I have a confession to make. I am suffering from a serious case of sleep envy.
My husband is a sports reporter, among other things, and so he works long hours during the Olympics, but the other day after a night shift he stayed in bed til 12pm. Lunchtime! It’s not as scandalous as it sounds if you’ve been to bed at 2 or 3 am, but I was soo jealous.
From talking to my friends, I’ve deduced that sleep envy is a common problem among mothers of young babies.
And if you’re not careful a simple case of common sleep envy can escalate into a full-scale sleep war. It all starts when the husband makes the mistake of lying on the couch, casually yawning and then muttering something along the lines of “Oh, I’m soo tired.” Now the man may utter these words without even realising he’s said them, but to a sleep-deprived mother, they are a red flag to a bull. When you’ve been up 3 or 4 times in the night with a sick child, and you then hear the man who slept peacefully through a midnight vomiting episode complain of being tired, well let’s just say it’s a little hard to take.
So Dads unless you are the one getting up all night to tend to the baby, don’t even think about saying the ‘t’ word.
I can cope pretty well with one or two bad nights in a row. But when it gets to three or four that’s when it all starts to fall apart. I find that I really have to make a big effort to be patient with the kids when I’m tired. On those days I’ve learnt to put aside whatever I hoped to get done and just focus on looking after the children as best I can.
The other problem for breastfeeding Mums is that if you don’t get enough sleep then your milk supply drops and that starts a vicious cycle where the baby needs to feed more often because your milk supply is low, and so you can’t get as much sleep. When that happens I find I really do have to rest during the day. Forget about all your other commitments, your cleaning, your washing, your social life, just try to eat well and rest. I’m somebody who hates to let other people down, but sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ and take care of yourself.
So what can Dads do to support sleep-deprived Mums?
Breakfast in bed always goes down well! If you are breastfeeding, then it really does have to be Mum who gets up in the night and tends to the baby, so there’s not always a lot that Dads can do, even if they want to help. But every Mum should have at least one designated sleep-in day. When we had Birdy I was up early every day because I always had to breastfeed her. Then eventually I realised that if you do the first morning feed in bed, then you can pass the baby to hubby when you’re finished and he can sometimes get up first.
I think it’s a really good idea for both Mum and Dad to have a designated sleep-in day.
Then there are no arguments about who stays in bed, it’s just set in stone that on Saturday Dad gets up with the kids. (Notice how I said, ‘Gets up with the kids’. Not puts on cartoons and goes back to bed!)
Also, men, here’s a tip for you: if Mum does complain of being tired, it doesn’t mean she needs you to come up with a solution.
Men tend to want to fix things. So when I say ‘I’m tired’ my husbands first response will be to say, “Well go to bed earlier” or ‘Have a nap during the day.” But as Mum’s we find it hard to switch off. We can’t go to bed when the kitchen isn’t clean or the washing’s not put away. That just means starting the next day even further behind. So when we say we’re tired, sometimes all we really want is a bit of understanding and TLC. There’s nothing so good as a cup of tea that somebody else has made for you, or a really nice dinner that somebody else has cooked for you, or half an hour with a good book while your husband takes the kids to the park. Then hopefully sleep envy is less likely to escalate into a full-scale sleep war!
PS. I’m so tired I forgot to upload this post on Monday and didn’t remember until Thursday.
PPS. Full Brownie points to hubby who was up last night trying to settle an inexplicably unsettled Molly. I let him stay in bed this morning!
Have you ever suffered from a case of sleep envy? How do you and your partner (if you have one) work things out so that both of you can get some sleep?