Sleep deprivation was the one thing that I was never really prepared for when I became a parent. It can feel like torture. Each time I had a baby I found that the hardest bit. Whilst waking in the night for feeding or cuddles is a lovely time, gazing upon their sleepy faces in the early hours is precious, but the constant tiredness can make life really hard. But the one good thing is that with most babies and young children, the non-sleeping phase is quite short lived. Three of my four children settled into a reasonable routine after a few months, with the odd phase of waking as they grew older.
His early months didn’t help get him into any sort of routine. For many of his early weeks, we could almost set our watches by the time he started screaming in the evening and it continued through until the early hours. I dread to think how many miles I clocked up driving around with him in his little car seat trying desperately to get him into a state of slumber.
Eventually, a lactose intolerance diagnosis explained his general unhappiness and a change of diet helped to calm things down. Sleeping, however, never seemed to be top of his list of things to do. Whether those early months dictated what was to come, we will never know, but it seemed to be the start of a pattern that wasn’t going to be easily changed.
When he was six years old, I remember wondering if he would ever sleep through the night. Most parents talk about having weeks or months of sleepless nights but we were now well into years. We had said that he was bound to sleep once he was at nursery as he would be tired out. We were wrong. We said similar things when he started school. No, that didn’t do it either.
Bedtimes seemed to be a time when he would suddenly become wide awake, wanting to chat, play and bounce around. Between us, my husband and I have probably collectively spent years sat beside his bed waiting for him to fall asleep. I look back on those nights with a wry smile when I would crawl out stealthily on my hands and knees like some sort of ninja.
I blame my husband (often). Talking to his mum about his early years, revealed that he wasn’t ever a child who needed to sleep. Similarly to our son, he screamed during the night for the first few months and struggled to settle and we now know that he has a lactose intolerance too although back then it wasn’t diagnosed. Before we had children, he would often joke about not needing sleep. I am the opposite. I need a certain amount of sleep and I am really cranky if I don’t get enough. My husband didn’t really understand the need to sleep until we had children and then he really knew the real meaning of exhaustion.
Twelve years on and surely secondary school would have sorted out the sleep problem with our youngest son? Not a chance. Even now he is still not what you would call a sleeper. Things have improved a little bit since those early months and years when we were up most of the night. But he still struggles to sleep through the night. When he is completely physically exhausted, bedtimes can go two ways. Occasionally he will go to sleep quickly but other times he becomes overtired and agitated and it is the early hours before we can get him anywhere close to sleep. I would say that on average, he still wakes up three or four times during the week and struggles to go back to sleep.
Why is sleep such an issue with him? Sadly, we don’t really know the answer to that question. It could be genetic. It could be that his mind races constantly and he finds it really hard to switch off. Maybe it goes back to those early weeks when he was struggling as a baby?
There is a lot of information online and you can get advice from sites such as Sleep Advisor who can advise from the best pillows and mattresses to information about sleep disorders. We have read lots of books and articles about sleeping. We have tried a variety of different techniques to try and help him settle. Some things have helped, others weren’t right for our son, but it is always good to know that there is lots of information out there if you need it.
I think we have now come to the conclusion that our son is someone who will never need a huge amount of sleep. Trying to coerce him to go to sleep just makes him even more agitated. We now go to bed and leave him to it and he will come and wake us up when he is ready to go to sleep, but that doesn’t happen very often. I am grateful that he does at least sleep, even if it isn’t always all through the night.