The 6 Stages Of Sleep Deprivation

The first year with a baby is notorious for its sleep deprivation, which for many of us mums, can be a big slap in the face. But on the way to becoming chronically sleep-deprived and caffeine dependent,  did you know there are 6 distinct stages that we all go through that year?


Stage 1: No idea what’s coming

You’re pregnant, and everyone’s dishing out advice. They tell you about the lack of sleep that’s coming, but you shrug it off.  You think it’s like getting up for the toilet in the night, which you already do. Sure, you find the interrupted sleep a bit of a pain, but you manage. How much harder can it be? Your ignorance is understandable; there’s no way you can possibly know what lies ahead.  If you really wanted to prepare yourself, you’d have to set an alarm that goes off every two hours overnight and forces you to stay awake for an hour each time, for at least two weeks, to really appreciate the onslaught of sleep deprivation. But that would be silly – you’re pregnant, you should be resting. Anyway, right now, you’re way too focussed on your birth plan to bother about sleep.


Stage 2: The perfect baby

Your baby arrives, and sleeps magically – for hours at a time. He wakes once or twice in the night and happily goes back to sleep after a feed. You wonder what all the fuss has been about – this baby just sleeps and eats. Meanwhile, all those after-birth hormones are making you feel invincible and easily able to manage the broken sleep you’re getting. You tell people you’ve got a ‘good sleeper’, a ‘dream baby’, with a touch of smug about you. You even commend yourself for the fabulous sleep techniques you’ve been using. You think about starting a mummy blog, to share your wisdom and experience with other mums.


Stage 3: Bring me all the coffee

Your sleepy newborn turns into a regular baby. No longer content with settling back to sleep right after a night feed, your baby now demands to be rocked – for hours at a time. You’re somehow surviving on 2-3 hours of broken sleep a night and it feels like you’ve been hit by a truck. You look a bit like it, too. You walk around dazed and confused, with a new appreciation for the meaning of exhaustion. Even speaking is hard work – you’ve never been this tired. It’s actually making you feel sick.  The only thing that keeps you going is caffeine, so you stock up on coffee capsules, for those mornings that start at 4am. There is no freaking way you’re starting the day in the dark without coffee.


Stage 4: Emotional much?

Sleep deprivation can be an emotional business. Suddenly, regular, insignificant acts like brushing your teeth reduce you to tears. Anything on TV that involves babies, or the vague notion of babies has you weeping uncontrollably.  You’re also really pissed off. When did everyone get so annoying? All the mums at mothers’ group are saying their babies ‘sleep through’. It makes you want to punch them in their smug, well-rested faces. You and your husband bicker constantly about who is more tired. Every morning he tries to tell you he lies awake in bed while you’re up with the baby but you tell him YOU COULD HEAR HIM SNORING. Which is also the reason you COULDN’T GET BACK TO SLEEP.


Stage 5: When the baby whisperers cash in

Desperate for your baby to sleep, you enter the world of sleep training. Baby whisperers promise to solve your sleep problems for the price of a small car. You read baby book after baby book, telling you what you should be doing to get your baby to sleep. Each one just contradicts the last one you read, which confuses your caffeine-addled brain. You spend hours trying to figure out how to make your baby stick to a routine so rigid and unrealistic that you end up staying home 24 hours a day. You shop around for bamboo sheets, exclusive baby sleeping bags, night lights and lullaby toys that you hope might be the magical sleep cue for your baby. You worry endlessly about whether your baby is too cold or too hot or teething, or whether the light shining from the neighbour’s front porch is making him wake in the night.


Stage 6: Superhero stuff

Eventually, you find your groove. Whether you’ve resorted to controlled crying, had a stay in sleep school or decided to co-sleep, by now you and your baby are probably getting some rest, at long last. The scraps of decent slumber make you feel human again and let you rejoin the land of the living.  But here’s the rub: you never actually stop feeling tired once you’re a mum. It’s part of the job to be slightly exhausted all the time. Being a mother is hard, relentless work and while you might be getting a bit of sleep here and there, you never quite make it back to baseline. But don’t worry, there’s good news. All those months of mothering on the frontline, in the face of sleep deprivation, have made you hard as nails. Now, when you get the odd rough night or week, you take it in your stride. You pile on the under-eye concealer, grab your sunglasses, and get on with your day (via the nearest coffee shop).

That makes you resilient, powerful and amazing.

Mums, that’s the stuff of superheroes.


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