to us as a family.
I’ve always been an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ kind of a gal, and a fairly light sleeper, but mostly I would wake up feeling rested. But ever since being pregnant with 3YO I’m just not sure I’ve had a full night’s sleep.
I did have TWO good night’s sleep early-ish on in 10MO’s life, where I got over seven hours sleep in a row and woke naturally.
Heaven. Absolute heaven.
Contented Hubby is an EXCELLENT sleeper. Whatever his day has been like, he climbs into bed, puts his head on the pillow, and sleeps. All night through, pretty much. Even though his night-time ‘ward’ is 3YO (mine is 10MO), if he has to get up to tend to her, he can do it half-asleep and zonk straight back to sleep as soon as he is back in bed.
I think it’s an amazing skill and frequently say he should put it on his CV.
I think it’s become such a focus for me because it seems to be the key thing that differentiates a good day from a bad day. If 3YO has slept well, she’s happy, chirpy, fun, co-operative (only as far as a three year old can be of course), better behaved, calmer, nicer, listens more, laughs.
Realising this early on in 3YO’s toddlerdom, we always keep re-focussing ourselves on ensuring she has as much sleep as possible – firm bedtime routines, punctual bedtimes, rewards for staying in bed until it’s officially morning (when we come in or the sun comes up on the gro-clock). It doesn’t work all the time by any means, but we stick at it, and in general we all do OK.
Although 10MO hasn’t mastered ‘sleeping through’ as early or consistently as 3YO, we’re not doing too badly on that front.
If I feel rested I am more patient, more resourceful, more energetic, more fun, more able to cope when things go wrong. I am all-round better at parenting. I am more motivated and productive at work. Sleep is good. So good.
And lack of sleep can be so bad. Hilary Jacobson writes in her book ‘Mother Food’:
“Postpartum depression can gradually develop out of postpartum exhaustion. A mother may hardly notice that she has slipped from feeling bone-tired to being irritable, anxious, crying all the time, depressed.”
I know that I have felt so tired to the core, that it takes every ounce of strength to get my body out of bed on a morning and begin my mummy duties. What can we do about it though? How do we get more sleep, especially if we have young children?
Dr Natheera Indrasenan (Guest, External Institutions, UK Government, The National Health Service) writes in her article “Sleep: A doctor’s advice”:
“Sleep Hygiene asks you to think about a number of factors that you have control over, in order to get the best out of your sleep. Much of it is about habit and lifestyle, and it can take around six weeks to show the full benefit, but you should see improvement in your sleep quality sooner.”
But in all honesty, we all know most of what she suggests, don’t we? We do our best, but don’t often succeed. And while we have young children, our sleep is going to be broken isn’t it? This is why I was so interested in this article when @ginandcrumpets mentioned it to me last year, “The myth of the eight-hour sleep“:
“We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.”
So maybe we should embrace our night-time waking, and try not to stress too much when we’re up and about on night-duty?
Maybe….. Maybe not getting stressed if we have to get up in the night, or worse: wake-up even when the kids don’t, will help us make the most of the sleep we do get?
However, for now, I for one won’t be giving up on my fantasy of an unbroken night’s sleep and the holy grail, a lie-in any time soon!
As always, with love from our family to yours,