Sleep, or the lack thereof…

When you have a new baby, one of the first questions people start asking is “are they a good sleeper?” My now nine year old was an excellent sleeper. From very early on, I could put her into her crib and tell her goodnight and she’d just put herself to sleep. For my now 3 ½ year old, the answer is still a resounding “NO!” Even in utero he would be wide awake at 4am, dancing and kicking and stretching and poking for a few hours, then settle down again. As a newborn, sleep was extraordinarily hard to come by, unless I slept holding him in a recliner, which I ended up doing for over 2 years. Our day often began at 4am when he was wide awake and ready to play! We would play for 3-4 hours, when he would go down for a nap and I would head off to work.

He still appears to require less sleep than the average toddler. If he naps at preschool, then he is up until 10 or 11pm. We have tried all the usual tricks – no electronics late at night; bedtime routine with bath, book, bed; co-sleeping; crying it out; and even Melatonin. All have been pretty dismal failures quite frankly, although there was a three month period there where he gave us hope that he would actually go to sleep at a decent hour, sleep through the night, and not wake up eager to begin his day until the sun was up. Only three months though!

Sleep deprivation is exhaustingly cruel. Short term sleep deprivation makes you grumpy and less able to deal with life. It results in decreased alertness, memory problems, cognitive decline, stressful relationships, and increased accidents (work, home and automobile). Some studies I have read indicate that sleep deprivation results in similar driving performance as when under the influence of alcohol! For me it strongly correlates to post partum depression and anxiety symptoms. It can also be related to increased incidences of abuse to infants, including shaken baby syndrome.

There are long term consequences of ongoing sleep deprivation also. High blood pressure. Heart attack. Heart failure. Stroke. Obesity. Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Mental impairment. Injury from accidents. It affects cortisol production and blood sugar regulation. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is an excellent torture technique!!

For those of us chronically and desperately sleep deprived, sleep has to become the number one! I did whatever it took for us to get some sleep – such as sleeping in the recliner, napping when he napped (even if I had not had a shower and the dishes were not done). I never, ever took him out of the car if he was sleeping, and would sometimes nap in the car with him. I napped when my husband was home to hold the baby.

Currently, I have no wise words for sleep challenges with kiddos. But I do have some thoughts for sleep deprived mommas and daddies! I decided, when my son was just a newborn, that I would parent him during the night the same as I would during the day. That I would meet his needs during the wee hours just as I would during the day. This deliberate decision to lovingly play with and snuggle with and feed and connect with my son whatever the hour made a big difference in my expectations of what to do when it was 4am and he was ready to be up for the day. It made a big difference in my thoughts about getting out of bed again in the night, or sleeping in the recliner. Although I was still desperately tired, I was not desperately frustrated and angry at the boy. Although I still long for a full night’s sleep starting at a reasonable hour, and finishing when I am ready to wake up, I will lovingly care for him whatever the hour.

If your child is struggling with sleep issues, check with your physician. There are a number of health concerns that could be contributing to difficulties with sleep including GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), sleep apnea, enlarged tonsils, night seizure activity, allergies and anxiety.

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