parents

'I wish I could tell you it's going to get better, I'm sorry I can't.'

The young mum grabbed my arm in the coffee shop line and with steely grey eyes desperately asked “when is it going to get better?”

I smiled nervously and wanted to answer honestly, but I saw she couldn’t handle the truth right now.

She was on the edge.

I was going to have to let her down gently.

“Oh look probably around 7 months. He will start to sleep for longer stretches and you will too.”

“Ok thanks,” she said, looking like she was about to cry.  “I can do three more months.”

“Let me buy your coffee,” I said. “It really helps.”

Her eyes darted around at my three small children charging through my legs and she smiled at the fourth one strapped to my chest.  I could see she thought I must have some authority of this issue.

I physically ached for her. A woman I didn’t know for more than five minutes, yet our alliance felt stronger than stone.

I felt like I had to look after her and protect her, because you see… I am very tired too.

There I said it.

Fiona with her oldest child. And very tired.

Tired is not the right word to describe it. Tired gives the impression you’ve worked late a few nights in a row, or been travelling through different time zones. 

Completely and utterly, bone-achingly ‘exhaustamipated’ is more apt.

I have been telling myself for six years it would get easier. There would be more sleep.  One night soon.

I was always looking for new ways to take control of it – so it did not control me.

“I just need to master that new self settling technique”, or “get rid of the toddler’s bottle” or “try to get the baby to take a dummy”....

Those things do work for a while. But then they don’t.

Sleep deprivation goes in cycles, as you probably know.

In the first stage of the cycle you cope. Your eyes burn, you feel physically sick, you cannot think straight, but you cope.  You bat away thoughts of feeling tired with ‘just harden up sister’.

In the second stage everything starts to become very hard. Each small task seems like a marathon and you admit to yourself you are starting to struggle. The cloud of fatigue gets darker around you.  This phase can last a long time depending on your stamina.

Then you hit the final stage of complete crash and burn. All you can think about is going to sleep. You have multiple very bad moments, like leaving your car door wide open with your handbag inside when you go to the shops or having entire conversations with colleagues and calling them the wrong name, or driving through red lights … or worse.  I won’t go there.

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Just when you are ready to absolutely lose your bundle, you get a few hours of sleep in a row again and recover. You are back to coping, or ‘stage one’.  It is a cycle.

Over a long period of time sleep deprivation impacts your life, your personality, and your general ability to function.

It creates anxiety and forces people to lose perspective. Small things seem like very big problems when they are not.

It impacts judgement and can lead to poor decision making. It should not be underestimated.

The truth is I can say with four kids and a few years experience now that sleep deprivation does not get easier.  It is always brutal.   

But there are some ways to survive it.   There ARE things that help.

And I will share with you all that I know.

These are my 10 tips for surviving sleep deprivation.***

  1. Never count the hours you have slept.  

This is a vicious cycle to develop and oh so easy to start. You wake up, quickly calculate how many times the baby / toddler / child woke you and then how few hours of sleep you had. This leads to anxiety about how you are going to get through the day and remain alive. Not helpful. Not constructive. Just forget it.  Wake up and wipe it from your memory. Erase the fact that the little brats you so love and adore treated you like s*it all night and move on.

2. Get up, dress up, show up.  

You have huge bags under your eyes, feel sick to the stomach with exhaustion and the LAST thing you want to do is get dressed in real clothes. Well buck up, get up, dress up and show up.  A quick hot shower and some make-up does wonders for creating the illusion in your own mind that you are more awake than you feel. Wear the nice top or the new lipstick that makes you feel good. Wear the sparkly earrings.  It works.

3. Go for that run 

The cycle of sleep deprivation wears you down and depletes your energy reserves dramatically.   Nothing gets the endorphins pumping quite like getting out in the sunshine or cool breeze and pounding the pavement. Whether you walk, run or even just stroll with the pram the act of exercising makes you feel better and importantly it wakes you up. 

4. Every little bit of sleep helps 

When sleep deprivation is at its worst it’s a minute by minute struggle to keep your weary eyes bound open.  I am big believer that every little piece of sleep you can catch helps.   If a friend or family member comes over and offers to hold the baby for you, go and lie down for 30 minutes. Even if you only sleep for 20 minutes it helps your general state of mind.    Screw folding the basket of washing. Folded washing is not as important as your mental well being. Go and lie down at every opportunity.

5. Eat all the chocolate, consume all the coffee, drink all the wine.  

At times I have survived solidly on a stable diet of chocolate, caffeine and vino with a few carbs thrown in. This has brought me great happiness and helped me get through many a tough day of fatigue.   If it helps and makes you feel better (i.e more awake) and it is not shooting up, do it.  #dirtyeating

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Fiona with her youngest child.

6. Blame no one 

It is not unreasonable that it makes you want to detonate each time your partner lies peacefully in dream land next to you while the baby / toddler / child is screaming in the night.  It’s taken time for me to come to the realisation this is a completely wasted emotion and the last thing you need in your quest to fight sleep deprivation.  Forget about the fact your partner has had more sleep than you. It is not a competition.  The positive side of it is they’re more awake in the day time and can take over duties here and there so you can lie down and sleep. #glasshalffull

7. Just dance 

This is my fail safe every time. Even on the worst, most depressing days I have endured in the sleep stakes, if I turn on my favourite Beyonce songs and dance through the house Hugh Grant style I am instantly happier.  It works a treat. And happier equals more awake!

8. Phone a friend 

When you are feeling really low and just need to stay awake, get one of your best mates on the line.  Someone that makes you laugh, that keeps it real and is not going to drain you but will energise you.   The little pump up from them will wake you up and help you make it through the day.

9. If possible – have no plan 

Don’t create big plans, or expectations for yourself or with others of all the jobs you will get done in a day. Be kind to yourself. You are exhausted. If all you do in a day is keep the small people alive and breathe in and out that is ok. That is actually a huge achievement. Just calm down about all the other stuff.   None of that matters right now.

10. You are the most important person in the family 

If you fall down, the whole show falls down.  (No pressure). Every one is relying on you and your ability to function. That’s why it is so important you spend any moment you can investing in your own sleep.  Every little bit counts.  It may appear selfish to you at first to take every opportunity possible to rest, but remember it is the best thing for your whole family – as it is keeping you functioning.   Ensure the people close to you understand that you are making this a priority in your life right now and you take it seriously. They need to take it seriously too.

The truth is none of this is perfect but it may help. It helps me.

I hope my little tips and tricks can give you a glimmer of hope in a very sleep deprived state. And above all else – I wish you sleep. Glorious sleep.

*** Please note this is NOT by any means medical advice and if you are suffering sleep deprivation and have serious feelings of not coping you should seek medical advice from your GP.

Have you experienced sleep deprivation? How did you cope?

Tags: kids , health-and-wellbeing
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