Top tips for surviving with a Sleep Stealer
My little Sleep Stealer (not his real name) - Mushroom* - arrived last spring. Such was his hurry to get out and greet the world that he decided to make his appearance two weeks early. He hasn’t changed much since then. Always in a hurry to get the most out of life, he doesn’t like to spend too much of his time asleep.
Apart from his early arrival there were no real signs of Mushroom’s criminal tendencies (in the sleep stealing department) in the early months. He slept a long stretch just after being born– I don’t blame him, it must have been at least as hard for him as it was for me – and then, like any newborn, he slept a lot. Mostly he’d wake up just as I decided to take a nap but that’s my fault. I didn’t really heed the advice to sleep when he slept because there was always stuff to do. If I could start again I’d definitely sleep more. He got into quite a good routine after a few months but then growth spurts kicked in. We muddled along for the most part, as you do. Once he got to ten months, however, things started getting ridiculous. He was waking up every two hours and this continued for months. Months! I survived – who knew I could get through a whole day at work, writing articles, attending meetings and generally appearing coherent, on just two hours’ of broken sleep? As Mushroom got a bit older I tried sleep training him and that was a complete disaster, which only served to make things worse.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you, too, have a Sleep Stealer? If so, here are my top five tips for survival. These are based solely on my personal experience so some may not work for you – but if you’re where I was at a few months ago then anything’s worth a try, right?
1. Go to bed early – Really early. I go to bed at around 10pm these days, but I go at 9.30 sometimes. Back when Mushroom was up every two hours I’d often go to bed at 8.30. I was never very good at taking naps when he did (which were very unpredictable back then) so the early nights made up for this. Sometimes I’d take a nap and go to bed early. Go on, try it for a week. Sure, some of your mates may ridicule you but hey, are they getting up every two hours and starting their day at 5am? Thought not.
2. Sleep training. Do not believe everything the Health Visitors (HVs) tell you– I did, at first. As Julia Roberts might say... Mistake. BIG mistake. Sure, their advice is useful – some of it – and I’m not knocking the profession... It’s just that they give standardised advice and babies are not standardised. I would never have tried sleep training Mushroom if a HV hadn’t told me I had to. Everything in me felt wrong but I did it anyway. If it feels ok for you –sure, do it. It might work (it does for some) but trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, don’t put yourself through it.
3. Whatever works, works – You know what? So you’re rocking/singing/bouncing your baby to sleep. Every night. So what? If it’s ok for you, it’s ok. It won’t be forever and it will not hurt your child to know that they are loved. If it’s not ok for you, then change it. But not because other people say you should. Whatever works for you, is ok. Do it and enjoy it! Which brings me to...
4. Ditch the guilt – You know Jack’s mum at playgroup? Remember she said that she sleep trained Jack a few months ago and he’s been a great sleeper ever since? He is... Apart from when he’s overtired, or teething, or sick... Then she’s up half the night too.** She just doesn’t tell you that. You are not doing anything wrong. Trust me. The guilt can be just as exhausting as the lack of sleep. Lose it.
5. Remember that this too shall pass – I promise that your child will eventually start to sleep better (or at least stop disturbing you every time s/he wakesup). When s/he does, it will take you completely by surprise and you will take a while to adapt. I still regularly wake up at 3am and probably will do for a while yet!
Mushroom is still my favouriteSleep Stealer but these days – unless he’s sick or has teeth about to make an appearance – he’s more of a petty thief than a full time criminal. He generally sleeps at least 6/7 hours before waking up (just once, and usually for no more than 20 minutes) and he now sleeps through (7/8pm – 5/6am) a few times a week. It’s a lovely novelty to be able to use his nap time to do stuff instead of hauling myself off to bed just to get through the afternoon. It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally getting there.
If you’d like more details about my and Mushroom’s sleep journey, you can read the following posts over at Mothering Mushroom (listed in chronological order): Sleep is for wimps, Sleep isoverrated.Apparentlyand Don’t sweat the sleep stuff.
*Mushroom isn’t his real name either. In case you were wondering.
**I totally made this up and there are some great sleepers out there, but as a recen tnetmums survey showed that 30% of parents lie about their child’s sleep I figure it’s a likely scenario.