Managing Sleep Deprivation

Author: Becky Sappor

Have I mentioned lately that I’m tired? I’m bored of my own voice to be honest. I’ve been muddling through life with sleep deprivation for a pretty long while now but a few months ago I got to a point where I felt like it was getting beyond that. Was I simply ‘just’ sleep deprived or was I, in fact, suffering from anxiety? Had my sleep deprived state induced an anxiety disorder? I think maybe it did. But I think I have managed my way through it. I thought we could chat about it today. Because I know I can’t be alone.

Awareness of mental health issues is really on the rise. I see so many people campaigning for openness; for the removal of stigmas attached to mental health issues, for better funding so that more people can be helped and for more awareness. And I think it’s brilliant. For one it has made me be able to evaluate myself more freely and I have felt like actually if I feel I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t manage it anymore it is MORE than ok to go and see my GP and ask for help. There is no shame in it. Not a jot. If anything I believe it is something to be proud of. That in the midst of feeling (sometimes) at your very worst you are able to pick yourself up, get your bum out of the door and try and get some help.

Sleep deprivation arises from lots of different sources. Mine is from having children who don’t sleep. We thought the second couldn’t be as bad as the first… Turns out he was/is worse.

I feel like the symptoms of sleep deprivation and anxiety have very blurry crossing lines. My symptoms aren’t constant (I do show signs of the less severe symptoms most days but the more severe and concerning ones are, luckily, fairly infrequent). I feel dread sometimes. I dread going to bed because I know in a matter of a few hours I will be up again. And I know that I don’t do well at that time of the early morning. I have felt on the edge. On the edge of blowing my top; finding myself unable to handle the situation in front of me (sometimes this can be as minor as getting my five year old to put his shoes on) and on occasion, these moments have led to panic attacks. There have only been a few but that is a few too many. The feeling of not being able to catch your breath is terrifying. I’ve locked myself in the downstairs toilet so I can sob, leaving my nearly two year old in the company of Ben and Holly. I have had many a 1am meltdown, trying to cry silent tears so as not to disturb my husband who has a long drive to work every day but sometimes I have wailed. I’m extremely clumsy and became very disorganised, unable to focus on just one thing at a time or sometimes, anything at all. To sum up; dread, on the edge, tearful, panicky, clumsy, the attention span of a gold fish. That’s a maximum of 9 seconds if you were interested.

The more severe of the symptoms come and go and are more prevalent when we’re having a particularly bad stretch of sleepless nights. I knew I had to make some changes to be able to deal with it and like most people I have spoken to about this sort of thing, I wanted to have a go at breaking it on my own before seeking external help. So I made some changes but I gave myself a goal. If I wasn’t feeling better by a certain date, I would be going to see the GP for advice.

So what changes did I make? I handed bedtime duties solely over to my husband. All of it. From getting pj’s on to brushing teeth to reading stories. And what a relief it has been to do that. Both boys have always been very much about me putting them to bed but after a week or so they were used to the new routine. I joined the gym. I now have some space that is solely for me and my goodness it has made a difference. Maybe it’s the endorphins? I’ve become more selfish. I announce now that ‘I’m going to go and wash my hair’ at 6:45pm and I take myself off. Or ‘I’m popping to the shop’ at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon. And I go. I get some head space and I return feeling more able to focus. I have a new daily routine. I was wearing too many hats all at the same time and feeling overwhelmed by it all. But knowing everything has its own time and place has seemed to straighten out my ability to focus and be productive.

And I have learnt to breathe. When I can feel that bubble rising up inside my chest getting ready to burst I breathe. I count and I breathe it out. For the most part it’s working. Occasionally I find myself having to walk away to remove myself. Shut a door for a couple of minutes. But I’m getting through it. And I’m hoping I’m coming out the other side.

Are you sleep deprived? Do you feel like it’s led you to feel anxious? And do you have any tips on how to deal with feeling overwhelmed by situations? Feel free to tell me how you’re really feeling because all too often we don’t. I know I’ve answered the question with ‘yeah all good thanks’ when really what I wanted to say was ‘I feel like I’m going to throw up on your feet because there is too much on my plate, I feel guilty for having a meltdown at 1am and then shouting at the dog for trying to see if was ok but all I wanted was some space and I haven’t slept properly for 6 years!’. So go on, go for it… How are you today?

Author: Becky Sappor
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35 thoughts on “Managing Sleep Deprivation

  1. I follow you on Instagram and have seen you talk about the nights you’ve had with Tayo for a while now but it wasn’t until my son was born two months ago that I thought about it more. Luckily Austin is a pretty good sleeper but still obviously wakes in the night and the broken sleep is a killer. I don’t know how you’ve coped with it for so very long, I really feel for you.

    Being sleep deprived doesn’t make me anxious but it does make me horrible to live with! This time round I am trying to combat it by just coming to bed at 8 most nights, eating really well and telling myself it will soon (hopefully) end! I do get anxiety still when faced with a day alone with both of my children, which happens two days a week at the moment. It’s getting easier but there’s always one or two incidences when their needs completely conflict and they’re both crying. Sometimes I just join in too!

    Last week I joined the gym and agree that it’s helping to have an outlet and my husband has just declared he’s doing the night feeds this weekend so there’s that to look forwards to! You’re doing a wonderful job and I hope Tayo discovers the joys of a good nights sleep soon!

    1. Jennifer I hope your weekend off night feeds made you feel a bit more human 🙂 I find it hard to manage both of them together sometimes. Not because they’re naughty or causing trouble or anything but like you say, they have conflicting needs and it’s really hard to satisfy them both at the same time sometimes. I’ve found the key to this is to not be in the house. If they can be in the garden they are great but when stuck inside everyone seems to get a bit of cabin fever/want to play with the same thing so I always try to arrange play dates when I am alone with them so that they get to play with their friends and I have an adult to help keep it all in order! Congratulations on your new arrival. Fingers crossed for a good sleeper 🙂

  2. I see it less as lack of sleep making me anxious and more that lack of sleep worsens my existing anxiety issues. Which is does, definitely. As does alcohol, not eating properly, generally not taking care of myself.

    My anxiety has its root in PTSD and I have had a lot of therapy to get a handle on it but also on a day to day basis use mindfulness. I would recommend the Headspace app.

    Thanks for your honesty x

    1. Eating properly seems to be a recurring issue from the comments and it is something I am so guilty of – piling in the biscuits and the chocolate which I know doesn’t help. Thanks for sharing and I will check out the Headspace app x

  3. Thank you for your honestly Becky. I was at the same point as you earlier this year. Getting maybe 4 hours broken sleep and working full-time in a full on job. Tears came over the smallest thing and my emotional resilience was so low that the slightest thing would make me angry and lose my temper. It was like I was living in a fog. The biggest change we made is that my husband now deals with my 2 year old son during the night. We had one night of lots of tears (he never left him so I knew it was temper at not having what he wanted!) but that was it!! I’d put it off for so long, thinking it wasn’t fair on him when he settled into it pretty much straight away. He now pretty much sleeps through with a few cuddles to settle but we’re all getting ok sleep. My kids are early risers (6am feels like a win!) but we can plan for that with early bedtimes. I feel so much happier and able to exercise which also helps massively. My husband said I’m a different person. I’m hoping it lasts!

  4. Hi Becky,

    So brave of you to write this post as even though mental health issues are becoming much more talked about and addressed, there is still definitely a stigma attached at times and a lack of understanding around things such as PTSD. My son was a terrible sleeper for the first 7mths and now we’re slowly coming out the other side (for now at least!) but it’s utterly exhausting. You’re absolutely right to take time for yourself- I love the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and use it to remember to cut myself a bit of slack when things are getting a bit much!

    1. You really can’t pour from an empty cup can you! I hope you cut yourself that slack and really glad that sleep is getting a bit easier for you x

  5. Thanks for this honest post Becky. My son has been a terrible sleeper pretty much all of his 2 years. He’s had a couple of spells of sleeping through but it’s not a consistent thing by any stretch. I am now due to give birth to my second any day now and together with the lack of sleep caused by pregnancy I do feel like I’m going mad some days or that I am doing everything wrong. Long term sleep deprivation is horrific. I get really cross when people tell me I look well during this pregnancy when I just want to scream that I’m exhausted. I am definitely going to start doing a few things just for me though – that sounds like it would really help. It may not replace the sleep but it will give me a bit of head space to try and cope better.

    1. Oh good luck Sophie! What an exciting time. I’ve just found that little bit of time for my self and becoming a little more selfish has helped so much x

  6. Thank you so much for writing this post, it has really resonated with me and given me a much needed nudge to do something about the way I am feeling at the moment too. My daughter is 2 and has never slept through the night. I am naturally quite an anxious person, but prolonged sleep deprivation has recently made this much worse and I find that I feel constantly physically anxious (which in itself is exhausting!) and the smallest thing can reduce me to tears. I am terrible for letting the dreaded ‘mum guilt’ stop me from accepting help or taking time for myself, but I am definitely going to try and make some of the changes that you suggested. Thanks again and I hope that your little one discovers the joy of sleep soon!

    1. Oh Jen. I hate to hear that you are feeling like that. Maybe a trip to your GP just to talk it through might be worth it? And it is hard to accept help but once you say yes the first time it gets easier. The guilt is awful at times – I know how much Leo wants me to read his bed time story (and I equally want to read to him) and hearing Tayo shout Mommy as his dad takes him up the stairs is terrible but they are getting so much more from me now that I have taken that out of our routine. Putting them to bed in an anxious state wasn’t good for any of us and now I can kiss them goodnight and know that before tehy go to sleep they saw happy non shouty mom 🙂 x

  7. This is so high on my radar right now. I have watched your IG stories over the last months and can feel your frustrations through the screen. I don’t have children myself but I do know what it’s like to suffer from extreme sleep deprivation and you are right to think that it messes with your mind!
    Being sleep deprived definitely exacerbated any pre existing anxiety issues and lead to more frequent panic attacks. For some reason my sleep was often even worse when I was away from home so I dreaded going anywhere; particularly on holiday. One year I found that I literally had to drag myself onto the plane as the fear of not sleeping for an entire week in unfamiliar surroundings was more than I could bear. The panic rose thick and fast on the plane and I clutched a paper bag the whole way there. I hadn’t slept the night before due to the ridiculous fear and was shaking uncontrollably and crying for no apparent reason. I remember getting to our destination and sobbing in the airport toilets as I said to myself ‘ I am never ever doing this to myself again.’
    When I got to the root of the issue I began to realise that being away from home was not the cause of my insomnia or panic. I was run down, stressed out and totally exhausted. In the teaching profession this is incredibly common and I now see so many of my younger colleagues heading down the very same path. Sickness rates are high, panic attacks seem frequent and locking yourself away to have a good cry appears to be the norm. This however should NEVER be the norm. Thank you so much Becky for highlighting the importance of mental health issues. I am constantly irritated by the general vibe that it’s really cool to be busy busy busy all the time; we have to be doing, creating, making, photographing and living massively full lives all the time. What happened to just taking the time to be still? Xxx

    1. Everything you have said is so true Hannah.

      “I am constantly irritated by the general vibe that it’s really cool to be busy busy busy all the time; we have to be doing, creating, making, photographing and living massively full lives all the time. What happened to just taking the time to be still?”

      This. Through and through. Thank you for your comment x

  8. Thank you so much for such a honest post as a first time mum I honestly thought it was just me that felt like this sometimes. My little girl is almost 7 months now and to begin with she was a dream sleeper, then we hit 4 months…….. and a horrendous time. I also dreaded going to bed knowing that multiple wake ups were about to happen, my husband works away so sometimes it was just me and it was so very hard. I went mad googling it thinking I was doing everything wrong oh my goodness she falls asleep feeding, she can’t self settle so I will never sleep again. But actually nothing made any difference and I have accepted that yes one day we will all sleep again and this has helped me
    Relax a little. Thank you so much for an honest post

    1. She will sleep one day! I have the luxury of having had Leo and knowing he went from being terrible to finally being a dream. He still struggles to get to sleep sometimes but when he does he now has a good 10-12 hours so it will come. It’s just killer until it does 🙂 x

  9. I have suffered with sleep issues most of my adult life, even as a child but one thing that does help put me to sleep and keep me to sleep is asmr 🙂

  10. Thanks for your honesty Becky. Have you thought about getting a sleep consultant involved? I have been to a few workshops and found them so helpful, but a few of my friends have had a sleep consultant come out to the house to observe and they rave about the success they’ve had as a result, thought it was worth mentioning.

    1. Hi Helen. A few people have mentioned this to me over the past months and I’m obviously no expert myself but I am convinced that Tayo’s restlessness is down to teething. And I’;m not sure how they can help with that because I don’t think they can remove his discomfort? We had 6 nights in the last 2 weeks where he slept through! 6! It was incredible and then mid week last week he started waking again but he was definitely uncomfortable, smacking his cheek etc. I’m so keen for them to all be through and then I really think we will be ok you know? Fingers crossed anyway but absolutely, if the teeth come through (4 to go!) and he’s no different tI think we may look at a sleep consultant. Thanks so much for your comment x

  11. Hi Becky,

    Such an amazing post and one that makes me feel supported and scared in equal measure. I can’t really complain as my daughter was an amazing sleeper and I’m hoping the second one is headed that way too. However, we do have problems with colic (the first time nearly killed me and it looks like it’s now kicking in with our second already) it honestly feels like some kind of previous trauma kicking in as all of the memories came flooding back – sleepless nights shushing, rocking, going slowly insane. I feel like I’m going to vomit most days and I know I’m only at the beginning of the journey again, except this time with toddler tantrums to content with alongside. I don’t know how I’m going to get through it but I do know I’m hard on myself – that I never ask for help, nobody has ever looked after my daughter other than us or nursery as we just aren’t close enough to family and most of my friends are the “life is Instagram perfect so not sure what you mean?” brigade and I don’t feel they are either honest about the struggles or they don’t have children themselves. It’s bloody tough but I think I need to cut myself a bit more slack and think as long as I’m surviving it’s ok and it will get easier (it has to get easier right?) thanks for writing such an honest inspiring post!

    1. Fingers crossed the colic passes ASAP Jess. And please be kind to yourself, cut yourself that slack and look after yourself. Thanks so much for your comment xx

  12. Thank you for writing such an honest post. I’m 16 months in with my second awful sleeper (like you I’d convinced myself he couldn’t possibly be as bad as my first prior to his arrival!) and so much of what you’ve said rings true. I should definitely make the effort to claim more time for myself as it really does help my mood when I do. I wish more people would be honest about long term sleep deprivation, I wasted much of the first year of my daughter’s life stressing over sleep and generally feeling very alone. Second time around I’ve accepted it and also discovered many friends with seemingly perfect sleepers were being slightly economical with the truth, or not entirely honest about the methods they’d used to achieve the magic 12 hours. I still worry about the long term effects of 4+ years of poor sleep though, my concentration is shot and I’m not sure I’ll ever be as good at my job again…

    1. This is so true!! Totally Agree Emma. I wasted so much time worrying, stressing, analysing my daughters bedtime / night time, 18 months later I had my second bad sleeper but I stopped worrying about it, children just seem to sort these things out in their own time (that’s my experience anyway) my daughter took 5 years, my son took 3 years, even now bedtimes are a nightmare. I too have found out that not everyone was being truthful about their brilliant sleepers, lets just all be honest please, its not a competition….

      5 years of sleep deprivation has taken it’s toll though and I’ve suffered with severe post natal depression, after medication, lots of therapy, the key for me is exercise and healthy eating. I still have my moments but time is a great healer. Wonderful post Becky, thank-you xx

    2. Same here Emma! Will I ever function to the same capacity as I used to? I don’t know about you but I also had a massive fear about that for Leo – he wasn’t getting enough rest, his brain wasn’t getting chance to rest and grow and develop etc etc – turns out it doesn’t seem to have affected him at all and he’s doing amazingly at school – the things we worry about!

      But you are right about having that ability to reflect on last time and be more chilled with it this time around. We’ve stopped fighting to get Tayo to bed. We found that he was naturally falling asleep at 8:45 – pretty much every night – so we started taking him up at 8 o’clock – teeth brushing and story time takes us to about 8:30 and then after 15 minutes he goes off! Why were we trying to fight his natural body clock for so long?x

  13. I have (touch wood) survived many years of this. I remember. Sleep deprivation makes everything worse. Everything is harder. It’s great you are looking after yourself more now, and feeling the benefits of that. After white knuckling through with my eldest, and sailing through with the middle one, I ended up seeking help from a baby sleep pro with my youngest. It made a big difference. Time is the thing that has resolved it though. She started school this year and is sleeping well most of the time. Oh, that and we just leave a lamp on all night in her room. Low level of light, but brighter than a night light. It is so hard when little ones don’t sleep, it became difficult for me to enjoy my time with my last one, as I was so tired. You are so not alone in this. It won’t be forever, you will survive, ask for help! People want to help, they want to make a difference for you. Good luck. Xxx

    1. Sue thank you for such a lovely comment. It’s just a phase right? A long one, but a phase all the same 🙂 x

  14. On Instagram, Izzy Judd shares some really good mindfulness tips and tricks to help in the moment that you are feeling overwhelmed – I think on Mondays. Some of them might be good to try?? My little girl *usually* sleeps much better now (thank goodness, she turns four in August!) but there were times when I was totally exhausted and didn’t deal well with her waking up in the middle of the night! x

    1. Thanks for the tip Amy. I follow Izzy but haven’t seen these so will go back and have a look 🙂 Glad you’re getting more sleep now! x

  15. Sorry you are feeling like this.

    First time around we had what I thought was a bad sleeper then the second came along and I realised we’d been pretty lucky first time around. My thoughts are:
    (1) its all subjective – My SIL swore blind her eldest slept through straight away but she meant “5 hours” whereas I always wanted at least 10. I generally ignore everyone about all things parent because its generally bollocks.
    (2) the impact of sleep doesn’t necessarily cause anxiety – it just exacerbates what is there. For me, its anger. I become a horrible angry Mum and I hate it. The guilt then makes me feel worse and its a negative cycle.

    I think its rather unfair for people who are 4 or 6 months in to say “I’m tired too”. You’ve been dealing with this shit for 6 years. I know you don’t have sole ownership of being knackered but a short period of night waking isn’t a patch on what 6 years would do to you physically and mentally. Sorry. Just felt like it had to be said. We can all be tired (hell, I am too) but its not the same.

    1. Rebecca it’s interesting what some people thing sleeping through is isn’t it – by the 5 hour definition Tayo has nailed it 😉 That bloody guilt is always rearing it’s ugly head isn’t it. x

  16. Becky I just don’t know how you do it. Sleep is so important and I agree, it definitely contributes to a more anxious state. My children are good sleepers (now, we had a crappy stage with Murray when he was about 3) but when I am worried about them, as I have been with Meade as you know, it has for sure effected my sleep which leads to more tiredness during the day has fuelled the paranoia all the more. A vicious cycle. I really hope you find some sleep and glad you are having time to yourself for your inner peace, chase than zen xxx

  17. I could have written your posterise for word. My third was born recently, another non sleeper. I struggle to leave the house for anything apart from school runs. I swear like a trooper and I’m chubby from eating my emotions. I don’t have much in the way of help, husband works long hours and he works away sometimes so I feel incredibly lonely. And so fucking tired.

    1. Oh Jennifer. My husband travels a huge amount for work and am totally with you. We’ll get through it…I think! Xx

    2. Jennifer my chanting of FFS was getting gradually louder and louder and the thing is – it wasn’t even directed at anyone just at everything?! I’m sorry you’re finding it difficult. It’s very tricky when your other half works away – I assigned bedtime to Anthony because that’s really the only thing he could do during the day – he always leaves really early. Maybe have a think about what jobs you can give to your husband that work when he’s around? You sound like you need a break. Hope you can find some time for yourself soon and thanks so much for your comment x

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