The Sleep-Deprived Lives Of Parents With Young Kids

Parenting can be tough. Sorry to break the news to you so bluntly if you’re yet to figure that out. I could list all of the things that make it difficult, but I’ll spare you that – for now. Instead, this post is going to focus on just one of the ‘challenges’ associated with babies and toddlers. Sleep. Or, should that be lack of sleep.

I hate to link to the Daily Mail, but research in 2013 suggested that new parents lose 2.9 hours of sleep per night. That’s the equivalent of 44 days lost in the first year of a child’s life. It’s hardly surprising that most of us parents wander around in a zombie-like state with stats like that.

The early mornings and multiple wake ups during the night become a badge of honour we are reluctantly forced to wear. More often than not alongside the bags under our bloodshot eyes. I’ll tell you something – the pre-dad version of me didn’t know how good he had it. Regular weekend lie-ins and eight hours of solid sleep feel like a distant memory now.

I can’t complain too much though, particularly when I know what other parents have been through. Generally, Toddler L has always gone to bed easily, has usually slept from 7.45pm to 7.45am since she started sleeping through and had two daily naps until just before her second birthday. I still don’t know how I achieved the latter!

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy – far from it. In the early days, Toddler L was feeding every one and a half hours – this was particularly tough on the missus as she was breastfeeding. Then four month regression struck, which felt like we’d been banished to hell. I can also count on two hands the number of times that Toddler L hasn’t woken at least once in the night. The result is continued sleep deprivation and a state of never fully being able to relax.

To make things worse, we’ve recently got into a bit of a lazy habit. For the last month, we’ve brought Toddler L into our bed at various points during the night. Before this, if she woke up, we’d go into her room and give her what she needed – be it some water, a hug or to re-find her comforter. Recently though, she’s been waking more often and we’ve been unable to settle her as quickly. When it’s 3am in the morning, the missus has to soon be up for work and you’ve already been in her room five times that night, bringing the sprog into our bed has seemed like the lesser of two evils.

What started out as every now and then has turned into habit. She wakes during the night and we succumb to her demands to join us in our bed. This means that she sleeps better and we don’t have to continually get up during the night, but the missus and I don’t sleep great. Always aware that she’s with us and therefore never fully able to fully drift off. I fear that we’ve created a rod for our own back. Sooner or later we’ll have to break this habit.

My Sleep Experiment

This lack of sleep was recently confirmed when I took part in a sleep experiment with Bensons For Beds. Along with two other bloggers, I was asked to track my sleep for a seven-day period using a S+ by Resmed sleep monitoring device. To clarify, I didn’t share a bed with the other bloggers.

The device sat on my bedside table at home and monitored my breathing, movement and room conditions . It then synced with an app on my phone to analyse my sleep patterns and provide tailored feedback on what I could do to sleep better. A very cool bit of tech. You can see an example of my sleep on one of the days in the app screenshot below.

s-by-resmed-sleep-tracker-screenshot-from-app-80-score

Along with a sleep diary I kept for the week, I sent across the screenshots to Bensons For Beds. My results were then analysed by renowned sleep physiologist Dr Guy Meadows, who provided me with some hints, tips and advice on my sleep. My sleep experiment was also turned into a blog post for the Bensons For Beds site which you can read here.

In terms of Dr Guy’s overall analysis, he said “…I would consider him to be a normal sleeper, with the potential to achieve regular good quality sleep. Lifestyle and parenting factors appear to be the major causes of sleep disturbance”. I think that sums things up pretty well – emphasis on the “parenting factors” part!

He went on to say “…I believe that Dave’s sleep need is around 8 hours per night. Unfortunately, he rarely achieves this due to staying up late to watch TV or respond to emails”. Yep, I’m very guilty of this – sometimes late at night is the only time I’ve got to chill out or catch up on work.

When it came to the advice, Dr Guy suggested that I need to make sleep a priority. “…this gradual sleep debt has a negative impact on his daytime energy and refreshment levels. I would recommend…going to bed between 10:30pm and 11pm [rather than] 11:30pm and midnight… [and] setting a ‘go to bed alarm’ for 30 mins before bed”. I’ve not thought about that before, but it makes sense to remind me to go to bed on time.

He also touched on the early morning wake-ups because of Toddler L. “Dave’s sleeping pattern is regularly being cut short by his daughter…like most parents he has fallen into the trap of bringing his daughter into bed in the hope of getting a little more sleep…such behaviour leads to ongoing fragmented and light sleep for the parent and the creation of an unhelpful sleep association for the child.” I couldn’t agree more Dr Guy – it can just be a bit difficult to stay subjective when you’re living it every day/night!

He went on to offer this helpful advice about rewarding good sleep behaviour and creating a motivation to stay in bed. “…create a story about a sleep fairy who visits in the night and gives presents to good sleeping girls…with enough parental enthusiasm, young children can buy into the story and stay in bed…a small reward (sticker, rubber, toy) is secretly hidden within or around the bed and left for her to discover [with] an accompanying note…telling her how she has been such a fantastic sleeper…after two weeks of consistent sleep…you can then begin to ween them off the sleep fairy...” I’m not 100% sure Toddler L is at the age to understand something like this yet, but I really like the idea and thought behind it. I’m sure we’ll wield it in the future.

So, from the experiment, I learnt that I wasn’t getting enough sleep and it was quite disturbed. I kind of already new this, but it was great to have this confirmed. I’m a fan of stats, so seeing it spelt out in charts and graphs appealed to my geeky side. It was also pretty cool to have my sleep analysed by Dr Guy. Next time though, I reckon he needs to offer to babysit and deal with Toddler L waking in the night. That’d guarantee me a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep!

N.B. This is a collaborative post written with Bensons For Beds.

N.B. This post includes an affiliate link(s). For more info, read my Disclosure policy.

  • john adams

    Very interesting reading and a great experiment for Bensons for Beds to ask you to take part in. The email thing rings true for me. Thankfully both our kids have always generally been very good at night so sleep is rarely disturbed by them.

  • I often look at the sleep stats my fitbit provides and think I’d have been better of not knowing. I’m lucky that we’ve never had an issue with the kids coming into our bed but in part that’s been because they’ve had high bedroom door handles and couldn’t get out of their rooms 😉

  • Tea ke

    I really like the sleep fairy tale thing. Your use of the sleeping experiment is awesome! Very good insight.

  • Man vs Pink

    I’m not sure there’s any way to avoid sleep deprivation as a parent, but as suggested we can take steps to help ourselves a little about the things we can control like when we go to bed, and creating as relaxing sleeping environment as possible.