How to stay sane and comfortable (in that order) when you’re forced to nap whenever—and wherever—you can.
The Spanish Inquisition was using sleep deprivation as a form of torture in the 1400s. This is how you know it’s excruciating, because at least sometimes they decided to use it instead of, say, ramming a hot poker up somebody’s bottom. Or the iron maiden. Or the rack.
Sleep deprivation is hell. It’s been condemned by Amnesty and is also a common strategy of religious cults, but it’s a condition all too familiar to new parents. New data from Sleep Junkie shows that, on average, parents each lose an average of 109 minutes of sleep per night in their first year of raising a baby. And while you’re probably not going to be executed for heresy, all that lack of shuteye takes its toll.
I have two children—ages: just gone 18 months and almost four—and each has had, in the MasterChef parlance, a unique sleep journey. The eldest spent six months screaming as if in total, hot-poker-in-the-bottom pain, despite what doctors said was no actual ailment. But now sleeps like Matt Preston after a six-chicken lunch. The youngest, on the other hand, is such a light and angry sleeper that you’d think she’d gone to the mattresses in a mob war.
The key is to be prepared, to accept your situation, and to prioritise. Sort of like the serenity prayer, only with more sudden waking up because your head’s bounced off a piece of bedside furniture. So: here is a list of possible parental sleep locations and situations you’ll become familiar with—and how best to deal with them.
Good luck. And remember, nothing is forever. Even the Spanish Inquisition only went for 350 years! You’ve got this.
Where: In your bed, but with an arm jammed in the adjacent bassinet
That sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a dream compared to what’s coming. And not a bad dream either—a sort of naked Margot Robbie one with rollercoasters and brie. Embrace it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing with your new arrival (but not bed sharing) for at least the first 6 months. This helps to prevent SIDS. During this time, your kid’s sleep patterns are an unpredictable shitshow—light dozing, lots of waking, feeding all the time, spewing and loud, squelchy shits. If you can, choose a bassinet with its rungs far enough apart to fit your wrist through, no matter how awkwardly you have to twist your hand to pat your child. There are no other tricks. Although you might consider buying one of those insanely expensive rocking ones.
This is the easy bit.
Where: on the floor, beside the cot
There are lots of reason you might decide to embrace floor—dammit, even floorboard sleeping. Proximity for pats. The understanding that your slightest rustle will turn them from dozing angel to a 200dB interplanetary hate klaxon. Or, mostly, knowing that they’re likely to wake up inside 10 minutes anyway; staying there is just more efficient. All valid.
So: leave a spare pillow under their cot, invest in a white noise device (or just play some from your phone), and remember that—if Mum’s still breastfeeding, and definitely if the kid hasn’t learned to take a bottle yet—you’ve still got the best end of this deal, parentally.
Where: The car
New parents drive an average of 2,128km a year trying to get their kids to nod off, says UK site Fatherly. “Babies in the womb are constantly, gently, rocking and a cars offer that kind of very low-level of movement—almost just swaying in a sense,” says developmental psychologist Tracy Cassels. But sleeping grubs can be hard to transfer out of the car seat and into bed. Leave open the possibility to just wind the seat back and snooze where you are (ideally this will be in your garage/carport, but beggars can’t be choosers). Keep your old long-haul accoutrements in the rear footwell—eye mask, neck U-ring thing, blanket. Rest assured that baby seats are generally safe to sleep in. Er, for the baby. Not for you.
Where: Co-sleeping with a restless toddler
Night terrors are not the same as nightmares, and—while it can be distressing for parents—kids are usually best left in their own bed. But actual nightmares, or wanting to be cosy, or any other reason can bring children into your bed of their own accord. If so, not that it’s not unusual for restless 2-3 year olds to spin about in their sleep like Homer that time he made Burns cave in on the dental plan and had to resign as head of the Union. And if trying to doze with one comforting hand jammed through the rungs of a toddler’s cot is tricky, attempting sleep during an invading toddler’s all-night cosplay of Bruce Lee’s Let’s Roundhouse Dad’s Goolies is basically impossible. Buy one of these. [Picture of a cricket box / Hector protector]
Where: The lounge
Oh, happy day! The couch has been unfairly maligned for generations by sitcoms as a punishment destination for men who’ve screwed up somehow. This is a lie. Being sent to the lounge—invariably in front of the TV!—is on par with Melania sending Barron Trump to his probably-video-game-filled room. Sleep on the lounge whenever you can, but especially if your partner is co-sleeping: overly boozed parents rolling onto their infant children is super dangerous.
At all costs, however, avoid being joined in front of midnight telly by your offspring. At Guantanamo Bay, American military interrogators keep their prisoners awake for up to 180 hours straight—sometimes by blaring “kids TV themes [at them] 24/7”. They don’t call this torture, they call it ‘enhanced interrogation’. You’ll call it a midnight-6am iView Bluey marathon.