What Not to Say to the Severely Sleep Deprived

Since P went back to school at the beginning of the month, sleep in my house has gone from pretty poor to absolutely horrendous. She’s been up to her old tricks – messing around at bedtime and dragging it out as much as she can, no doubt stirring up the stress hormone cortisol just beautifully. The knock on from this is of course night wakings, along with getting up for the day at the crack of dawn. You can only imagine how knackered she is, and the effect this has on her ability to keep her natural urges to pinch people and scream in their faces under control.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, my worst nightmare became a reality. 3½yo C who slept through from 10 weeks old and has always been our solid sleeper (even through sickness or cutting her molars) has started copying her big sister. She has only slept through the night twice in the last fortnight, and it’s taking even longer to settle her than it is P. Add to the mix a 19mo F who is sleeping and eating WORSE than just before I weaned him off the breast in a desperate attempt to turn things around last month, and we have ourselves a recipe for trouble in the most exhausting, torturous of ways.

Sleep deprivation has been a huge feature the entire time I’ve been a mum, during which I’ve been offered lots of well meaning platitudes, which offer little in the way of comfort. While I don’t want to be bitter about my lack of zzzz’s, it can be impossible to not get annoyed at some of the things people have said to me.

what not to say to the severely sleep deprived

I’m sure she’ll start sleeping better when she’s 3/4/5/6…

I’ve known for a long time that there was more to P’s sleep problems than just her being a tricky kid, and now we know that she has high functioning autism. It explains a lot, but also fills us with dread for the future. The poor girl has incredible difficulty switching off her thoughts, and if she’s hyped herself up during bedtime it becomes even harder. She is not going to outgrow autism, and start sleeping twelve hours a night. It does not work like that. I gave up waiting for that ‘magical turning point’ when she was about a year old. She’s never followed the text books, and I can’t see she ever will.

Some kids just need less sleep than others

No no no! I do not buy this one at all. I have yet to meet a child who is getting significantly less than their recommended 10-12 hours who is a joy to be around and copes wonderfully with life. Children need their sleep. End of.

My baby was a nightmare for the first x months

Newsflash: all babies are a nightmare for some part or all of their first year! This is a fact that’s been shared so much by parents to non-parents, that I’m astounded it even comes as a small surprise to new parents. Although I can empathise with how hard it is at first, because it’s all so new first time around, unless you have twins or more you can always offset a bad night with a chilled day and nap if you’re on maternity leave.

Why don’t you just ignore her when she’s screaming her head off or put a stair gate on her room?

Mainly because I have two other children to consider, plus the teeny tiny fact that she’s six years old and could easily unlock it. This may work for some people, and that’s just great, but it would have never and will never work for my family. 

My little brother was a terrible sleeper, it was a killer for my mum (or something along these lines)

For the most part people just want to be nice when they relate your experience to their own, I’ve done it myself many times. BUT unless you have had at least five years of sleep-hell caused by at least two children, then I’m afraid you really can’t relate to what I’m going through.

What you could do instead

Next time your friend cries on your shoulder about the dreadful time they are having due to sleep thievery, rather than offering up a platitude just let them cry and vent, and get it all out of their system. Preferably over a large cup of coffee!

Offer to have your friend and their kids over for a playdate, and do the bulk of the childcare while they get to enjoy a hot cuppa. Rest assured that this small gesture will go a long long way.

If you’re feeling really generous you could take one (or more) of their kids for a sleepover, which will give your friend a small chance of getting a little bit of extra rest 🙂

Many thanks to Charlotte at Mummy Fever for her fab piece about the difference between being tired and sleep deprivation for inspiring this post!

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31 thoughts on “What Not to Say to the Severely Sleep Deprived

  1. 8 years into it with ours. Soul destroying yep it certainly can be. And the knock on effect to headaches, poor immunity etc. I think back to times where I should not have been driving was so cross eyed from sleep dep. just an absolute zombie. I would say overstimulation certainly an issue for my little guy even something like going to the shopping centre or a change of teacher at school. Or just something ticking over on loop in that super clever mind of his. Exercise has helped (gymnastics, swimming, long walks and bike rides ) so has relaxation/mindfulness/kids guided meditation apps and stories and a really good screen free wind down low lights time before bed and getting him on to Melatonin has been a godsend . Seriously life changing. All the best – it is so so hard at times. Self care so so CRUCIAL and ask for and accept help – only way to get through it

  2. Thanks so much honey, your lovely comment is very comforting! I’m so lucky to have received such support from my fabulous blogger friends xx PS – cocktails sound good!!

  3. Oh God Renée you poor poor thing. Well I’ll be careful what I say (!) but people are just trying to respond instead of saying nothing. When I think of how exhausted I was when mine were little (and yet it was in the grand scheme of things short-lived), I honestly take my hat off to you for coping with that level of intense prolonged fatigue and still finding time to blog!!

    I have no words of comfort, but if we ever meet, I’ll buy you a cocktail which might make you forget just for a few minutes how tired you are. #thetruthabout

  4. Thanks Jess, that’s really kind. It certainly sucks! I think in the early days I hoped against all hope that it was a short lived phase, now I know that it isn’t, and yes it can indeed be soul destroying. Going through a particularly bad time now my daughter is back at school 🙁 Wishing you lots of Zzzz’s tonight xx

  5. I have a kid with a sleep disorder. I can’t relate and I’m not trying to offer advice or anything though. Just to say, it sucks. To go to bed and never know how your night is going to be….it’s just soul destroying. I am sorry and I hope you get someone to give you a break soon!

  6. Thanks lovely. It works for some, and because we’d had such success earlier in the year when we weaned F off night feeds, we thought it would be pretty straight forward 🙁 Good luck with what ever you decide!

  7. Basically people should just shut up and give you a cuddle, or else risk being poked in the eye when you are sleep deprived! Love this and sharing on Twitter now…#thetruthabout

  8. I’m sorry that the night weaning hasn’t worked better – we’ve been dithering about whether it might work and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus view

    Hang on in there, this too will pass

  9. You are so kind Louise, a virtual hug and cuppa will do just nicely thank you. Sorry that you’ve been on the receiving end of the well meaning annoying comments too. They can make or break a day when you’re at your wits end! Really hope things are on the up for you guys. Fingers crossed for us xx

  10. If I was suffering from sleep deprivation right now I think I would have to be institutionalized! Seriously it is the tipping point isn’t it? People who haven’t experienced it – or not as much or not for a long time can be unintentional dicks. JJ mentioned our day out this morning – he really liked Polly – if I could take the girls for a playmate some time I will. Xx #thetruthabout

  11. Sleep deprivation is truly torturous and I cannot imagine having to cope with that degree of sleep deprivation for five years. I agree with you that the comments, well meaning as they are, do not help. I remember being told “well, that’s children for you” during the worst of the sleep-deprivation with Sophie and wanting to throttle the person who said it – I just wanted to be able to vent without having to justify anything, and get a hug. And I don’t buy the “some kids just need less sleep” line either – knowing just how much of a difference it makes when they do sleep well. Wish I could wave that magic wand and create some more sleep time for you my lovely, but as I can’t, I’m just sending some virtual hugs over a virtual cup of tea instead xx

  12. It’s been so bittersweet Ali! I weaned Freddy off night feeds back in Jan and it worked wonders, he slept through most nights and ate so well for about three weeks. Then he started nursery and got a nasty cold, went off his food and was waking up so I fed him a few times for the comfort, which started the night feeds every night. I had hoped by completely weaning him off the boob he would have reverted back to this, but we’ve only had a few nights where he has slept through in over a month now. I’m feeling rather sad about it all it all tbh, really was hoping it would be the magic cure but it’s seemed to make things worse 🙁

  13. Having had three children who didn’t slerp through for years I feel your pain! I hope it improves for you soon, it’s interesting to read that stopping breastfeeding didn’t help. I’ve been considering this in the hope Ronnie sleeps longer at night but I have no idea how else I’ll get him off! #thetruth

  14. I know you’ve been here though Denise, and I can’t imagine you ever forget it. Thank you though, I’ll take a virtual cuppa for now, and hopefully see you again soon in real life 🙂

  15. It’s strange, because in some ways I am so used to it, it’s just part of every day life. But some days it gets to me, like today when I burst into tears whilst having breakfast with some friends. When the chips are down and challenges become overwhelming, the lack of sleep can tip me over the edge. Really hope you’re on the mend now hon xx

  16. I have enough trouble with one non-sleeper, you are my (sleep deprived) hero 🙂 Someone said to me: “Think of it as extra cuddle time.” This was just after the doctor thought I’d had a stroke and needed a CAT scan because I was feeling dizzy all the time and then fell one night when I went to her (luckily just exhaustion/low blood pressure). Argh!

  17. I had a couple of months of sleep deprivation when I was recovering from my surgery and just those few months was tough enough to cope with such little sleep so I cannot begin to imagine how much tougher it must be for you. Xx

  18. Ouch hun. I cannot imagine how hard this must be juggling all of this. If I lived closer I would most certainly be offering you a cup of tea and a break. I hope someone is in the wings waiting to offer you a nap

  19. Oh Reneé, I just wish I could step in, pour you that huge coffee and let you cry on my shoulder! Damn all these miles between us! And you’re right that although most parents understand the hell of sleep deprivation to some extent, your situation is extreme and can’t really be compared. You’re doing brilliantly to cope with it as well as you are doing. xxx

  20. I so wish I lived nearer and could help out 🙁 You are so right – I will never forget the gratitude I feel towards my friends who offered to have my children for me occasionally when I was a single parent, to give me that space not to feel pressured. Not the same for me as sleep deprivation is for you, but the same sentiment on their part.

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