One of the recurring ‘grass is always greener’ feelings I have since becoming a parent is, “If only I could have a little more sleep, I’d be a super Mum!”. Why then does nature intend a Mum to have such little sleep? What can we do to promote more rest? What foods can we eat to help us feel less tired? When will the sleep deprivation naturally improve? Any sleep help I have is written in this post to hopefully benefit others feeling the same way as me.
There is the odd day, here or there, where I feel refreshed. Correction. There is the odd day, here or there, when our 3 kids happen to have a nap together. Then I feel refreshed until the first one wakes again! Initially when we welcomed twins to our family of 3, I felt surprised at how much sleep I did get. My worry before their birth was that I would get no sleep. I knew my husband has some seriously lucky sleep genes and will sleep through just about anything. Before their birth I was aware that I would have sole responsibility for the night shift and early morning risers. How lonely this nearly 4 year permanent night shift has been. No break.
Sleep Deprivation With First Baby
My eldest was a big adjustment to my sleeping life, waking several times a night with the only thing to settle her being Mummy’s milk. I was more than happy to do this, but it was a huge adjustment for a first time Mum to get used to the exhaustion of needing to be available, all night and day. Nothing compares to this first baby exhaustion, which nothing really prepares you for.
Sleep Deprivation With Twins
Trying to get 2 babies of the same age to sleep is challenging. When they’re newborn and premature, it’s recommended not to cosleep initially for their safety. You try tandem feeding using the best recommended purchase I can urge any parent of twins to buy – the tandem feeding pillow in the link below … Except… how do you safely get a sleeping baby off the pillow without waking the other… or vice versa. Here we go again for round 2 of a feed and you’re desperately trying to work out if it’s possible to tandem feed during the night. I couldn’t master tandem feeding during the night, and resorted to having one in a bouncer while feeding the other. Even this was painstaking work. Lying down on a mattress on the floor (just in case you fall asleep during a feed), and having a foot up off the ground trying to gently bounce a tiny baby in the dark. Ouchieeeeee. I grew muscles in my feet and ankles that I never knew existed. It was fortunate the muscle burn was too great that it would be impossible to fall asleep and risk the bouncing baby…
Finally, the twins start having head control and you’re now able to tandem feed without a feeding pillow. However, the 3 of you quickly get too big for the standard double mattress. They start rolling off the edge throughout the night. Hello 2am, 3am, 4am…
You upgrade your bed to the biggest bed possible, with bed guards all round the edges. Til, sigh, they are now cheeky toddlers. Bedtimes together are a definite thing of the past. One cheeky monkey starts pulling a pillow over and kicking the bed. Naturally, the other sleepy monkey now starts becoming lively. Before you know it, there’s some sort of twin party going on and you’re feeling like a gatecrasher.
Bedtimes now are at separate times. Yet you all still sleep in the same bed as frankly, how will cosleeping with twins ever end? It’s not as simple as when you try to sleep separate to a single child. If you try separating twins – if one cries about the situation, you have 3 children awake and you’re stuck in the middle…
So you continue, without much more thought. In the night you are still woken numerous times, almost constantly some nights. One 2 year old wants “milk Mummy” from this side… just as they come off, it’s like a light bulb comes on and the other wants “milk Mummy” from the other side. Sometimes they’re both on you and it’s just exhausting waiting and waiting to roll over and sleep. Just as you do… your eldest comes in early saying she wants Mummy to come to the living room. It’s still dark out… and all I can think is “Will I survive another day alone with the 3 kids on this little sleep?”
Sleep Deprivation – The Truth
Fortunately for me, my eldest daughter night weaned as I was in hospital for 10 days after I gave birth to the twins. The twins did actually sleep together here and there during the night, still on Mummy’s milk. To most people, 3-4 interrupted hours sleep a night and being alone all day would be hell. For me, having any sleep at all was a huge relief compared to the expectation I had of zero sleep. On such little sleep though, there was the occasional time that I fell asleep during the day. Not ideal with 3 babies to supervise… Fortunately nothing major happened while I conked out.
As time progressed and the babies grew bigger, they were not particularly able to sleep more hours. Let’s be realistic, we usually expect a baby to start sleeping longer stretches as they grow bigger. With my eldest at quite an early age she would sleep 9pm – midnight consistently. With the twins, I’m not sure if it was just their nature to not sleep a 3 hour stretch or because being in the same bed disturbed them a bit. Even now at 2 years in, I still have only seen each individual’s sleep being less than 3 hours. Factor in that inevitably even if one happens to sleep up to 3 hours, the other no doubt won’t be in that phase. It’s gruelling. I am still alone with our 3 children 6 days a week, and still doing 7 night shifts without any help with the twins, and only occasional help from my husband with our 3 year old.
When Will Sleep Improve?
This is the unknown question that most parents long to know. As mentioned above, my eldest daughter night weaned at 20 months but she did still wake in the night. She stopped waking in the night consistently at about 2.5 years. However, she had been having those longer 3 hour stretches at the first part of the night early on. So let’s be blunt here, something else must change. If we’re this exhausted and sleep isn’t naturally going to improve until around 3 years of age, what else can we do? It’s not considered gentle parenting to let your children cry it out. Most gentle parents agree that where there seems to be a problem, the solution is found within changing the parent, not changing the child. So let’s apply this to the exhaustion coming with sleep deprivation.
Ways to Improve Exhaustion Levels
- There are gentle options to improve your baby’s ability to fall asleep without your milk or rocking etc. See my previous blog post about sleep here.
- Eating 5 portions of fruit and veg a day does help. Also eating lower sugar foods will keep your blood sugar levels more stable and help keep your energy up for longer, such as wheetabix.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated truly helps keep your energy levels up.
- Exercise can help, though when exhausted I know that’s also the last thing you feel like doing.
- Maximising sleep when the babies sleep. Falling asleep when the last goes to sleep, and staying asleep until the first one wakes is pretty much the maximum sleep you can have when you have 3 babies.
- Turning off the laptop, TV and your phone. See my previous blog post about limiting screen time for children. I have to get my husband to hide my laptop or I can sit on it and work all day. It makes the day go slower and makes you feel even more exhausted when you’re on a phone or computer all day. Switching it all off seems to create energy from somewhere.
- If you have a partner or other local support, using them for morning shifts or caring for the children while you rest may be an option for many. Having a heartfelt conversation with your husband may be needed to help them understand how much you need some extra sleep. If so, have a read of this blog post about helping your partner to align with gentle parenting needs.
- Use any days that you do have support around. Our family has one day together at the moment, so if I’m feeling really exhausted I count down to how many days I have to survive until I can call upon my husband’s help. It does help, especially when you’re more than half way through the time until you’ll have that support with you.
- There is much research surrounding what promotes good sleep in babies and children. Some refer to having bedtime routines to a good sleep environment (see for example this research paper here).
- An interesting research finding to throw into the mix here is that 3 year olds, whose father supported the toddler’s emotional wellbeing one year earlier at the age of 2, slept better. Come on Daddy’s! Use this knowledge to help your children, and therefore indirectly the whole family, sleep better this time next year…