Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The stages of sleep deprivation




The first year with a new baby is known for its sleep deprivation, which for many new mums can be a big slap in the face. But while that year might feel like one blurry fog of exhaustion, there are several distinct stages of sleep deprivation that a new mum goes through on the way to becoming chronically sleep-deprived and caffeine-dependent...  

Stage 1: No idea what's coming

You're pregnant, and everyone's got advice. People tell you about the lack of sleep you can expect, but you laugh it off.  You expect it's like getting up for the loo a couple of times in the night. Your ignorance can be overlooked, because there's no way you can know what's ahead.  If you really wanted to prepare for motherhood, you’d have to set an alarm that goes off every two hours overnight and forces you to stay awake for an hour each time. For at least two weeks, to really appreciate the impact of sleep deprivation. But why would you do this? You’re pregnant, you should be resting. Anyway, right now you’re way too focussed on getting your birth plan finished to worry about sleep.

Stage 2: The dream baby

Your baby arrives, and sleeps beautifully. For hours at a time. He wakes once or twice in the night and happily resettles after a feed. You wonder what all the fuss is about - this baby just sleeps and eats. Meanwhile, you're buzzing with after-birth hormones, making the broken sleep you're getting easy to manage. You declare you've got a 'good sleeper', a ‘dream baby’. You even pat yourself on the back for the fabulous sleep techniques you've been using. You take hundreds of sleeping photos, because sleep is all your baby does. You think about starting a mummy blog, to share your wisdom and experience with other mums. At least it would give you somewhere to post all those sleeping baby pictures.

Stage 3: Bring me all the coffee

Your sleepy newborn turns into a regular baby. No longer content with resettling happily after a night feed, your baby now demands to be rocked. For hours at a time. Suddenly, you're getting 2-3 hours of broken sleep a night and it feels like you've been hit by a truck. You look a bit like it, too. You walk around dazed and confused, with a new appreciation for the meaning of exhaustion. Even speaking is hard work - you’ve never been this tired. It’s actually making you feel sick.  The only thing that keeps you going is caffeine, so you send your husband out to get you a coffee machine, for those mornings that start at 4am.

Stage 4: Emotional much?
 
The thing with sleep deprivation is that it's an emotional business. Simple acts like getting dressed reduce you to tears. Anything on TV that involves babies, or the vague notion of babies has the same effect. You’re also really pissed off. When did everyone get so annoying? All the mums at mothers' group are saying their babies 'sleep through'. It makes you want to punch them in their smug, well-rested faces. You and your husband bicker constantly about who is more tired. Every morning he tries to tell you he can't sleep at night while you're up with the baby but you tell him YOU COULD HEAR HIM SNORING. Which is also the reason you COULDN’T GET BACK TO SLEEP.

Stage 5: When the baby whisperers cash in

Desperate for your baby to sleep, you enter the world of sleep training. Baby whisperers promise to solve your sleep problems for the price of a small car. You read baby book after baby book, telling you what you should be doing to get your baby to sleep. Each one just contradicts the last one you read, which confuses your caffeine-addled brain. You spend hours trying to figure out how to make your baby stick to a routine so rigid and unrealistic that you end up staying home 24 hours a day. You shop around for bamboo sheets, exclusive baby sleeping bags, night lights and lullaby toys that you hope might be the magical sleep cue for your baby. You worry endlessly about whether your baby is too cold or too hot or teething, or whether the light shining from the neighbour’s front porch is making him wake in the night. 

Stage 6: Superhero stuff

Whether you’ve resorted to controlled crying, had a stay in sleep school or decided to co-sleep, by now you and your baby are probably getting some rest, at long last. The scraps of decent slumber make you feel human again and let you rejoin the land of the living.  But here's the rub: you never actually stop feeling tired once you're a mum. It’s part of the job to be slightly exhausted all the time. Being a mother is hard, relentless work and while you might be getting a bit of sleep here and there, you never quite make it back to baseline. But don't worry, there's good news. All those months of mothering on the frontline in the face of sleep deprivation have made you hard as nails. Now, when you get the odd rough night or week, you take it in your stride. You pile on the under-eye concealer, grab your sunglasses, and get on with your day (via the nearest coffee shop).

That makes you resilient, powerful and amazing. Mums, that’s the stuff of superheroes. 

*This post was originally published on Kidspot

So are you sleep-deprived right now? What stage are you in? If you're lucky enough to be done with all the sleep-deprivation, what stage do you recognise?


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