Every night in our house we have a battle over bed time, writes Radio Aire presenter Caroline Verdon.
Three-year-old Arthur wants ‘just one more story’, he’s suddenly thirsty or needs an additional light on or has a burning question that needs answering or can’t possibly go to bed wearing pyjama trousers. The process is exhausting and can take anywhere upwards of an hour. I meanwhile could go to sleep on a board of nails that was precariously dangling over a cliff edge and still doze off within 30 seconds.
It’s one of the big differences between kids and adults – they will do anything to stay up late whereas we will do anything for an early night and a lay-in. Until I had Arthur, I’d always got by on minimal sleep. As a teen, when my friends slothed about until midday with their parents banging saucepans and opening curtains to wake them up, I was up and dressed by 5.30am. Even as a student a weekend lay-in until 8am was plenty long enough for me! I started doing breakfast radio when I was still at university and that was 16 years ago now, so I’ve spent the entire time with an alarm clock going off around 4am and it was never really a struggle until Arthur was born.
I naively thought that when everyone went on about sleep deprivation, I’d be fine. I’m used to short bursts of sleep and have always been able to nap – even when we had builders in knocking down walls I could still easily grab 40 winks. I went into the hospital to be induced on Thursday morning and Arthur was born 24 hours later at 10am. I was so excited that he was here that I couldn’t nap that day or even sleep that night, all I could do was watch him in awe. The next night I was exhausted but Arthur was waking every 40 minutes overnight crying so it was another night with no sleep.
As my husband arrived at the hospital on Sunday morning he brought me some clean clothes and I attempted to point to the wardrobe and ask him to put them in there - only I couldn’t move my arm to point and I couldn’t get the words in my head to come out of my mouth. Rob buzzed for a midwife and, as she came rushing in, he articulated what I feared “my wife can’t talk or move her arm, has she had a stroke?”. No, I was just knackered having not slept in more than 96 hours - I was experiencing sleep deprivation. No wonder it’s used as a form of torture.
I recently learnt that in many Asian, African and Indian countries, when a baby is born the mother practices ‘confinement’ sometimes for as long as 45 days. The mother stays at home and her responsibility is sleeping, feeding the baby and bonding. They know how important sleep is to a mother’s wellbeing and how a lack of sleep can cause mental health issues and baby bonding problems, so family and friends come together and do all the cleaning and the cooking and the running of the household. There are even people whose jobs it is to move into households with new mums for two months to help them through it and it’s not frowned up or viewed as lazy at all. Here, when I was finally allowed home, my husband had to go back to work and so I did the week-night night feeds and felt a sort of cultural obligation to play perfect host to visitors, to be up and dressed, to get the washing done, to cook fresh homemade dinners and to be fully functioning.
It meant I didn’t sleep when baby slept during the day and I was awake most of the night pumping and feeding. I lasted about two months being supermum before crumbling in a heap as sleep deprivation caused my mental health to nose dive. This time, things will be different. When this baby makes an appearance we’re having a no visitors rule for the first few weeks, dinner will be courtesy of the microwave and sleep will be the priority. It’s more important than you think.