International sleep day: Chronic sleep deprivation affecting parents daily.

Today is International Sleep Day and as I pen this I’m once again struggling with the hazy, ‘hangover’ that is sleep deprivation. A feeling I have now discovered is understandable seeing research shows that sleep deprivation can have the same physiological side effects as excessive alcohol. So that explains why I feel like I had a bender last night despite having one G&T and heading to bed at 9pm!

Historically I have never been a big sleeper. Majority of my life I’ve been known as one of those ‘power’ people who thrives on around 6-6.5 hours of sleep a night and can function with full energy. Just my way and hey if Margret Thatcher can run a nation of 4 hours, I’m sweet on 6…well that was until kids.

The first thing everyone tells you when you’re expecting is ‘brace yourself for the sleepless nights’…and they didn’t lie. However, as always each persons story is different. By definition newborns don’t sleep, they need feeding. It’s a blurry time of any parents existence. For me it was one spent living on my couch for months on end rotating the feeding schedule of twins. Then there’s the additional stuff you don’t expect, the big one – colic!

No parent (or professional on that note) really knows what colic is or why it manifests in different ways in different babies but rule of thumb is it lasts between 3-6 months and causes more restlessness to all. For us we hit the 19 month mark before my chronic colic baby finally settled! Yup nights were based on endless screaming through out the night due to pain.

Here’s the thing and my concern for so many parents out there, that’s not even where the worst of it ended. It’s not like we battled through the mine field of colic and then finally slotted into solid nights sleep. Next step…sleep anxiety, something different to broken sleep, night terrors or stubborn sleepers.

I’m now into my 4th year of broken sleep and have finally accepted I’m suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Anyone who knows me knows I’m stubborn (some what) I don’t back down to anything particularly not a bit of lost sleep but heat 4 years of constant broken sleep does affect your health physically and mentally.

There is so much focus on the effects of sleep deprivation for new parents but there isn’t enough conversation around on going sleep deprivation, how it’s affecting parents, carers, jobs and family units. Dealing with sleep issues in toddlers/ children is just as exhausting, actually worse because you are carrying on going exhaustion and it is less forgiving in society…’oh but your kids are 3 now you must just be giving in’.

I’ve given up explaining my 3 year old will make himself physically ill if he’s left as his fear is so intense. He still wakes 1-5 times a night and struggles to resettle, is gripped with fear but unable to express his anxieties as he lacks the communication skills – it’s a parental / child impasse.

Lack of sleep has serious side effects as indicated above but severe side effects include changes to metabolic rates, hormonal changes, migraines, irritability, anxiety and depression.

There needs to be an extension of conversation surrounding sleep issues as parents battle with sleep issues, parenting and work. Like many things sleep problems are considered serious issues in the paediatric world so for parents struggling it’s ok that you’re finding it hard.

A weeks holiday, a night off or a weekend away unfortunately won’t fix a parent struggling with sleep deprivation, the only cure is the child eventually learning to sleep and the subconscious mind of the parent being able to become confident the child is ok.

If you’re, like me a struggling sleep deprived parent please be kind on yourself. It’s not talked about enough but it is such a daily struggle! You are doing your best. It’s ok you’re snappy, a bit withdrawn and not always ok…you’re doing your best.