One more day until the weekend. Just one more day. When Saturday morning rolls around, I won’t be able to luxuriate in sleep like I used to but at least I don’t have to get up and rush around. Life after birth means you don’t get a lie in anymore but you learn to appreciate the smaller things in life, like lounging on the sofa in pyjamas drinking tea. You also learn to be creative; teaching kids to play the ‘let’s snuggle under the duvet’ game is a lifesaver, particularly if you have a hangover.
Like many things in life, you don’t realise how much you miss sleep until it’s gone. I used to be fairly good at it, and even in my early 30’s could spend half the weekend mornings asleep in bed. Sometimes I was awake and indulging in one of my favourite things: lying in bed with a cup of tea and a good book. Either way, I had the freedom to choose.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is the slow loss of sleep. For me, it started about half way through pregnancy when I had to get up a few times a night for a pee. Then you have the baby period, when catching four hours on the trot makes you feel like Rip van Winkle. Sympathetic friends tell you it will get better, but they don’t tell you how long it takes. The answer is years. Years. Even in the toddler period, when they sleep for about 12 hours a night, they have nights of getting up and waking you at 3am, with bad dreams, sickness, or most annoyingly ‘to fix the bed sheets’.
Now my son is five and a hyper active bundle of joy, he comes bouncing into my bed around 7am, hurtling himself on my slowly waking body and wanting to talk. With the lighter mornings, this alarm call has been pushed back to 6.30am. I usually manage to ignore him until getting up for Sally, whereupon he lies on the bed and critiques my push ups. While I don’t want him to grow up any faster than he is, a part of me longs for the sullen, can’t get out of bed teenage years, just so I can get some quality snooze time.
Non parent readers may well be wondering why we don’t all just go to bed at ten pm. Problem solved. Except it’s not. When you finally get them into bed, you need some time to yourself, to get things done or relax. On top of this, I don’t always sleep well, either from a mind too full of thoughts to drift off easily, or from waking in the wee small hours and taking too long to get back to sleep. Reading is dangerous at these times; too often I have ‘over read’ and missed my sleep slot. Perhaps I should keep some work papers at the side of the bed to avoid stimulation. The panic that sets in when you keep checking the time and calculating the amount of time you have left before the alarm goes off is truly horrible. And it leads to a miserable day ahead.
Sometimes the reason for sleeplessness is all my own. For example, going out on a school night for a few drinks and having one too many, like me last night. Not out of badness, just because you’re enjoying yourself and pretending you can still get away with that sort of thing. The truth is you can’t. Raging against the dying of the light is all very well, but when you can barely keep your eyes open at 3pm, it’s really not a good look.
There are numerous articles on the net about the dos and don’ts of how to get a better sleep: milky drinks, calming music, mediation, no alcohol, TV or smartphones before bed. They all make sense but I find them hard to stick to. The alcohol one is tricky, as nothing improves a pre-bed herbal tea more than a shot of whisky. And some of the longest sleeps I’ve had in the last five years have been after a good night out. But I know that this is not the answer and that a no booze rule would undoubtedly improve my sleep patterns. Sigh. Being old and sensible is fecking hard at times. Logic and reason is one thing but changing long held beliefs is another. If you are a stubborn thing like me, you might need to scare yourself into it. This infographic of your body without enough sleep makes grim reading:
The most worrying thing about it is how they categorise ‘not enough sleep’. Six hours a night over a long period of time is dangerously damaging for your health. Yet I have earned to accept that getting six hours of uninterrupted sleep is enough to get me through the day. Eight hours is the seldom realised goal. No wonder I am cracking up. I grew up in a time when the received wisdom was that sleep was for losers – Thatcher was running the country on three hours sleep a night for fuck’s sake. Sometimes I wake up in the night with worries, other times with brilliant ideas that I am generally too exhausted to get up and do anything about. It’s consoling and delusional to imagine I have bad sleep because I am some kind of tortured creative genius. The problem is down to my own bad habits, and the solutions are all there in the multitude of ‘how to’ articles. Although I am fond of this notion:
If that’s you, please don’t have nightmares.
It is exactly four months to the day of the Spartan Race. There is a team training session in a park on Sunday, which I am dreading because there is going to be lots of running and I will get to see how rubbish and slow I am in comparison to the rest of them. I can justify being tired and unfit when I am on my own, visualising myself plodding round the course, finishing last covered in mud, sweat and tears. In my mind, this is an almost heroically romantic feat, a triumph of determination and grit over adversity. What a load of bollocks.
What I need to do is pull the finger out, stop the midweek wine and train properly. If I do this, good sleep will surely follow and life will be better overall. It doesn’t need to be so hard.
One of these days, my actions will catch up with my words. In the meantime, there is always poetry:
Until next time,