You will sleep again once your youngest is 5 years old.
I remember the time, the place, and the person who told me this when I was pregnant with Ethan. I didn’t believe them for a second.
I now know that statement is true.
What can I tell you about our experience of sleep deprivation with little kids??
We do get to sleep through the night for stretches of time. There are days, weeks, and occasionally months when we’ve had uninterrupted sleep. Truly it does happen.
Majority of the time we are up 1-4x a night with one or both of our children for the past 5 years. I am tired all of the time. Honestly.
While pregnant with Ethan and Evy, 2nd and 3rd trimester I was up multiple times a night with the need to pee, or contractions, or the baby kicking me, or leg cramps. The lack of sleep starts prior to the baby coming?! No one told us that.
Birth through month five was 2-5x a night nursing. We did sleep training around 6 months old which helped tremendously, except we still had 1-2x night feedings. Throw in teething and ear infections and sleep was generally impossible.
Ages 1-2 was rough. The stretches of time Ethan slept for 12 hours was awesome.. But between night terrors and transitions to a big-kid-bed (hello child can get up at any time he wants) the sleep had terrible lows. Enter in 2nd pregnancy that kept me up in other ways (peeing, cramping). Wowza.
Ages 2-3 was better. Except this is when we had infant Evy …. so any sleep routine that had started to get established was now all erased. We were redoing all the infant stuff. Add in Evy-cries waking up Ethan, night-time potty training, and his bigger-kid-needs (be tucked in over and over), both Matt and I were now up 2-4x a night for another year.
Ages 3-4 had another step of improvement with Ethan. We finalized the night-time-potty-training at a early age…but he still needed help at times to bring him potty mid-night for almost a full year. We were down to only 1-2x a night up with Ethan! But we also had the next stages for Evy at this time : transitioning her to a big bed, potty training her, ear infections, teething, etc. So Ethan averaged 1-2x a night awakenings, and Evy had 1-3x a night awakenings (Matt has dealt with 99% of Evy awakenings the past year. He’s superman).
Ages 4-5. Ethan is GOLDEN. He sleeps all night. He can go to the restroom himself, even fill up his own water bottle. Oh there were random stretches of bad nights for random reasons. But he’s set. Evy on the other hand is now in the 2-3 age which means she insists on us helping her go potty at night time and she wants us to consistently tuck her back in if her blankets get messed up. So we still have another 1-2 years of sleep stuff with her, but we’re hoping the “worst” of it is over with the double hits.
What is our advice getting through these five years of sleep deprivation?
It’s okay to sprint, but remember it’s a marathon and there is a finish line. Survive how you need to. Come up with short-term plans (for the next week we are going to _____ to see if it helps). At the end of the day, as you lay there at 2am listening to whining again, remember this too shall pass with time. Possibility even regardless of how you respond tonight. It just may need time. And by the time you think you have it down, it’ll change. One day the kid will sleep 8-12hrs straight. I promise.
Sleep train. Gentle love or tough love. However method or madness you use….it probably doesn’t probably matter at the end of the night. Yes, you will need to teach them how to fall asleep (at some point) without sucking or comfort (on a breast, a bottle, a paci). Later you need to show them how to stay in bed on their own, and then night-time potty training. Infants/kids hit developmental marks on their own to some degree, but our experience was parents need to contribute 10% (or 80% for our kids) of intentional parenting choices for sleep.
Partner up. Chronic fatigue and exhaustion hits both parents hard. I know. I’ve lived it. Friends with different work/home schedules than us also struggle greatly. So check in with each other. See what your spouse needs. How is this stage working for them? Chances are you and your spouse have different ideas about the best response to sleep issues (and trust me, 2am is not the best time to hash out parenting differences. woah). Be each other’s best protectors.
Survive : Thrive : It’s a season. Whatever part you’re in, make it a goal to thrive in the moments you can. Take the simple wins. For me it’s whenever I’m rocking or holding a limp-sleeping-child, I try to trace their face with my gaze and capture their profile in my memory at this age. The rest of the time? You may just feel like you barely survive. That’s okay too.
Bring it down to earth. I don’t glamorize the hard parenting moments. Be honest, especially with your spouse and close friends. Bring parenting back down to the gritty dirty earth. It’s okay to tell people it’s hard. It pushes your body past your limits….and then you still figure out a way to do it. It’s dirty holy work my friends.
You do you. You know your limits. You know your kid’s temperament. We all make this up as we go. Everyone does their best. You know when you need to call a friend or family for a-dump-the-kid-off-sleepover or if you need to power through and get stronger. The best way for you to do you?? Share your life with another person. Same stage people can comfort and relate. Different stage people can encourage and help you. Share your moments with someone else, and ask them their moments of highs and lows. That’s the point of life. Keep perspective and you do you. You got this!
The final point…..
We all somehow make it through. Somehow your body and mind adjust and you survive. And slowly you thrive. Eating well, excessive amounts of water, daily walks, outdoor activity, staying in community…all of the normal strategies of health and wellness will help when you feel maxed out. It’s hard. It does get better.