Sleep is (not) for the weak

I can’t function on less than 8 hours’ sleep. And I have to say that sleeping is now one of my favourite past times. In fact, I’d take sleep over most other night-time activities – hands down.

I’m (thankfully) not cast in the same mould as Thatcher, Churchill, or Trump, who have claimed to get by on a measly four hours a night. Leave them to it, I say! There are plenty enough despots, sociopaths and alphas out there screaming “Sleep is for the weak!” through amphetamine-clenched jaws.

I’d rather join the gentler ranks of, say, Roger Federer, whose average is 11 to 12 hours a night. (Oh heaven.) No wonder he’s so nice. And so good at tennis.

‘Course, I can’t fit 12 hours’ sleep into my everyday. I’m not sure many of us could. But I always aim for 8 good hours of sleep, often sacrificing BBC Scandi box sets mid-series in favour of clocking up enough shut-eye. (N.B. Never rely on the iPlayer for catchup. I’m still kicking myself for not recording The Bridge)

The torture of sleep deprivation

I’m not yet over our camping trip 8 days ago. Two nights sleeping next to my son – the worst sleeping companion ever. Teeth grinding; shouting out random warnings to Darth Vader; incessant sniffing; hand-in-face flinging; waking up and crying because we’re not at home and it’s not his own bed and the birds are singing and the tent is too light.

I challenge anyone – anyone – to spend two nights ‘sleeping’ within earshot of my boy and emerge unscathed.

I lost around 16 hours’ sleep that weekend and, at my current rate of squeezing in an extra half hour a night, it’s going to take me another month to catch up.

Sleep training and baby insomniacs

Like many mothers, my obsession with sleep began in late pregnancy. Hourly wees and restless legs provided a gentle warm up to the permanent state of exhaustion that came with my two mini insomniacs.

Both babies were the most appalling sleepers ever.

Sidney could only ever sleep on me. And he was bloody heavy. But when he wasn’t sleeping, he was screaming (reflux), so I spent weeks with his increasing bulk squishing my internal organs every which way in a desperate bid to keep him asleep, i.e. quiet. My lungs straining to inflate against the downward pressure of his sweaty little body.

After six weeks of this hell, we were desperate enough to try Ms Ford’s sleep-training method –  all three of us got so upset we abandoned it after five minutes.

Nell was even worse, waking so frequently that I gave up and moved the two of us into the spare room for 16 months of quarantined insomnia. She woke me hourly. I was so exhausted I couldn’t function.

I ran over my own handbag in the carpark of the stay-and-play cafe. And didn’t even realise until I got home and couldn’t find my phone.

I frequently left my car keys hanging out of the lock in public car parks, while I inhaled strong coffee with other exhausted mums. (Good job we live in Cornwall)

So desperate for sleep was I that that I’d do anything, anything to prevent Nell from waking up. One night the door knob fell off on the inside of our room leaving me trapped in there until Chris could be woken to rescue me. I was desperate for a wee but even more desperate to not wake the baby. I resorted to peeing in the paper bin (as quietly as possible).

I survived 16 months on f-all sleep but I was a) mental and b) impossible to live with.

C’mon Eileen

I was desperate for sleep and our marriage was in a bad place. So I turned to sleep expert Eileen Henry, from Boulder, Colorado, for help.

$200 and a couple of Skype convos later, Nell was in her own cot, in her own room, sleeping through the night.

I hadn’t had to do anything I felt uncomfortable with. Nell hadn’t spent hours crying into the void. The process had been gentle, easy, quick, successful.

My sanity was restored, our was marriage saved.

Best 200 bucks I have ever spent.

You’ll find Eileen Henry here. The woman is a goddess.

Sleep and creativity

For artists, sleep deprivation carries a whiff of creative drive and raucous hedonism. Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist, once stayed awake for nine days – when he fell asleep, he fell down so quickly that he broke his nose. (Tom de Castella, BBC News Magazine.)

In my younger days I proudly pulled all-nighters to get assignments done on time or to cram for exams. Fuelled by Red Bull, Pro Plus and shit coffee, I could still spout enough of the right-sounding bollocks to get good marks on very little sleep.

And I still looked good.

But man, are those days gone.

It takes weeks for my brain to ping back from sleep deprivation. My face, well there’s no pinging back going on there at all.

And that’s because this mother thing is relentless.

I don’t have whole days to crash out, lie in, wallow in my exhaustion.

The kids are on my case from the moment they open their eyes. Needing help with almost every aspect of their survival. Craving my attention and affection. Deserving of me to be a kind, fun, loving mum.

Mothering is hard enough at the best of times, but when you’re exhausted it’s excruciating.

I can’t do a Keith Richards because, motherhood.

Rock ‘n’ roll

So there we are. I’m 41, sleep obsessed, and perma-knackered.

I know it won’t always be this way.

I look forward to the days when my kids are teens and lie in until midday at the weekend. But I’m well aware that the pay off will be me lying awake all night until whatever ungodly hour they come back home from wherever they have been.

Then the insomnia of old age will set in and I’ll be up from 5AM pacing the kitchen floor.


Guess it’s another early night for me then.

Rock n roll x


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