If Your Baby Sleeps, I’m Happy for You. For Anyone Else, Don’t Worry, Neither of Mine Do Either……

One of the main things people seem to say to you when you are expecting a baby or when you have just welcomed a new addition to the family is that you must be low on sleep. It seems logical to assume then, that sleep deprivation is very common when you are a new parent. Babies aren’t nicknamed “sleep thieves” for no good reason, believe it or not.

My friends and I are frequently sympathising with one another over how little sleep we have got recently. It isn’t unheard of for us to accidentally put butter in our tea and sugar on our toast in a moment of fatigue-induced madness, for example. However, one thing we have noticed is that it is not uncommon for people to claim their baby is a great sleeper, sleeping through the night when they are only a matter of weeks old. Some of these individuals may be people you have met via baby groups, NCT etc or they may be closer friends. Either way, when you are yawning your way through life, burning the candle at both ends and someone else informs you of how great a sleeper their little bundle is; or worse, you see a picture on social media of the infant sat beside one of those “I slept through the night for the first time” placards (paraphrased ha ha ha you are knackered and I am NOT!), it can make you feel jealous, inadequate and like you are perhaps doing something wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, if these people really are blessed with sleeping beauties in the early weeks and months, I’m sincerely happy for them (even if they could do the decent thing and refrain from plastering their enviable success all over my news feed- which I am straining to read through my tired eyes by the way). Just don’t worry if you aren’t. I will tell you of my experiences and hope to ease any negative emotions you may be harbouring with regards to this topic; or if I can’t, hopefully I will at least give you something to relate to.

As some of you will have read, I have two sons under two. They aren’t what I would imagine to be the worst sleepers out there, but let’s just say I haven’t really had a full night’s sleep for the best part of two years. Specifically, the last time I had the pleasure of a “proper” night’s sleep was the night of 21st September 2017. I went into labour on the night of the 22nd (didn’t get much sleep that night, surprisingly enough), and Henry was born on the 23rd. My eldest son, Henry, has never slept through the night in his life unless he is ill. This means that whenever I wake up and glance over at my clock and see that I have in fact managed to sleep through the night with no disturbances, my euphoria and smugness is quickly replaced by a feeling of dread about which highly contagious infectious disease he has contracted and brought into the household now.

How high is his temperature?

How long will he be off nursery?


Yes, without fail, every time he sleeps through, it has been as the result of illness. Perhaps the gift of a proper night’s sleep prior to a bout of illness is minor compensation for the days to come, which usually involve being housebound and being driven slightly crazy by the incessant playing of children’s TV shows whilst the tot recovers from his latest ailment.

On the flip side, there are some illnesses that will screw up your chances of sleeping almost altogether. One such example was when Henry contracted Hand Foot and Mouth disease (HFM) last October. The poor boy had painful blisters everywhere, including in his mouth, and struggled to sleep because of the pain. Unfortunately, this illness fell during a week when both me and my husband were working full-time and I was heavily pregnant. To add to the fun, the doctors weren’t entirely sure to start with whether it was HFM or measles. This meant that in my drowsy state, I had to drag my pregnant self for blood tests to see whether I was immune to measles or not and I had to chase Henry round the nursery in an attempt to get a saliva swab from him to send for testing for measles. Luckily, nanny was able to step in and look after Henry in the day so that we could carry on working hard for the money, but this resulted in some serious sleep deprivation. My husband and I were so tired we were almost delirious and felt like jumping out of the window. I got to work on one of the days and consumed three strong coffees before the working day had even commenced. Those were a selection of days during which sneezing was amazing as it meant my eyes got to close for a split second. Even just a brief moment of eye closure was better than what I seemed to be getting at night that week.

On so called “normal” days however, it does not matter what else I do to attempt to exhaust him, it never works. He isn’t terrible, most of the time he will wake for a short time and will settle relatively quickly, but it usually involves me going into his room and lying him back down and perhaps giving him some milk. Such a visit to his room would also often involve the cats jumping over the baby gates in excitement to join in the fun. (Cats, do not encourage the midnight party, thank you very much!). Hence, my sleep is disrupted. To really rub salt into the wound, no matter how little he sleeps, he always manages to wake up bursting with energy at some hideous hour. I try not to get worried or stressed about it. I figure there will come a day when I will be yelling at him to get his lazy arse out of bed and stop sleeping. I’m sure these days (well, nights) won’t last forever. Essentially, I am hoping for a full night’s sleep once again when I reach some point in my forties. The main things I have tried to focus on thus far are establishing some sort of bed time routine, i.e. he has a bath and a story at a relatively consistent time in the evening and he is put to bed at a relatively consistent time in the evening. Whereas he used to require cuddling to sleep, my husband and I persevered with putting him down awake and training him to fall asleep on his own. Eventually this has worked for us and usually he does manage to fall asleep on his own now. Most of this “training” actually occurred unintentionally when our second son arrived and needed loads of attention and Henry realised he wouldn’t necessarily get attention the second he demanded it. So essentially, yes, any success we achieved was largely the result of coincidence and unintentional training. However, I do recall being told once that most great discoveries occur as a result of chance, and the amazing discovery of how to get your child to fall asleep on their own was apparently no exception in our household.

When Edward, our second son arrived, I knew I wanted to introduce a routine much earlier on. Whereas with Henry I wasn’t entirely sure what on Earth I was up to, I had read a few books during the process and had learned that routines from day one can be beneficial for a lot of people. We began to bath the boys together quite soon after Edward was born and attempted to lie him down for a sleep afterwards so that he got used to having a bath before bed. The first 6-10 weeks were an hectic, sleep-deprived blur as expected, but I did notice that Edward’s sleep pattern improved quite soon after this. He still doesn’t sleep through- he wakes twice a night on average for milk (he is 7 months now), but he settles back down nicely again after these (usually).

If things appear to have drastically improved sleep-wise and then seem to regress again, don’t worry. I think this is relatively common (I have heard this from a few friends and experienced it first hand). Usually things do get better again. Recently, we had some very disturbed nights. Henry had been harder to settle at the start of the night for a while and was waking a few times and Edward was teething and so waking more and crying more. On one of these nights I was so disorientated that when Edward woke crying for milk I shoved a bottle of sparkling water in his mouth and wondered why he screamed in rage when he got a face full of fizz. It took a good few moments for me to realise my error. Sleep deprivation can make you do strange things. The following morning when I walked in to Henry’s room to get him up for nursery he exclaimed “Hi Nanny!” (This was met with a stern telling off from me, emphasising the fact that I am mummy, not nanny, despite the fact that lack of sleep may have aged me significantly enough for me to look like a more mature woman worthy of nanny status).

Other weird stuff I have done whilst sleep deprived is attempt to go on an excursion in my slippers, fall asleep whilst passing my husband a bottle of milk with my hand still suspended in mid air having not quite reached the end target, putting my toast in the bin instead of on my plate (what a wasted effort) and sitting and watching annoying kids’ TV for at least 30 minutes before realising that my kids are in fact in bed and I don’t have to watch it for a moment longer.

One of my favourite stories I heard from a friend on the subject of getting your kid to sleep through the night is the following. My friend’s son was 18 months old and had never slept through the night. The family went abroad to a hotter climate. On the first night, the kid slept for 15 hours solid. My friend was extremely concerned, wondering what was up with the little one. In the day however, he seemed fine. Playing happily, no fever etc etc. The next night, the same thing happened. To cut a long story short, it was soon concluded that the kid was sleeping because the climate was warmer. Essentially he had never slept properly because he had been too cold for the whole 18 months of his young life! Once back on home turf, they warmed his room up and this worked a treat. Obviously make sure your child’s room is a safe temperature at all times, but sometimes a simple tweaking of the conditions can be the answer apparently.

Essentially, the message here is that if you are hearing tales of how this baby and that baby are sleeping for 13 hours a night from 5 weeks old, the parents are either extremely lucky or this is perhaps a slight exaggeration. Also beware of what people mean exactly when they say “sleeping through.” This may actually mean the child is sleeping most of the night with a few wake ups, rather than they are remaining totally unconscious for [insert enviable period of time here]. There are umpteen reasons why the baby wakes up- hunger (and their stomachs are tiny in the beginning so they need regular feeding even at night), poo, stomach ache, fever, teething, too hot/too cold- to name a scant few. If you are exhausted and lacking sleep, you are most probably in the majority. Do not worry, being sleep deprived basically comes with the territory of having young children. I won’t lie to you, my kids basically never sleep through the night!

And just when I think I’ve cracked it, something brings me crashing back down to Earth. Like one night recently when we were soundly asleep, my husband resting a leg injury he had sustained during cricket. We were woken by Henry crying and when en route to his bedroom, a most offensive smell reached my nostrils. I then saw the cat edge sideways, revealing a steaming pile of poo it had deposited on the stairs (and cream coloured carpet aaaahhhhh!). I let out a squeal of terror and James came limping out to find me cursing the cat. Once James had settled Henry and I had applied a generous amount of carpet cleaner to the soiled stairs, we thought we could finally get back to sleep. Cue Edward beginning to grizzle in the other room. Yes, sometimes you simply can’t win. Just grab yourself a large, strong coffee. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

The only placard appropriate for my household……….
That face at the door……You aren’t getting any sleep tonight, mummy! Ha ha ha ha ha!
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