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How I Stopped Losing Sleep Over My Insomnia

All I want is to keep my child asleep for as long as possible.

18/08/2016 11:31 AM AEST | Updated 28/08/2016 6:49 AM AEST
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"Sleep deprivation has to be one of the most damaging things about new parenthood."

A few days ago, my six-month-old son slept for four hours in a row. For me and my wife, this was truly a breakthrough. Finally, we were taking our life back, starting with the night. That morning we almost broke open a bottle of champagne and sculled the lot.

The next night, he woke every hour. Why? Because babies are just weird.

Sleep deprivation has to be one of the most damaging things about new parenthood. When your average nocturnal respite lasts a total of two hours, nothing in the world seems worthwhile.

Worse still, rationality flies out the window. So you start to believe it will never improve. You envision a lifetime of fitful drowsiness and an inability to drive without crashing into a tree.

I know this isn't universal, but it's definitely common. My wife's mothers' group has their own WhatsApp thread, which began as a way of efficiently arranging get-togethers. Once everyone's babies hit three months, it became predominantly about one thing: the overwhelming obsession with sleep.

Getting a baby to sleep is the ultimate aim of any parent, but I never thought it would be so important. I remember pre-baby thinking I would care more about his milestones, his playfulness, or anything that would happen while he was awake.

I still love those things about him. I love seeing him grow, fiddling with my beard, ripping up the newspaper and shoving scraps in his mouth. I love everything about him, but I do care about this the most: keeping him asleep for as long as possible.

As someone who works in cancer, I am necessarily an optimist. Sometimes it flows over to my private life. For his sleep, I have to believe there is a solution, and I have to believe I can find it.

Some days I'm sure it must be the weather. The rain might keep him briefly sedate, but then during the next downfall he is persistently alert. That idea is scrapped. But what if it's his food? So we note down what he ate before he settled easily and feed him that for a week. Then every day is different, so we cross that off the list too.

My wife mocks me for always trying to find a silver bullet. But she seeks mythical ammunition just as much as I do, so the mockery is fleeting.

For those who have achieved the sleeping baby goal, answers come easy. It was because we started solids, or because we treated reflux. You try these solutions, because you start to believe that maybe they will work. It's as illogical but understandable as buying a lottery ticket because you saw a winner on television. If it happened to them, it can surely happen to us too.

For a minute you're elated because it seems to be working. Until it isn't. Then you're back to the start.

At the acme is controlled crying. A strategy that seems so ruthless it is almost certain to work. I don't blame sleepless parents for using this technique, and it's not yet off the cards for us either. But nobody willingly teaches their baby that crying is useless, so like anyone we want to exhaust all other avenues first.

Of course, anyone reading may just say this: the problem is routine. Trying all these different strategies is confusing him. Don't worry, we've been there too; our tactic for the past two months, since graduating from a parentcraft residential unit, hasn't changed. We have just instead developed a tight routine of noisy insomnia.

Then again, that really was a pretty amazing four-hour stretch, so maybe we're turning a corner. He will do it again, soon. And then he will go longer. And longer. One colleague told me for her first child everything became infinitely better from six months. Frankly, he's due.

So that's my latest silver bullet: time. Babies develop skills with time, and sleeping is just like any other. He will eventually get there, like every kid on the planet, no matter what we do. And when he does, I will almost certainly wish he was awake to play.

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