How to survive without sleep

I must begin by saying that this is definitely not a how to get your baby to sleep post. I read a lot of those and got nowhere! We tried a bit of everything and in the end, after 14 months, our daughter decided she would try this sleep thing out and found she loved it. It was nothing we did, she just slowly started sleeping for longer and longer until she was sleeping all night.

Check out the bags and dark circles! This is when she was 5 weeks old. Everyone expects you to be exhausted when you have a new born but what about then they continue to not sleep? People seem to assume something is wrong and they should be sleeping. 

For the first 14 months of her life she didn’t seem to understand the point in sleep and seemed to have no ability to stay asleep at all. During that time, on a particularly good night I’d be up every 3-4 hours, a normal night it was more like every 2-3 hours and on a bad night I barely went to sleep.

Every time she woke she would cry and she would just want me. Sometimes I would feed her back to sleep and then attempt the dreaded transfer back into the cot (we were co sleeping when she was younger but she then started climbing all over me wanting to play in the middle of the night). Other times I would just sit or lie next to her rubbing her back. She would seem to be asleep but would wake up the moment I so much as thought about leaving the room. Who knew the sound of your knee clicking could wake up a baby. It wasn’t unusual to spend 2 hours lying next to her unable to get to sleep myself (I’m a rubbish sleeper and could never seem to switch off) desperately waiting for my opportunity to escape and sneak back to bed. It was a regular occurrence to just get back into bed and hear her cries start again. Even if they didn’t, I would struggle to relax and get back to sleep because I would be expecting the cries to come (more often than not, they did). During my maternity leave I actually applied for a new job. The night before my job interview I didn’t get any sleep whatsoever. I definitely know how it feels to be sleep deprived.

I miss those co sleeping days and wish I’d done it for longer. It probably would have caused use lot less stress. 

I love this post from Toby & Roo about Sleep Deprivation. It is just ridiculously hard. So much can be fixed with a good nights sleep and that just wasn’t an option. I can remember times when I would cry at bedtime because I so desperately wanted to sleep but knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to get back out of bed. I would break down in the middle of the night not knowing what to do and how to fix my little sleep thief.

I know some people will be reading this thinking why didn’t we do something about it. Believe me, I read every article imaginable and spent hours googling ‘my baby won’t sleep’ to try to find a solution. I wrote on all sorts of different forums and facebook groups to try and get advice. We tried all sorts of things including a very brief go at controlled crying (where you put the baby down awake and leave them for 3 mins, then 5, and then 7 etc.) I found this more stressful than not sleeping. I looked into it a lot and knew in my heart it wasn’t what worked for our family.

14 months of sleep deprivation was incredibly difficult (I’m very aware that lots of people live with it for much much longer) and really there is no magical solution or way to cope but here are just a few little things that helped me.

  1. Know it is not forever. You will sleep again. I know some babies do it sooner, some later but one day you will get sleep again. I really struggled to keep that perspective. Looking back now it all feels like a blur…a slightly horrible, stressful blur.
  2. Know that is is normal. I spent hours googling the topic of baby sleep. I wrote on different advice forums. I was convinced it was because her naps were wrong, because she fed to sleep and didn’t know how to ‘self settle’, because she had tummy ache, because she was hungry, because she hadn’t had enough fresh air that day etc. etc. I found I was putting pressure on myself to make her sleep and was getting really stressed out and blaming myself. I eventually realised that we actually have pretty unrealistic expectations when it comes to babies sleeping. Babies are designed to wake up in the night. I guess it’s easy to forget that babies are all so different. Some babies sleep well just like some adults do whilst others struggle more. Take the pressure off yourself, do what works for you and your baby and try to remember that you are not alone!
  3. Avoid going on your phone in the night. This is a hard one because what else are you meant to do when sitting up with your baby feeding or patting or rocking or whatever it may be. I always would spend half the night on my phone, probably googling ‘my baby won’t sleep’ but found it really hard to get back to sleep afterwards because my mind would be racing. If possible, try to keep it dark and quiet and keep yourself in a sleepy mood.
  4. Find other mums who aren’t getting any sleep. This links to my second tip but this made such a difference to me. When I started to find other mums whose babies weren’t sleeping I felt so much better because I stopped feeling like I was doing something wrong and we could all moan and compare horror stories together.
  5. Adjust your own sleep routine. My daughter would always be up around 10.30-11.00 so if I went to bed at 10.30 I’d usually end up getting up again straight away. I should have been better at going to bed earlier to get some sleep in before that initial wake up.
  6. Eat well and drink water. Coffee is not always the answer. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I adore coffee. I cannot really hold any kind of sensible conversation until I’ve had one and I usually have had 2 by 10am. However, I know deep down that caffeine isn’t necessarily the best thing to truly energise and keep me going through the day. Ditto sugar. When I’m tired that’s what I want and much of my maternity leave was spent consuming coffee and cake. We all know that really a lot of water and healthy food would leave me feeling more energised for longer.
  7. Find other ways to rest. I have never really been able to nap in the day and did struggle to get to sleep earlier in the evening. If you can nap when (IF) your baby naps then great but if not then find other ways to rest. You could have a bath, flop on the sofa and watch something, read, paint nails. Do anything that helps you to relax.

I went back to work when my daughter was 10 months old and there were many days when I’d go in having barely slept. My daughter is now 22 months and I’ve had a fair few months of decent sleep. I’m sure we will be faced with another phase of no sleep (dreading moving her into a proper bed) and maybe one day we will have another small and have to go through it all over again.

Please let me know if you have tips for coping with no sleep! I’m sure I shall need them again at some point.


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