The 5 stages of Parental Sleep Deprivation

Tired novice parents.

Remember those days when you went to bed, slept soundly all night and woke up naturally feeling well rested and ready for the day? No? Then chances are you are a parent of young children.

As parents we made our peace with the fact that having children probably meant less sleep, ok a lot less sleep (unless you are my husband!). Long lazy Sunday mornings in bed watching your favourite boxset have now been replaced with a pooping alarm clock that goes off each morning at 7am. It’s ok though because they went to bed at 7pm, you had a nice evening and at least 8 hours so up you get. But what if even this isn’t your experience of children and sleep? Not even close. What if instead your children do not sleep; they refuse to go to bed, they wake constantly in the night and wake early in the morning? And it has been this way since they were born.

All of the parents that we speak to fall into this second sleep deprived camp, it might have only been a few weeks or it might have been months or even years like this. But that doesn’t matter. Life without sleep is torture.

I have seen the various stages that parents go through without sleep, none of them are fun and none of them involve getting any sleep! Here are the 5 stages of parental sleep deprivation:

  1. Denial.  Maybe you are a new parent, maybe this is the first few weeks of night waking but you have the luxury and the naivety to assume that this is only temporary. It won’t last long and things will go back to normal. Things will improve. So you find yourself saying things like this will pass, it’s just a phase.  This is what parenthood is about isn’t it? Babies cry. Babies are up all night. They’ll start sleeping soon, won’t they?
  1. Blame. Ok so the denial phase is over. It hasn’t passed. It hasn’t got better and you don’t know what is wrong, you don’t know why he isn’t sleeping. Denial wasn’t working for you; now you are tired and irrationally angry. So you do all that you can do; you point your finger and blame everything and everyone. Your husband, maybe you know he’s not really to blame but he’s lying there, sleeping. Peaceful. Snoring. And it makes you mad. He’s getting sleep and you’re not. But he is also the only person that can give you a lie in so you find something else. It’s teething. He’s clearly coming down with something. The dog. Too much milk, not enough milk.  Then when you are done blaming everything else. You blame yourself. It’s your fault (it’s not), you feel like a failure as a mother (you’re not). And here comes the guilt.
  1. Desperation.  You haven’t slept in a really long time. You fantasise about sleep. Every night you know exactly what you are in for and you have started to dread bedtime. As soon as your head hits that pillow you know that you are going to hear a cry and he won’t go back to sleep.  Up and down all night, every night.  Out of sheer desperation you make a half-arsed attempt to read a ‘baby sleep book’ and it says to leave your baby to cry.  You bury your head in your pillow, you watch the monitor lights constantly. It doesn’t help. You cry, he cries. You feel like you have tried everything and it hasn’t worked. Nothing has changed. Maybe it never will.
  1. Survival.  You have no energy to search for the answer. It’s been going on for so long and you are tired, infact you are tired of being tired. You need to get some sleep; where you can, when you can, any way that you can. So you co-sleep, you sleep in a chair holding him, you stick your hands through the bars of the cot and sit on the floor until he falls asleep, you rock him, you sing to him, you drive around the block, you go for midnight walks.  It’s no longer about finding the answer. You don’t believe you can. This is about survival now.
  1. Acceptance and Action.  When people come to us they are beyond the desperation stage, they have accepted that this is the way it is.  And will be for some time. For some, the realisation that this is it prompts them to take action.  They don’t want to accept this.  No sleep? FOREVER? This canNOT be it! You have no energy to fix it yourself, you can’t see the wood through the trees so you look for help.

And that’s where we come in. I can tell you that there is hope, that there is a solution for every baby. You don’t have to accept it.  We can help you change it; that’s what we do. I’m pleased to tell you that the final stage is thankfully always SLEEP.


Gemma at Baby Tech Support

1st January 2016

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