Many years ago, but not so many they’ve been forgotten, a first-time mum went back to work. She had a certain spring in her step. A joy in her eyes. And while she missed her little angel, she was happy to be back in a world of adults, relishing with new passion the challenges of her job and approaching them with a renewed sense of purpose. Her colleagues were amazed. They were all parents who had been through the sleepless baby years with their own children. Surely she should’ve been depleted? Her little angel was barely only six months after all. But this was not the case. For this lucky first-time mum had scored the sleeping jackpot. While breastfeeding and other things may have been a schamozzle, sleep – that was bliss. This mother’s little angel had slept more than eight hours a night since she was only eight weeks old. And now, this happy little family were getting almost twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night. But that what not all, their little angel also self-settled. Instead of falling asleep in her parent’s arm, this first-time mother’s little angel, was quite content to gurgle to herself in her cot, before rolling over and going to sleep.

 

Then this happy little family had a second child.

 

Our little girl sound asleep

Our little girl sound asleep

To those who know us, you would know that this is my story. But I’m not going to revisit that constant lack of sleep. Frankly, I’d rather forget it. This post is about answering the question I get asked more than any other:

 

  How did I cope without sleep, for so long?

 
Our son ended up in the sleep disorders clinic at the SAN Hospital in Sydney. We came home with a diagnosis of multiple night terrors and insomnia... he was only ten months old.

Our son ended up in the sleep disorders clinic at the SAN Hospital in Sydney. We came home with a diagnosis of multiple night terrors and insomnia… he was only ten months old.

Yes. That’s right. It wasn’t just the fact that I considered myself lucky if I managed to scrape together six hours of accumulated sleep over a twelve hour period… It was the fact that my son didn’t sleep anything longer than four hour chunks until he was over a year old… and for much of that we’d only get one block of four hour sleep – everything else would be 20-50 minute chunks. We now know, and have managed, his health issues that were the reason for this lack of ability to sustain sleep… but it took us over a year to get there. We didn’t have one strategy. We had many! So, here are my bag of tricks for coping with no sleep:

 

Co-sleep

Take precautions and do it properly. There is a lot of information on the web about this. We never did this with our first – she simply wouldn’t sleep anywhere but by herself… but with our second it was a life saver.
 

Sleep in their room

We started with a spare mattress on the floor. Eventually we gave in and bought a bed. When I was doing Monday to Friday by myself, while my husband worked in Sydney, this was how I got by. It meant that my dear, little cherubs were out of my bed, so I could sleep better, and for the most part, I didn’t have to even get out of bed to resettle our son.
 

Take sleeping tablets

When you manage to find that magic fairy who will get up to them in the middle of the night, so you don’t have to – take a sleeping tablet. I was against this at first, but chronic sleep deprivation caused my sleep cycles to be destroyed. In an effort to re-train me, my GP suggested sleeping tablets. This also ensured that I went into a deep enough sleep that I wasn’t waking constantly thinking I was hearing our children calling out.
 

Eat well

Whether you are lucky enough to have a friend drop off meals, or you do what we did – buy take out every so often, eat well. Think simple, salads and pasta, or bulk cook meals and freeze them.
 

Get outside
There are numerous research articles touting the mental health benefits of getting outside. Find some time in every day to get outside. As sad as it sounds, outside was my safe place to cry. That was how I grabbed five minutes outside each day. I had a little tear in the sun!

 

Find someone who will take you seriously
When children have a problem at school, bullying or otherwise, teachers tell them – keep telling people until somebody helps you. My advice is the same. Our first GP dismissed our concerns. So did the second. Eventually I demanded a referral to a pediatrician. Then another, more specialised. I had to hold specialists to account when they couldn’t find answers. If they couldn’t find an answer – send me to the next person up the chain. What saved us? Our maternal health care nurse from our first child. Even though she was now over three hours away, she kept calling to touch base and offer suggestions. She never had any answers, but she always had suggestions and never forgot about us. Most importantly she believed, like us, that our son’s issues were medical and not behavioural. So when I was ready to give up – she’d remind me that there must be an answer, that we needed to find the right medical professional who could help us. And she was right.

 

Get help from a variety of people
If you are suffering from any long-term thing, you are going need a team of people to get you through it. We had my parents, a handful of friends, our GP, my daughter’s maternal health care nurse, a psychologist and an army of pediatric specialists. We did not go through this alone.

 
Find your tribe
The people who get you. The people who don’t judge. The people who will send you helpful advice and run interference on the unhelpful people. For a long time ‘my tribe’ was virtual. I wasn’t awake enough to trust myself driving a car. So I’d connect with other mums over Facebook forums. I’d read blogs. Then slowly I got out of the house and could connect with these mums in real life. I also made new friends, who didn’t necessarily have the same struggles as me, but whose journey in parenthood had been just as bumpy – we got each other.
 
Be grateful
I know it’s hard. I know you want to throw the towel in. But somewhere amongst all this shit, there are things to be grateful for. Search high and low until you find them. Then hold onto them. For me it was my son’s laugh and my daughter’s uncoordinated dancing. They always put a smile on my face. And when times were really horrible, my husband would force us all into the car and we’d drive somewhere nice and escape. After all, we were always going to be tired and our problems would still be there when we got back. But for this ‘right now’ we could laugh together as a family. We would, and did, get through it.
 
 
I have linked up again with Jess for I blog on Tuesday. Be sure to check out what other great bloggers have written this week.

Written by Nadia

9 Comments

Jo @ You had us at hello

Sleep deprivation is sooooo hard isn’t it?! You were very lucky to have one good sleeper. I remember being up at all hours sing that Mary Poppins song “Stay awake….don’t go to sleep….” Except I was so tired I’m pretty sure I swapped those awake and sleep words!! Then magically one day my oldest began sleeping perfectly. He’s asleep by the time you leave his room after kissing him goodnight. The youngest monkey (3 yr old) still wakes us up most nights. 5 years of crappy sleep. I look at pregnant new mums and think “oooooh you don’t know what your’e in for lady!” I shall seek my sleepless revenge on my boys when they/re teenagers though – look forward to it. Wishing you all the good sleeps Nadia xx

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nadiamc

It is awful – and you could never describe it to anyone so that they’d be prepared. Our two still wake up, but at least the waking my son does it just normal two year old waking. It’s no longer health related. I’m looking forward to when they start to sleep more consistently. I’ve heard they sleep a lot when they’re teenagers… it’s just unfortunate that there are other problems when they’re teenagers!

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stephanie@stephsjoy

Gosh your poor little boy, we’ve been to that sleep unit before after a few years of sleep deprivation, glad you found some sound strategies to help you. I found going for walks immensely helpful!

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nadiamc

Unfortunately we live in the middle of the country – so we don’t have footpaths for prams. But now they are both toddlers it’s a lot easier to go for a walk around the paddocks. I missed exercise – I should’ve added that to the list… but then it wouldn’t have been my list because I didn’t really exercise! But you are so right – getting out for a walk is great.

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Toni @ Finding Myself Young

My bub wasn’t a good sleeper for the first 9 months or so. She’d sleep a maximum of 5hr chunks at night and during the day would only sleep on my chest and still only for 20-40min periods. Thankfully she’s much better now. I survived by co-sleeping with her a lot after she was about 6 months old and drinking lots of cups of tea during the day to stay awake. I also tried to go to bed as soon as she did at night even if it was only 7:30 at night.

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nadiamc

It’s just awful isn’t it? You never take sleep for granted again, do you? We are still on granny bedtime. Yup, often in bed by 8pm… We are just that cool.

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EssentiallyJess

I have vivid memories of sitting in my hallway sobbing because of a child that just refused to sleep, and feeling like the worst parent in the world for it. Sleep deprivation is hard on everyone. I’m so glad you’re past it now. xx

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nadiamc

Not quite past it yet! But we are at the stage where the reasons why he wakes up are what normal toddlers wake up for. All this health issues have been sorted. So as much as we still don’t get a night of unbroken sleep – we are grateful that all his poor health seems to have passed. I always wondered if there should’ve been a FB group for all the mums up in the middle of the night trying to get bubs back to sleep – somewhere where we could swap sob stories! But then I’m not sure I would’ve been coherent enough to type…

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Sally@Toddlers on Tour

I never really had the lack of sleep problem myself (other problems yes). However our son slept in our room i his own cot – we were only in a small unit at the time and didn’t have the space. I also discovered if he woke for a feed during the night I gave him a bottle (if you are breastfeeding express some for the night) whilst he stayed in his cot and then he would just roll straight over and go back to sleep, I then didn’t have to resettle him again.

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