'My son is four and he has never slept through the night.'

It’s happening again. The rustle in the night, the pressure of tiny knees pressing at the end of the bed, the tiny warm body squeezing between us. The chatter.

“Mummy, I’m cold.”

“Daddy, I want some milk.”

“Mummy, is it morning now?”

“Daddy, I’m scared.”

“Mum, do dolphins have teeth?”

My little boy is a night person.

Not getting enough sleep is not only my problem. Hear Robin Bailey talk (and cry) about it on Mamamia’s podcast, The Well. (Post continues after audio.)

Parents of newborns look away now, but my Billy is four, and he has never, ever slept a whole night through without waking.

My first baby began to sleep “though the night” at eight months. At the time, I thought that was too old. I berated myself for not getting her to the sleep whisperer at six months.

I watched friends who refused to control-cry massaging their baby’s feet to get them to sleep until they were two. I thought (privately) they were crazy, and weak, and were letting their children walk all over them.

This guy. (Image:Supplied.)

And then I had Billy. He seemed to like sleeping for six months. And then he just gave it up.


I can almost remember, if I try, the first few months that I went back to work when he hit that six-month mark. I have one strong image in my mind, of me in the tiny office kitchen, holding onto the kettle and crying, silently.

Someone came in. "How's the baby?" they asked, in the brightly polite way of someone only cares mildly.

With my back to them, I wiped my eyes. "He's fine," I managed, and carried my strong tea out to my desk, hoping it would take my boss a while to realise that her capable manager had been replaced by the walking dead. "How am I going to pretend I know what I'm doing?" I used to think to myself every day as I shook myself awake at my stop on the bus.

Some funny fails from other sleep deprived mums. (Post continues after video.)

I have nothing against sleep-training. But our home is small, our kids share a room and our neighbours are close. We shushed and patted and knocked and read books and filled out worksheets, we put up notices in the hallway and pushed notes under people's doors and we slept on a pull-out bed in the lounge room for three nights that turned into three months...

I couldn't even tell you all of things that we did. But they all led us here, to a place where kids who can walk and talk and make a sandwich still can't sleep in their own bed all night.

I don't tell this story with a cry of "poor me". I tell this story because for many, many, many of us, broken sleep is the new normal. I am entirely used to operating on sleeping in shifts, to expecting that there will be many wake-ups in my night, that the morning will come too soon, and who knows how it will look, or which bed I will be in.

My kids are big now, but our nightly bedroom dance is common to many families. We all start off in our assigned beds, but by morning, a stealthy shuffle has occurred. My son is next to me, and my partner is in his bed. Or I'm in bed with both the kids and he is on their bunks. Or I'm on a bunk with Billy, and Matilda's in our bed with Dad.



Most nights I am barely aware of the shuffle, but I know there was talking and walking involved. Cajoling and shushing and carrying of pyjama-ed kids around the house.

At the moment, I am trying to get up at 5am to exercise. But that invariably means waking only an hour or so after the last kid has done some night-travel and extricating myself from a tangle of limbs without waking anyone else to tiptoe out into the cold dark.

Needless to say, it doesn't happen more than it does.

Will there be a time when sleep is again an expectation? When will that be?

And until then, am I losing brain cells at a rate that would befit a black-out drunk?

If so, I know who to blame. And I have a sneaking suspicion it's not the kids.

Holly is the co-host of This Glorious Mess, and you can follow on Facebook, here

When did your kids start sleeping through the night? 

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