There has been a lot written about sleep deprivation and babies, including by myself. The first year or two can be a difficult time in any parent’s life. I say ‘difficult’ because the most apt word for what it is like to deal with long-term sleep deprivation is probably not fit for print.
If you’ve drawn the short straw and have given birth to a night owl, you will know all too well the sense of exhaustion that has no other solution except the one thing you can’t seem to achieve as a family: regular, uninterrupted sleep.
Ah sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep. I have been pushed to the outer limits of what I can cope with in my own journey with sleep deprivation.
At the lowest points I found myself falling asleep on the toilet or leaning up against the nursery door.
Yet thankfully those desperate times of spontaneous narcolepsy are fading into the past. Sure we have blips with illnesses and teething but, overall, the sleep has improved greatly.
That is not to say my son’s sleep is optimal. He still enjoys waking up randomly during the night to check if we’re asleep. And he is almost always up well before the sun – a habit that still strikes me as somewhat inhuman.
Reluctant Early Bird
At first I viewed my son’s early waking as a more subtle extension of the acute sleep deprivation of the early days. I looked at the extra hours in the day as merely another obstacle to the next time my head could hit the pillow.
But then I realised a mummy trade-secret: chronic big-time sleep deprivation sucks but the low-grade version is actually quite awesome. Yes it is hard struggling out of bed while it is still dark but you get so much more out of the day in exchange for that small pain.
By the time my colleagues roll into the office at 9 AM with a coffee in their hand, I’m already 90 minutes through the day. I’ve responded to emails, read the headlines, made a start on writing up reports in the absence of any phones or interruptions and have enjoyed my coffee minus the queues. At the other end of the day, I leave earlier than everyone else and thereby avoid peak hour, get home with plenty of time to prepare dinner and can spend time with my son before he is tired and over the day.
Why Having 5 Hours Sleep Is Not So Bad
I’ve also discovered that post-baby I have a new sweet spot for hours of sleep. If I manage the 8 hours of sleep it makes me drowsier than getting my regular 5-6 hours. It is like my body sees 5-6 hours as a kind of challenge to push through whereas the 8 hours is too much of a good thing. Anything less than 4 hours is pretty tough but I can do it occasionally if I’ve been managing good sleep around such a night.
The extra 2-3 hours of awake time I now have are usually consumed by the additional housework created by having a child. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If I didn’t have those extra hours then I would feel a lot more pressured than I do.
Those extra hours also open up precious blocks of time where I can spend time with my husband. Ideally, we sit at the dining table after our son has gone to bed and talk while he plays with his Lego and I write or paint. Unfortunately both of us are often too tired to take full advantage and we end up watching television. Yet we are trying to push through and not make a habit out of this fall back option.
There are not many opportunities in our days to connect as a couple and pursue our passions. We need to take advantage where we can.
I’m still not much of a morning person but I’ve learnt to roll with it. My son may sleep halfway decent hours one day – probably when he is a teenager. In the meantime, I will continue to make the most out of the situation in the absence of being able to change it. I’m a reluctant early bird but a very efficient and strangely happy one.