The Black Hole of Sleep Deprivation

When I started this blog just a couple of months ago, I vowed to keep it light-hearted and ‘on-subject’, focussing on my boy’s fascinating chatter in an effort to provide a bit of escapism from the very subject of this post.  But I’m feeling the need to vent, so here goes…

I’m in the midst of another bad run of nights with Pipsqueak who is now almost 7 months. To be honest, the ‘good runs’ have been few and far between. There have been two. Both blocks of about a week long where she has only woken twice for food, has settled straight back to sleep and so have I.

There has always been something getting in the way of this holy grail of ‘normal’ wake-ups. For the first few weeks it was reflux-associated unsettledness in the small hours. From the 1 or 2am feed onwards she just couldn’t relax enough to go back to sleep, except when upright on me. I coped with this by going to bed early and, once she accepted a bottle, hubby did the first feed with expressed milk, giving me a lovely 4 hour stretch of sleep. Those were the good old days!

Then (just as the self-preserving sleep-inducing postpartum hormones wore off) the Wonder Weeks and growth spurts came thick and fast. Alongside these, daytime napping became problematic and impacted on night-time sleep.

Next, the sudden refusal to feed to sleep and inability to self-settle or easily be rocked or cuddled to sleep. Tears all round.

Then the development of a location-specific daytime feeding aversion (only feeding in dim silence in the nursery, never out and about and not even downstairs on the sofa), leading to reverse-cycling and more frequent waking on the days when we have actually gone out and had a life.

And finally, more recently, having cracked the self-settling, the poor girl’s physical development is playing havoc with her sleep and she is spending hours at night practising her rolling and spinning manoeuvres and doing stomach-strengthening leg raises involving noisy crash-downs against the cot bars.

Each of these can be dismissed as ‘just a phase’ (except for the feeding aversion, it seems), but boy are these phases relentless.

Who me?  Causing sleep problems?
Who me? Causing sleep problems?

People see me and comment on how well I am looking. ‘How’s she sleeping?’ they ask, perhaps expecting a breezy ‘Oh good, thanks, she’s sleeping through now.’ I smile a wry smile in return and reply ‘Hmm not so great, I’m still up a lot in the night,’ then change the subject swiftly before I crack.

Because, behind the fixed smile and mask of makeup, I am always on the verge of cracking. And by that I mean falling into the black hole whereby I break down and sob in despair because I feel so rotten and am finding it such an effort to function and it is just not fair.

Unless you have been here, ‘being sleep deprived’ is hard to understand. And of course there are varying levels of deprivation. Two relatively short wake-ups might sound like heaven to me right now, but is some new mothers’ idea of hell. And their struggle is real too. And they might feel truly exhausted.

I am the first to admit that I can cope fairly well on less sleep than many. I’ve had to, as I was a seasoned insomniac well before I had children. I am the type of person who just pushes on through.

My vocation as a primary school teacher has been the root cause of much of my insomnia (I find it very difficult to switch off) yet I have been known to teach fantastic lessons on less than 5 hours sleep.

I am not looking for violins or applause here. But I do want others who are in the same boat as me to know that they are not alone. And I want to raise awareness to others of what it is like to live with severe sleep deprivation. So here’s a bit of an insight:

My eye sockets ache.

My headache is constant. Drinking water doesn’t ease it. The painkillers are reached for more often than I am comfortable with.

I feel nauseous.  Sometimes this leads me to eating a lot of the wrong types of food (chocolate, biscuits, endless slices of toast..anything for a quick pick-me-up).  Other times, like now, I have to force myself to eat anything.

My bones ache. As though I have the ‘flu.

I have a mouth full of ulcers.

I feel dizzy.

I feel weak.

I have hot flushes.

My vision is often affected.  Stationary objects appear to flicker and move, as though I am drunk.

I am clumsy, have a lot of accidents and injure myself daily (usually stubbing my toes, bashing into furniture edges, banging my head on open cupboards or under the stairs, scalding and burning myself). At work, I was renowned for being accident prone. 90% of it was down to insomnia.

My tolerance levels are down. This is something that I work really hard to minimise as it’s not a good headspace to be in with a toddler and baby. I practice deep breathing and make myself count before reacting. Sometimes I leave the room to calm myself. But I do find myself muttering my favourite sweary phrase (FFS) too many times a day. And I do snap at my poor long-suffering hubby at least once a night.

I cry a fair amount. Usually of an evening (poor hubby) as I clock off from mummy duties for a precious couple of hours. Sometimes during the day, I have to leave the children and pop upstairs for a wee and a weep, just to get it out of my system.

I can’t think straight. Thoughts whirl around in my head and I often can’t ‘catch’, them in order to process them.

Decision-making is difficult. Whether to stay in or go to toddler group; whether to return to work when intended or stay on maternity leave for longer; what to pack for our holiday.

I doubt myself constantly. Is Pipsqueak over-tired or just over-excited? Am I being a good friend or do I moan too much? Is The Boy’s behaviour challenging sometimes because of the way I am interacting with him? All normal questions for parents, but I am usually pretty self-confident and I know the lack of sleep is undermining this.

I talk gibberish. I stumble over words, repeat myself unintentionally, contradict myself.

I loose things constantly. The fridge is the first place to look now.

My mind plays tricks on me. Especially at night when I think half the time I imagine The Boy calling out to me or Pipsqueak crying.

I have horrid, realistic dreams. The night before last, when Mr Don’t Say was up and down all night with food poisoning, I had a snatch of 20 minutes sleep and I dreamt that both the children were vomiting fountains and they weren’t close enough for me to hold a bowl under each of them and I ended up slipping in a sea of it. I woke with a jolt. Last night, when Pipsqueak’s cot antics were particularly extreme, I dreamt that she had pulled herself up to sitting and managed flip herself out of the cot onto the wooden floor. I heard the thud and walked in to find her motionless, face down. It was so realistic.

I can’t lead the life I want to. As the time suffering from sleep deprivation increases and the associated insomnia worsens, I am more inclined to take the easy option and stay in and play rather than have play dates or go out. And I am by nature a sociable person who likes to be busy.  Some days it is simply not safe to drive. I desperately want to start exercising again but there is no way I can physically do more than short walks from A to B. I want to cook (hubby has been an absolute saviour on that front), get involved in early evening gardening during the summer, and go out on nights out with the girls. But I am too exhausted.

"What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?"
“What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?”

And, most depressing of all:

I can’t sleep.

Yes you read that right. Even if I didn’t have a toddler to look after, I wouldn’t be able to take that well-meaning advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps. I did in the first couple of weeks when hubby was home and the sleep deprivation was within the bounds of normal. And it really helped.

When I do sacrifice the couple of early evening child-free hours (when I can enjoy some uninterrupted adult conversation, vegetative TV viewing or the opportunity to get some studying or blogging done) and have an early night, I lie awake.

Between night feeds, I toss and turn and wish for the much-needed sleep to consume me. If I’m lucky I drift off for half an hour or so, only to be woken by the sound of the cat coming through the cat flap downstairs or Pipsqueak coughing or hubby snoring or the shift-working neighbour’s car starting or another neighbour’s child crying out from night terrors or the birds singing (one of my favourite sounds but now with such a depressing association). Frustratingly, have always been a light sleeper too.

As those birds start singing and it starts getting lighter just before 5am I shed silent tears in the knowledge that my night is done and I can once again count on one hand (and all too often just two or three fingers) the total amount of sleep accumulated.  It sounds so melodramatic and I don’t want it to read that way.  It’s just what happens.

As dire and difficult as it is pulling energy from somewhere every day to cope being a mum and a wife and a friend, I know that I am lucky compared to many. I am hopeful that, as Pipsqeak matures and with recent changes in my life hopefully meaning that work stress-related insomnia will be reduced, there should be an end in sight for me. Others (those suffering from chronic pain for example) are not so fortunate. And they are so strong and they deserve so much respect for coping.

So next time you ask someone who is struggling with insomnia or other sleep-related issues how they are, just take their reply with a pinch of salt. They will probably play down the reality of it. But they do deserve a high-five for just getting through another day.

End note
Excuse the soppiness, but I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my mum, who is so kind and selfless.  She has continued to look after The Boy two days a week throughout my maternity leave and in doing so has saved my sanity, literally. Mum, you are amazing and I don’t know what I’d do without you.  Also my hubby who has been keeping my spirits up and doing all the stuff I’m too exhausted to do.  And my friends – thank you for being great listeners and for your offers of help.  You are all lovely. xxx

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12 thoughts on “The Black Hole of Sleep Deprivation

  1. Wow. As the mom of 5 including 3.5 month old twins and a 20 month old I completely hear you! Lately I’ve just been giving up on sleep by 4am because I don’t see the point. But EVERY time I decide to get up, they decide to sleep. And IF I decide to give it another go, they wake up. AHHHH!

    My desk has a drool mark from where I fall asleep staring at my monitor, praying for all-night sleeping to come soon.

    Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this! I suffered sleep deprivation too, which luckily seems in the past (for now). I was snappy, couldn’t make decisions, lost things all the time, and had a constant headache. I hope you get some much needed rest soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh gosh I’m right there with you. My 6 month old has never slept for more than a random 4 hr stretch. We tend to co-sleep as it’s the only way I can survive. I dose off as I’m feeding her the many times each night. Our evenings are now also disturbed as she is reuarly waking herself up with roling x

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    1. Oh no! Not you too. It’s so frustrating getting your evening interrupted when you know you’re going to be up through the night! Fingers crossed for both of us that their acrobatic phase will be short-lived!

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  4. Fighting back tears as I read this! I know the dizzy, drunken, aching, weepy, irrational, snappy, desperate, sleep deprived monster only too well. You are so brave for writing this post – it is almost impossible to describe the effects of true sleep deprivation. It is NOT normal! You’re doing such an amazing job. Keep writing!

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    1. Thank you Emma 🙂 One day I’m sure these feelings will be nothing but a dim and distant (bad) memory for both of us. Our eyes will be less sunken, our brains back to their razor-sharp selves and we will wake up actually feeling refreshed 🙂

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    1. Aw fair enough – it is pretty intense if you let it be, this blogging malarkey! I’m only managing to write during feeds really. Hope things improve for you very soon xx

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