How To Get A Good Night's Sleep As A Parent? Take Whatever You Can Get

So, parents are sleep deprived for six years after their child is born? I can believe it.

Sleeping until I wasn’t tired anymore used to involve a weekly lie-in to catch up. To achieve the same effect now, I’d need at least a month of unconsciousness on a saline drip. I’m tired in the same way a fish is wet – entirely, perpetually, in a way that ends only with, uh, death?

Does anyone sleep well after they have a kid? Or does “sleeping well” just shift to fit your new normal? A new study by the University of Warwick suggests parents’ sleep is still affected six years after their baby is born, the Telegraph reports. I’m only 18 months in to being a dad, but I can believe it.

My daughter sleeps better than a lot of babies her age, but there hasn’t been a night since she was born where I’ve had anything approaching what I’d have previously counted, in my childless existence, as “a good night’s sleep”.

The days of lying in bed at the weekend until it’s time for hit up the pub, of deciding to doze off again just because you can, of three separate breakfasts each separated by a nap, are a lifetime ago. I now understand why my parents were always so pissed off when I slept in as a teenager – my sisters and I had taken that option away from them. Forever.

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But you do make progress. Those first few months of parenthood, of falling asleep while standing up on the bus and getting to work with no memory (again like a fish) of leaving the house, are hideous. They’re replaced with a marginally less taxing but still never-ending fatigue and the occasional night that, in the absence of all sensible metrics, feels like it isn’t bad at all.

The first time you all manage to sleep until 3am feels like you’ve been on holiday or something. New parents walk around with springs in their step because they slept for two of the hours between midnight and six. This HuffPost reader said she felt like Wonder Woman – and that was after just four hours’ sleep.

Currently my whole household is awake before 5.30 every morning, but a while ago that would have been 4am, so we’re pretty pleased with ourselves. Once or twice my daughter has gone back to sleep and I’ve not actually had to get out of bed until after seven. And hell’s bells, that’s been the biggest indulgence in the world, truly the last days of Rome.

The flipside to your child starting to sleep well, of course, is assuming they’re dead. You get so used to being woken up and stressed out every few hours that, ironically, the lack of stress is anxiety-inducing in itself, as for this mum:

It feels like a cruel joke is being played – a few months of another tiny human stopping you from sleeping leads, distressingly, to you stopping yourself from doing so, springing up as soon as there’s even a bit of quiet to check they’re little tiny chest is rising up and down.

It’ll probably never come back, of course, that ability to sleep until no more sleep is needed. Being well-rested is the Moby Dick of parenthood, chased and chased but never caught. Even when I’ve been away from my child I’ve ended up awake at stupid o’clock in the morning, worried or sad. And I’m not alone.

Of course, there are upsides, however unlikely. Firstly you have a baby and babies are pretty rad. Then there’s the odd unplanned 10-minute nap in front of the telly (watching something you were definitely too cool to watch a few years ago) that incorporates a dozen previously-unknown layers of sleep, completely spins you out and makes you feel like you’re on really expensive drugs.

I see a lot more sunlight than I used to, which is probably healthy in some way. I’ve developed the impressive ability to make coffee while not fully conscious (and have only once or twice done stupid crap like pouring it from the coffee pot back into the kettle out of confusion). It definitely feels like there are more hours in the day to get things done, even if a reasonable amount of those things involve being shouted at or cleaning up bodily waste.

And there’s something to be said for the simple pleasure of stealing those few precious minutes back – those Sundays, few and far between, where the stars align and somehow everyone sleeps that little bit longer than expected, and it might still only be 5:40am, but goddamn it, you’re indestructible. And, if you miss those white nights, there’s always sleep regression to look forward to.