I owe everyone who I’ve chatted with, doled out advice to and sympathised with about sleep deprivation recently an apology.
I thought I still understood how utterly, utterly crap sleep deprivation is. I thought I knew what it was like to be more than just tired, but feeling as if you might actually cease to exist at any moment. Feeling as if you can’t focus on anything, can’t understand what anyone is saying and as if you’re about to hurt the next person who speaks to you because you just can’t handle anything at the moment.
But I had forgotten the true extent of that feeling, how completely consuming and crushing it is to be surviving on little to no sleep day after day. To feel like you’re light as a feather, being tossed around by a fierce wind with zero control over anything.
You see, my baby has been sleeping through since January.
Before that she had been a rubbish sleeper since the day she was born in December 2016. That’s more than a year of terrible sleep.
In the beginning I was kind of OK with it. Well, as OK as you can be when you’re sitting on stitches you’re paranoid about tearing with sore nipples and a screaming baby at 3am. I was OK with that, because I expected it in the newborn stage.
I had gone through it before with my first, when I was totally overwhelmed by the entire experience. This time I was going to remain calm in the face of the disruptive newborn weeks, and simply enjoy my new baby.
I reminded myself repeatedly “this too shall pass”, because I knew that she was bound to turn a corner soon. But then we got to the magical 12-week mark. I thought she should be sleeping at least six hours by then, as my eldest had been sleeping 12 hours by that point.
But no, this time it was not to be. I tried feeding and feeding during the day. I tried regimenting the naps more, I tried various methods of making her cot more appealing at night time. Nothing worked.
When it came to nighttime, she simply wanted to spend the entire night sat in my lap alternating between snoozing with a silly grin on her face and feeding furiously as if I hadn’t given her milk in weeks.
Some months were worse than others. I recall going through one month when I was certain I had only just managed an hour or two every night. The pain the next day was excruciating, particularly as I had a toddler to deal with.
When we hit the five-month mark I was in pieces. It seemed everyone I spoke to, and every article I found online, said she should be sleeping better at this point. But she wasn’t.
People talked about sleep regressions, but she hadn’t regressed. There was nothing to regress from, this was sleep that could not get any worse than it already was.
Her biggest problem was, and remains, that she is the lightest sleep ever. Sure, she sometimes goes into a mega deep sleep that’s impossible to break – normally at about 4.30pm in the afternoon (sigh).
But all I had to do was think about putting her down in her moses basket and she would wake up screaming and thrashing her furious little fists until I cuddled her closer.
And so it went on. We started solids, which everyone said would set things right. She still managed to stay awake half the night. By the seven-month point she was sleeping from around 7pm to 11pm, then was waking pretty much every hour after that. It was an absolute killer, and with a return to work looming I was starting to get a tad nervous, and losing my marbles.
When I stopped breastfeeding shortly after seven months, everyone told me “great idea, she’ll definitely sleep through on formula”. She didn’t. She just demanded formula at 3am, instead of the boob. And as she guzzled it with so much enthusiasm you would think she had been wandering in the desert for six months, I lost all hope of things ever getting better.
When I went back to work I couldn’t see how I was going to function, at home and in the office. So I had to do something.
Finally I stopped the night feeds – you can read about how she reacted to losing her beloved early hours bottle here – and things started to change very quickly. Within three days she was sleeping 12 hours, and I at last slept a decent amount.
This has continued up until this week, when suddenly the old sleep rebellion reared its ugly head once again.
Instead of going happily into her cot, cuddling up with her toy sheep and rolling over to go to sleep as I turned out the light and left the room, she has been holding out her arms and calling “cuddle”, screaming if I attempt to leave her.
On one evening this week it lasted from bedtime until 11.30pm.
Then on another night she woke at 10pm and would not go back to her bed until 2.30am.
This isn’t even the worst sleep I’ve ever had, I’ve had days of just about managing an hour a night. But god it’s made me feel like shit. And it’s reminded me that people who are not sleep deprived don’t really understand what it feels like.
So I’m sorry if I’ve sympathised with a “sleep deprivation is the worst” remark to you recently. Because that’s the understatement of the fucking century.
The truth is that sleep deprivation stops you living your normal life. Worse than that, it stops you from enjoying your life.
If anyone is going through this right now, and being bombarded with advice about what you SHOULD be doing, my heart really goes out to you. Words are of little comfort at this time, and being told it WILL get easier without a definitive date as to when this will be is pretty useless.
All I can say is I remember now, and it sucks. It sucks big time. Take care of yourself, treat yourself when you can and just survive, somehow.