This piece is a more expanded version, I plan to discuss the effects sleep deprivation has had on me, LSH, our relationship, and what lack of sleep, over a sustained period of time can do to your mind and body.
In the grand scheme of things, what seems like a little sleep deprivation, when compared to other things some families struggle with, what we have been through does seem minor. We are all healthy, our relationship has survived, despite some rocky moments. Small Boy is developmentally and physically normal (in fact, he is advanced in some areas) and other than his sleep issues, is a happy, normal, healthy little boy. I am grateful for this. I realise that parts of this post will sound like I am complaining, I am not. I wanted to write this, to explain what it has been like, and maybe to reach out to other families who have been through the same.
Parenting is exhausting. Your life changes dramatically, there is no doubt about that and some loss of sleep is normal in the first month and first year after a baby arrives. Babies need to be fed frequently, they need to be comforted and they want and need our presence. This is normal. What is not normal is a baby that initially slept well, for the first few months of life, in fact “better” than expected, who got himself into a good sleep/eat pattern, with no input from me, and who was doing well generally to suddenly go from waking once or twice a night, if at all, to waking every hour, or every two hours, or being awake for 2-3, sometimes even 4 hours stretches in the night. If you read my previous posts, you can see we have tried most reasonable solutions and sought help, as both LSH and I became more and more exhausted and unable to figure out why our gorgeous little boy had decided that sleep was something other babies needed, but not him. At the worst of the sleep issues, I would say I was getting 3- 4 hours of sleep a night on a good night, less when it was bad. This is not sustainable over a long period, without the body suffering physiologically and psychologically.
So, here goes….
Sleep Deprivation has a physical affect:
The human body needs sleep, to rest, regenerate and rebuild, and heal itself. When deprived of sleep, these things don’t happen, or don’t happen as well as they should. You become physically exhausted, and your body struggles to cope. Headaches, muscle aches, sore joints, tired skin, puffy eyes, are just some of the symptoms. I also find when I am exhausted, and not sleeping, my metabolism does not work as efficiently not only do I want to eat more, but my body does not burn off calories like it should, so I struggle to loose weight. I also have found my eyes get tired, and I know LSH has complained of the same. As a woman of a certain age, my skin is no longer youthful and firm, and two years of chronic sleep deprivation has added a few lines and dark shadows that no amount of expensive lotions and potions can repair or hide. I LOOK tired, all of the time. I feel tired all of the time. By 8pm most nights I am exhausted, and fall into bed. 8pm is not a normal bedtime for a 30 something woman. LSH is very patient, tolerant, and gracious, and an incredibly good, hands on father, who has taken more than his fair share of the sleepless night duty, despite working a full time, high pressure job. He doesn’t cope as well as I do on so little sleep, and has battled with some minor health issues, as a result, which has made me feel incredibly guilty, that he has also suffered as a side effect of the sleep issues.
Sleep deprivation also affects your sex life.
When you are beyond exhausted physically and emotionally, sex the last thing you want is to think about or even try to attempt. Exhaustion is a libido killer, and the presence of a very awake, clingy, needy toddler in the bed at 3am inst exactly conducive to romance either 😉
Sleep deprivation also exacerbates chronic health conditions, and can bring on new health issues:
It can cause issues with blood pressure, digestive problems, lowered immune system (so you pick up more germs, like coughs, colds, flu viruses etc) I have a chronic health condition, psoriatic arthritis, which is made far worse by lack of sleep. I get little sleep, my immune system crashes, and my arthritic condition goes into flare. Not pleasant or easy to manage.
Sleep deprivation affects your mental health:
Sleep problems, or lack of sleep has been linked to many issues with mental health. Depression and sleep issue can be closely interlinked, and as someone who has struggled with Post Partum Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia, Bulimia and mild depression, I am familiar with the creeping feelings that can overwhelm and take over when your mind and body are so tired, and you cannot fight the voices, thoughts and feelings that depression can bring. I have managed to cope, which given how tired I have been, and that I am prone to depression and anxiety, has been a huge thing. I did at one point consider taking a mild anti-depressant, but unfortunately, I tend to find that they don’t agree with me, and I react badly to them, so I try to avoid them, I prefer to battle on, rather than cope with the side effects of medication.
Sleep deprivation not only affects your sex life, but your relationship with your spouse in general:
The sleep deprivation has put a strain on our relationship. I have felt resentful, angry, frustrated and like the worst mother and wife in the world, at times, and he has born the brunt of dealing with me being tired, tearful, slamming the occasional door, shouting a lot and made me a lot of coffee and held me when I have been so tired, I have felt like I literally can’t take another step. He has worked from home occasionally to help me, and gone into work late, when we have had a hideous night, to help me get through the morning madness. We did at one point feel like all our relationship was about was trying to survive, get our lovely little boy to sleep some more, and catch up on sleep ourselves and we have snapped at each other, had a few more rows than we normally would, and taken out our tiredness on each other. We are stronger for it, thought, I think , although it has been a hard journey to walk.
Sleep deprivation affects how you parent your other children:
I would say that Big Girl has coped well, with a tired, cranky Mummy, and a tired Daddy, but even she has felt the effects, as I am ashamed to admit, there are days when I am not as good a parent as I want to be, to her and Small Boy. They have watched more tv than they should, I have definitely found my patience for normal childhood behaviours and developmental bumps has been less. I have tried not to be tired and grumpy around her and her brother, but it is hard. I regret this, and if we do have a 3rd baby, we would like to do things better, if we can, when dealing with lack of sleep.
Sleep deprivation affects your job:
or if you are at home, how you cope with life at home. I have felt so out of control of my home environment, and that I am juggling so many balls, with a less than alert mind, and often have felt like I am letting things slip, because my mind is so foggy. Things like housework definitely get put on the back burner, when you are exhausted. If I have a few hours of “me” time, or time alone, at home, I go to bed, to sleep, because I need to catch up and because I am too tired to face cleaning windows, or the massive pile of ironing that lurks in the living room. It’s a bit like a viscous cycle, because you are too tired to do stuff, but you know if you don’t do it, it gets harder, and you are too tired to deal with it when it gets worse. I definitely could not have worked in nursing, in the sleep deprived state that I am in. I would not have been capable some days of basic drug calculating, or patient care, to be frank. I have read stories of people who are so tired, they have made serious errors at work, which have led to them being disciplined, or even loosing their jobs. Sleep deprivation and balancing a job, or even being a full time parent at home, is no laughing matter.
Sleep deprivation makes you feel like a bad parent, and fills you with guilt:
I have felt like the worst mother in the world because I haven’t been able to crack Small Boy’s sleep issues, and get him and I to sleep better. I have cried buckets, been riddled with guilt, and felt like it was somehow my fault. I have made myself watch countless episodes of SupperNanny (and I hate that programme) to reassure myself that I really am not a bad parent. I have laughed with relief when I have met other mothers and families with children who also are not good sleepers, who tell me they have been through exactly what I have been through I have ended several friendships because I have not been able to handle the way the other person has dealt with my being so tired, and chronically exhausted.
Sleep deprivation is isolating, and you can feel terribly lonely:
You get so tired, you withdraw, from social activities, partly because the tiredness means you can’t cope and partly because you feel like your friends are bored with hearing how tired you are, also, being given endless sleep advice from well meaning friends and family, when you have pretty much tried everything, is very soul destroying. I have wanted to yell at people, in the middle of social events, who have spent 15 minutes lecturing me on how to get Small Boy to sleep, and refusing to accept that we have tried our hardest. I have felt very lonely, and left out, because to be honest, people do stop including you, when they know you are tired and won’t or can’t join them, due to tiredness!
Sleep deprivation, basically, puts a hold on your life, and wears you down. It affects every area of your life. I jokingly said to a friend the other day, who works as a Human Rights Lawyer, that now I KNOW why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. There are definitely days when I have felt like I have been tortured.
Despite all that, we adore Small Boy, we are grateful he is otherwise a happy, healthy, thriving little person. He is a joy, and a delight. He IS actually sleeping better, now, at nearly 34 months. I am slowly catching up on many, many months of little or no sleep, and I know I will start to feel better soon. We have pretty much accepted that he just isn’t a good sleeper, and that his little mind is so busy and active, that he struggles to switch off and his sleep suffers as a result. I am a lot like that, so accepting my own sleep issues, has helped me to accept his. We roll with it, we rejoice in the good nights sleep, and we commiserate each other with good coffee on the mornings after a bad night. (LSH has become a real expert at making proper, almost too good coffee, since we began our battle with lack of sleep)
We have learned lessons, both good and bad, from this experience. There are things I would do differently, if and when we do have a 3rd baby (yes, we are probably quite mad, but we would like to try for a 3rd) and I know that we might get another poor sleeper. I guess we will walk that road, if it comes our way.
Also, on a side note, I have learned not to judge other parents who say they have a child who doesn’t sleep well, and how tired they are. Before I had children, I always assumed children who don’t sleep=poor parenting. Now I know better, I would say this is something a lot of parents and non parents out there could take note of. If your child is a good sleeper, or you don’t have children, so have no idea how tired I am, don’t criticise my parenting, don’t rub it in, pat me on the back, hand me a coffee and offer to babysit for a few hours so I can take a nap! Thanks!