Please go to Sleep! Mental health with extreme sleep deprivation.

‘Is she sleeping through yet?’

‘Through?’ I think… ‘Through an episode of Eastenders? Oh you mean through the night? God no. Definitely no.’

On maternal mental health week I wanted to write a post about baby sleep, well, lack of it and how it affects of mental health, I’ve also listed a few ways that I’ve learned to cope with it.

Jasmine is 16 months old, she has barely slept a longer stretch than two hours ever – which is always at the start of the night, in her cot and it gets less and less as the night goes on. I’ve read every baby sleep book, every sleep related comment on Facebook groups for knackered mums and brought every sleep gadget or lotion on the market. Some I think help, some don’t.

A couple of things that I have learned is that people get obsessed with sleep, with getting it, not getting it. Talking about it, thinking about it, looking at beds in shops and fantasising about having a little lie down!

I feel that, especially in the early days – I was so obsessed with sleep I was missing out on all the amazing things she was doing while she was awake.

Things escalate quickly during the night, at first when she wakes, I’m a wonderful Mary poppins mother, singing to her gently and when 3 hours have passed of her waking everytime I put her in the cot, I’ve become a deranged mad woman, loosing patience, convinced I’m the only person in the whole world who is up at this time of night, ever. I convince myself I’m a terrible mother, something so simple I can’t achieve. The worst mother ever.

I’ve even contemplated ‘falling down the stairs’ so that I would get a night in hospital maybe. I’ve previously mentioned the post baby dark thoughts I was having. The tired mind can be an awful thing.

I begged for help from my health visitor and all they could offer was a suggestion of sleep training. I would never judge anyone who goes down the sleep training route, we all do what we have to in order to survive. But I think if for those with such overwhelming anxiety like me, it’s not really the route to take.

An average night with Jasmine would look like this, assuming she hasn’t had a ‘danger nap’ – a nap after 3pm, if she’s napped after 3pm we are all doomed.

6pm – start bathtime and bedtime routine

7pm – she goes to sleep (fed to sleep, transferred to cot)

Up to 2 hours of sleep in cot….what a little angel. Her beautiful little face….I actually miss her, maybe she’ll sleep through until 6am…I almost think it and then she’s up.

Best case scenario…. 9pm – stands up in her cot crying ‘Daddy!’ does daddy go?

No. I go.

(In fairness daddy is redundant as Jasmine wants the boob and he selfishly doesn’t have them)

9.15pm – back to sleep in cot

10.15pm – awake

10.30pm – back to sleep in cot

10.50pm – awake

11.10pm – start to put her back in the cot the eyes open to keep her asleep I rock her

11.15pm – it’s game over, she’s making it clear she won’t go back in her cot and if I keep putting her in she will wake every 10 minutes through the night. She will stay awake if I hold her in arms walking around . At this point I analyse my ‘putting in the cot’ technique. Am I doing it wrong? am I making a massive error? I’m getting more and more angry and with her, angry with myself and exhausted.

I’ve started bringing her in to bed now she’s older, which means I can lay down whilst she wakes every 40 minutes so and get some sleep.

The only point I can put her back in the cot is when her dad leaves for work about 4am. If she sleeps 90 minutes in her cot I feel great! I really do.

Then up for the day at 6am.

I’m sure I’ll get a lot if people tell me to put her in the cot awake or drowsy. Both I’ve done. If she’s awake she hits her head against the cot as she gets so upset. Not cool.

Drowsy – sometimes she will ‘self settle’ and go to sleep – this only lasts one sleep cycle (roughly 45 minutes) so it has no impact on us really.

I understand in the grand scheme of things I am incredibly lucky to have a healthy baby. I am grateful every day to have my daughter as my best friend, I adore her and I know people struggle to have children. But sometimes it’s just hard, and it’s ok to say that.

I explained Jasmines sleep recently in a conversation to the doctor and he asked how am I still alive? Cheers doc. So I thought about it and thought I’d share with you how I cope with severe sleep deprivation. It won’t make them sleep but may help a bit and it will make the nights easier;

Keep calm

This is a huge one for me. The more stressed I get, the less likely Jasmine is to fall asleep and the quicker my anxiety escalates. Stay calm, listen to music that relaxes you.

Make a playlist

I created a bedtime playlist of slow songs so Jasmine associates these with bedtime, these work for nap time too. Add in your favourite songs too!

Don’t look at the time

I try to avoid looking at the time now, I found I was getting more stressed knowing I’d only slept for 10 minutes rather than 45 minutes.

They are babies and need you

Despite what people may tell you *ahem* Gina Ford…. your baby is NOT trying to manipulate you. It’s a big world and they just want comfort. I know Jasmine breastfeeds in the night for various reasons – one of these is comfort. I wouldn’t reject giving her comfort in the day so I give it a night. Although I don’t engage in chatting and it’s a different environment at night.

Routine

We always do the same, bathtime, book, bedtime routine each night so she knows it’s bedtime. I think routine is good for everyone.

Naps

I’ve mentioned the ‘danger zone’ of naps past 3… if she has a good nap at around midday I know she will go down no problem at night after some milk.

Co sleep safely

It’s literally the only way I manage to get any kind of sleep. Don’t panic about ‘making a rod for your back’ it won’t be forever. Make sure you follow safe co sleeping guidelines.

White noise

I’m sure most mums know about the joys of white noise, incase you don’t – try it! Helped get jasmine to sleep and stay asleep for a bit longer, especially when she was smaller.

Accept help and sleep

Take any help, if you can’t nap in the day have a bath or something where you can rest.

Don’t compare yourself others

I’ll put my hands up, I’m guilty of this. Why does their baby sleep 12 hours?!? What am I doing wrong?!? Every baby is different. I’ve only recently accepted this. As long as there’s no medical issues (we’ve ruled out dairy allergy’s) I think sleep will happen in its own time.

Accept they won’t sleep through

Every night when Jasmine was small I would think, THIS is the night, I’ve got my crystals, my lotions my Harry Potter spell book…SHES definitely going to sleep through!! She was never going to. It was totally unrealistic, I think that as a society we become obsessed with ‘sleeping through the night.’ Although in other cultures they don’t have the same sleep pattern as us, some tribes sleep for 2 hours and then are awake for 3 and continue like this. I’m aiming she’ll sleep through around 4 years old, but we will see.

Keep hydrated

Especially if you’re breastfeeding, keep drinking. Keep hydrated it will keep your mood up too.

Be kind to yourself

You’re doing amazing! Sleep deprivation is the worst thing, some cultures use it as a form of torture and you can see why. Take it easy.

Remember thousands of people are awake you are not alone.

Literally millions infact, night workers, people in different time zones, insomniacs – not to mention all the other thousands of mums in the same situation. Don’t panic about work, or not being able to do things just think about resting and deal with how you feel the next day. It won’t change anything getting angry.

Different things work for different babies, if there was any product that guarantees sleep, they would be constantly out of stock. In the meantime be kind to yourself.

Do you have any sleep deprivation tips I haven’t included?

Written by Marie Blake for her blog, Tummy2Mummy.

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