THE BLOG

Mindfully Sleep-Deprived

04/04/2014 15:21 BST | Updated 04/06/2014 10:59 BST

When I saw this Huff Post piece on Twilight Parenting I was probably more relieved than shocked. Admittedly, I don't go as far as letting my son have play dates in the middle of the night. But when it's 4am and I've been up for a couple of hours already, it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

My introduction to so-called Twilight Parenting was actually a mindful response to some challenges we were having with my son's sleep - or lack of! Ever since he was about two years old, he's had periods when he's awake for several hours in the middle of the night. Initial advice from a health visitor was that it must be his back teeth coming through, although it seemed to me like he just couldn't shut his brain down.

Nearly a year later, I discovered the real reason - he has what is now termed High Learning Potential (you can look this up on the internet if you want to find out more). The way I explain what this means is that my son has a type of learning need. If he doesn't get a high level of mental stimulation, he becomes frustrated at home and withdrawn at nursery. You might be wondering why on earth it could be a cause for concern if your child has a love of learning - but one of the challenges that comes with this is that my son can get by on very little sleep. It's not unusual for him to be up at 2am expressing a need to do some type of learning activity.

Believe me, I tried resisting this. But after a while I realised that I could either spend several hours ordering, bargaining and pleading with him to go back to sleep. Or I could take the mindful way and accept it. Once I did this, we were all a lot happier. It's true, being sleep-deprived doesn't feel great. But when I was adding resentment on top of tiredness, it felt a lot worse.

Now, when my son is awake at night, we try a Body Scan (mindfulness practice) first - and if that doesn't resettle him, I know he's just not tired enough. We come downstairs, but he knows that it's night-time, that everyone else is asleep, and that he has to do quiet activities until he feels ready for sleep. I either read or play with him, or read a book of my own - so it becomes a bit of bonus time together, or I get to do a bit of something that I like doing too. To me this feels so much less exhausting than battling against the inevitable.

Knowing that this was going to be a common occurrence in our house, I took the mindfulness response further and learned to use it to help me cope with the lack of sleep. I noticed that I'd been afraid of the feeling of tiredness, maybe because I value productivity so highly. When I approached it with curiosity, I discovered that fatigue didn't actually feel as bad as I thought. OK, it's not pleasant, but it's actually not crippling. I learned what helps me on the days following a bad night. This is mostly lots of self-kindness and lowering my expectations of myself - of course I can't be a superwoman on those days. When I'm feeling exhausted, it's easy for me to believe that it's permanent, that I'll always feel like this. But it does pass, and staying aware of this helps me not to panic when I feel shattered.

The other coping strategy I use is to get sleep in the bank whenever I can, knowing that a disturbed night could always be just around the corner. My bedtime is much earlier than it was before I became a mum, and my husband and I still alternate having a lie-in at the weekend, although our son is four years old now. If we have some time off work, often we get some extra sleep in rather than going away. For me this is just part of being a mum, and it helps me make sure I can still do both my jobs - as a parent and a coach - as effectively as I need to. So although the concept of Twilight Parenting might seem odd, to me it makes a crazy kind of sense too.