My children, now five and two, like to wake at regular intervals through the night, and have done since the moment they were born. No matter how much coaxing, encouraging or bribery my husband and I attempt, they still wake – and therefore wake me up too – every three hours or so (on a good night).
When I first became a parent, I expected a certain amount of sleeplessness. In the first year of a baby’s life, the average parent gets just four hours and 44 minutes of sleep a night, according to a UK study. What I didn’t expect was to still be severely sleep-deprived five years down the track.
Sean Szeps shares how to sleep again with young children. Post continues after video.
There’s no way round it – sleep deprivation is awful. It’s affected every area of my life; my friendships, my career, my marriage and my health.
I look in the mirror and am horrified by what I see. I’ve aged insurmountably. Gone is the plump creamy skin I used to be proud of. Today, my face has a pallid grey sheen to it, no matter how many brightening or tightening creams I use. I don’t go to the gym anymore; sleep is prioritised over everything else.
Although the physical effects of prolonged sleep deprivation are hard to stomach, it’s the emotional consequences that are really damaging. I’m undoubtedly less patient with my children than I would be if I’d slept properly. Some days I wonder which arguments could have been avoided or how many tears wouldn’t have been shed (mine or theirs) if I’d had a good block of shut-eye the night before. Which games would I have played with them if I wasn’t so exhausted that I opted out and let them amuse themselves for an hour or two?
Some days I feel as though I’m trying to walk through tar; my body moves in slow motion. Sounds are muted, conversations are distant. I turn down invitations from friends because I’m too tired to even contemplate going out. I forget everything unless I write it down. Once I couldn’t even remember what my daughter’s name was. Trying to get my brain up to speed for work is so difficult that I spend hours on projects that should take half the time – ironically making me even more tired.