Remember that time you went to bed and slept glorious eight, uninterrupted hours?
Yeah, we don’t either.
Like unicorns and children who voluntarily put on their own shoes, sleep in the first years of parenting is an illusive beast.
Whether it’s a newborn who breastfeeds all night, a toddler who has discovered that they can remove their own nappy or a pre-schooler who wants to discuss the difference between dragons and dinosaurs, parents of young children aren’t getting a lot of zzzz’s.
Just how bad is it?
We’re not going to sugar coat it. It’s pretty dire. A recent survey for Owlet found that a teeny tiny 5% of parents with young babies are getting their full eight hours. ‘Welcome to my life,’ we hear you say.
Well it gets worse. 43% of parents only get between one and three hours of uninterrupted snooze time each night. Pass the plunger and make it a double.
Medical professionals recommend around eight hours of good quality sleep per night. It’s blatantly obvious that these people are either a) not parents or b) high (or perhaps both) because the chances of a full eight hours is about as likely as steamed veggies being requested as a dinner option by a 4-year-old – AKA slim to none.
Sleep deprivation can’t kill you. But it can leave you fuzzy, foggy, unable to locate the car keys you literally just stashed in your back pocket and craving more coffee than a hungover medical student on a double shift.
How To Survive on Minimal Sleep
There’s not all that much you can do about the small sleep terrorist who lives in your home. There are however things you can do to survive and strategies to put in place to ensure that the sleep you DO get is the good quality stuff.
1. Sleep when you can
Notice we DIDN’T say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, because frankly, that’s a load of shit. Especially if you’ve got more than one small person in residence. Squeezing in a snooze however is hugely beneficial.
Experts have found that between 10 and 30 minutes is ideal for warding off exhaustion and helping reset your body. Yes, we know you have a to-do list longer than the ‘In The Night Garden’ train, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with popping on an episode of ‘Paw Patrol’ and snatching a quick 15 minutes on the couch while the biggie is entertained and the baby sleeps. Likewise, an extra 20 minutes in bed of a morning can make a world of difference. Find those pockets of sleep and get all up in them. They can truly be a sanity saver.
2. Fuel yourself… and not just with coffee
It’s a brave person who tries to remove coffee from the clutches of a sleep deprived parent. Expect some screaming, foot stamping, possibly some intense breath holding, your usual tantrum behaviour. You don’t have to tell us that coffee is life.
Too much of the good stuff though can sabotage the sleep you do actually get, messing with your body clock and making it hard to doze off. Try and limit your consumption to around two to four cups per day. Experts recommend a maximum of 400mg of caffeine, which is what you’d find in around four cups of coffee. Remember that tea, chai and chocolate also contain caffeine and factor that in when assessing your intake.
3. Learn to meditate. Seriously.
Sadly you can’t add extra hours to your average day. You also can’t force a baby or toddler to sleep (trust us on this one, they will not be moved by your demands, pleas or tears). What you CAN do is manage your day and try to include activities like meditation that help bridge the gap between the hours of sleep you want and the hours you actually get.
Mediation aficionados claim that a meditation session can be equivalent to three to four hours of actual sleep. Obviously this depends on how long you meditate for and your skill in being able to ‘rest the mind’. Even a short burst of guided meditation however, is hugely beneficial and can help you feel refreshed, when previously you were considering using sticky tape to hold open your eyelids.
For some reason, the more tired we are, the easier it seems to be to mindlessly hook in and scroll through social media. It’s the ‘I’m so exhausted but I’ll just check Facebook ONE more time,’ scenario. Thirty minutes pass and instead of being in bed, we’re still engrossed in a video of a cat suffering an existential crisis. We’ve all been there.
Social media and the devices we use it on are extremely good at stimulating our brain and sabotaging sleep. Logging off at least an hour before bed gives our brain time to power down and switch off for sleep, meaning less time lying awake and more time actually snoozing.
Wondering how much sleep your kids actually need? Check out our handy sleep charts.