Lack of sleep stops us coping. I become a witch!
When I'm tired from being up so often at night time, I find it really difficult to cope with things that normally I can do. Currently, in my life, that's generally coping with children who don't want to do what I want them to. When I've had enough sleep, I can cheerily distract them, entertain them, make them do what I want by making it fun. In short, all those great things that I've learnt by experience and of course pinterest and the internet.
When I'm tired I have to force myself to do these things. When my 3 year old refuses to go downstairs or to the toilet, I want to shout at him or smack his bottom. But what is that going to achieve? I'm going to have a crying, shouting stubborn 3 year old and I'll want to shout even more, probably hit my head against the wall and generally stomp about like a gruffalo. So when I'm tired I know that I have to try extra hard to keep everyone going and on an even keel. And normally when I'm tired it's because the kids have been awake so they're tired too. We're all grumpy and tired and shouting at each other.
We become frustrated and loose control.
In fact, I'd go even further and say that when I'm tired and grumpy, really trivial things make me cross. I try not to feel annoyed, but I am. I feel as I'm loosing control of myself and turning into a witch. Not only do I not like feeling tired and grumpy, but I don't like myself when I'm tired and grumpy. I start snapping at the children, then shouting. Then I feel awful but they're still annoying me and I still feel grumpy. I stop enjoying spending time with the children and I expect they stop enjoying spending time with me. And after they've gone to bed, instead of doing all those productive things that I planned to do, I collapse in a heap. So that's what happens to me when I'm sleep deprived and I expect it's something similar for everyone.
How does sleep deprivation affect us?
But we're not to blame. We after all, only human. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to mood changes. You may be more irritable, short tempered and vulnerable to stress. Just the skill set that you need when dealing with a demanding toddler or baby. When you need to be patiently answering 50 questions like "why can't I hit my sister on the head with this guitar?" your patience vibe has been replace with a "because I insert expletive of choice said so" irritability vibe.
Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with attention and memory. (Can't remember where you put your keys just as your trying to get out of the door, baby is screaming in the buggy. You know the picture.) Chronic sleep deprivation may even increase the risk of anxiety or depression. (It can also contribute to more physical problems like diabetes and heart conditions.)
So all those great plans that you made, that great craft project that you were going to make, that fabulous dinner you've spent hours making, they all fall to pieces when everyone is tired and grumpy. Tired husband snaps at the kids for misbehaving, tired children burst into tears, tired babies scream at all the noise. You sit there wondering why you didn't just make the normal pasta and tomato sauce.
What are the benefits of a good night's sleep?
So that is why I think that sleep is the number one skill that parents can have. I mean the children sleeping so that the parents can sleep. But the children benefit too as well rested children can concentrate better, learn better and make friends better (perhaps because they aren't grumpy to their class mates.)
How do you teach your child to sleep?
In order to get those golden hours of sleep, you need to teach your children to sleep. Some are naturals, most are not. There are broadly two methods to do this. The 'controlled crying' or allowing your child to cry for some time and the 'no cry' method. There is a school of thought that 'sleep training' or 'controlled crying' is mean and a form of child torture. (How ironic that sleep deprivation is actually used as a form of torture.) OK, so no one LIKES listening to their children cry. It's really not an easy thing to do. The 'no cry' method is popular, but isn't quick and takes a lot of patience. If you're interested, check out Elizabeth Pantley.
If you embark on the 'allowing some crying' method, how long you leave your child to cry is up to you. Many people worry that their children will be emotionally scarred but studies have shown that there are no positive or negative longterm affects of letting your child cry.
If you're having problems with your child's sleep, remember you're not alone and if you'd like to know more about children's sleep and the options you have available to you, why not sign up to my newsletter and get my free gift of My Baby's Sleep? It goes through all the techniques to teach your child to sleep by themselves, as well as bedtime routines and how to put a baby to bed.