One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is lack of sleep. Those seemingly endless sleepless nights take a toll on our energy, our drive and clear-headedness. It can be pretty hard to think clearly and take a proportionate, balanced approach to our waking days, least of all those days full of challenge, when we are sleep-deprived. As parents we tend to hope that the sleeplessness nights will be confined to our children’s babyhood and that as they grow their sleep will improve. For many that turns out not to be the case.
In our house sleep became a distant dream with our youngest child, for more than twelve years my husband and I dealt with broken nights and sleeping in shifts to look after her. We tried all suggestions but to no avail. Endeavouring to keep awake a child who is determined to fall asleep is almost impossible, on the few nights we succeeded rather than stay awake until 9 p.m. as we hoped we found that she would still be going strong long after midnight. Most nights we had no success and sleep would claim her at about 8 p.m. only for midnight to see her wide awake and ready to begin a new day. Night by night we took it in turns, one to watch her and endeavour to encourage a return to sleep until about 4 a.m., the other to take over after that, then all swap over the next evening.
It ate into us, leaving us drained, snappy at times and unenthused. I could take advantage of working part-time to grab a midday nap, my husband couldn’t. We began to fear it was to be never-ending. Respite nights when our daughter slept away from home and we had the evening to ourselves were a godsend, I suppose we would have coped without them but it would have been exponentially more difficult without the knowledge that for two nights a month our daughter would be off, having fun and being cared for while we could get some rest. Of course for years we lay awake wondering if she was okay and if we were going to get a telephone call to tell us there was something amiss, several times we did.
Twelve years or more of broken nights and we thought it was going to be our life story, then one night a couple of years ago our daughter went to bed and slept through till morning. We didn’t, we woke several times to go and check that everything was okay, yes we feared the worst, that a seizure had claimed her in the night, gratefully letting out our own held breaths when we could hear her rhythmic sleeping ones. The next night it happened again and then again and again until a week had passed and each night had been slept through till morning, we were elated, and strangely exhausted. As the weeks turned into months we began to feel this was it, an important breakthrough had taken place. Our strength, energy and enthusiasm began to return. We could look forward to the evening knowing we would have some time to ourselves like any other family after their children had gone to bed.
Our youngest also began to improve, herself no longer exhausted she began to learn more, say more, do more. We noticed an improvement in her temper and temperament at home, school and respite reported the same. Where each day prior to this she had been often angry and unsettled for little apparent reason now she was more open, more understanding, more capable of listening when things were explained to her. Along with the increased sleep came fewer seizures and increased learning, we felt we were winning on all fronts.
Each year as the days lengthen I feel rejuvenated by the returning sun, its only downside felt each morning as its increasingly early rays call my youngest from her sleep. We have come to expect this, we know that often she can be encouraged to lie down again until closer to a more reasonable waking time. This week however we have seen a return to waking in the middle of the night and exhaustion during the day. During those few nights I have felt the dread of a return to lengthy periods of wakefulness. Last night she went to bed exhausted, this morning she woke at our usual waking time. My entire being sang a song of relief. Tonight we will hope for the same and the cycle to remain broken.
I hope today brings good things to you.
© 2013, Penbleth / L. McG.-E.. All rights reserved.