Getting through epic sleep deprivation

People kept saying to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it! Where do you get the energy?’ And to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how I was getting through it either. The grinding exhaustion of 20 months of relentless sleep deprivation is an exquisite torture that I never imagined I’d have the pleasure of knowing so intimately. But I did get through it; and relatively unscathed too (if you don’t count the wrinkles and grey hairs). So this post will be about how I did it and some possible options for you to look into if you’re staring down the barrel of yet another sleepless night with your baby or toddler.

First of all let’s examine the idea of resilience and tenacity. Most dictionaries define resilience as ‘the power or ability to return to the original form or position, after being bent, compressed, or stretched.’ Tenacity is defined as ‘holding fast’ or ‘persisting’. So let’s assume that to be both tenacious and resilient you need to be able to hold onto something strongly enough that no matter how much you’re bent or stretched, you’re still able to bounce back at the end.

So what makes some people more tenacious and more resilient than others? In my case it’s hope. I am always hopeful. In my heart of hearts I believe there’s got to be an answer to a problem or a positive outcome from a challenge. I never gave up hope that I would, one day, sleep again or that I would find the reason A was waking all night.

I’ve talked previously about finding my strength through my struggles and I think it’s probably true that I become more tenacious and more resilient the more I go through and overcome. Because the more you overcome, the greater the foundation for your hope the next time it’s challenged.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t just grit my teeth and bear it. I complained. Loudly. Frequently. It was cathartic, but it was also useful. Every time I had a public whinge on social media another new lead would open up. Ultimately it was a desperate plea on my Facebook page that resulted in a recommendation for a naturopath who confirmed that multiple ongoing food intolerances were the most likely cause of A’s night wakings.

As A is a reflux baby we’d already been through the ringer with elimination diets, but that was when she was a breastfed baby. This was now a fully weaned toddler. How on earth do you put a 20 month old through a full elimination diet!?

Enter the unproven (but not unscientific) method of food intolerance testing which checks your blood for the presence of food-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. Unlike IgE antibodies, which occur in abnormally large quantities in people with allergies, IgG antibodies are found in both allergic and non-allergic people. A simple finger-prick test, it is not endorsed by either the medical community or the allergy community. But I was desperate for quick answers so I was willing to take a punt.

The test showed A was reacting moderately to gluten, nuts, rice and legumes. I was pretty skeptical, because gluten was the only one of those we identified when she was a baby, but for the sake of answers and a good night’s sleep I was willing to try eliminating them from her diet.

After three days A was sleeping through the night. I couldn’t believe it. It’s been two weeks now and the change is miraculous! Apart from the odd night where she grizzles about teeth or a cold, she is no longer the screaming banshee we used to deal with night after night. She’s also much more settled during the day. Less hyperactive and frenetic.

Aside from dealing with potential food intolerances to resolve night wakings, here are some other strategies I recommend to help you stay sane and keep you going.

1. Find something you love and that gives you energy and do it!

In my case I found that I could write, and loved it, no matter how tired I was. I also carved out a space for myself at work where I was helping people, and that made me happy too. When you’re doing something that engages and motivates you it gives you energy. So find that thing and do it.

2. Exercise!

I know, it seems completely counterintuitive when you are bone-weary and literally struggling to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve been there. I know; I hear you. But if there’s some form of exercise you used to love pre-baby (for me it’s yoga and swimming) then force yourself to do it. Take baby steps, don’t overdo it. Just go for a walk with the stroller at first, or take a racquet and ball down to the local school and do just a few hits. I promise you will feel better for it. There will be days your entire body is screaming at you but after you exercise (and subsequently take in massive amounts of fresh oxygen) your body will thank you for it.

3. Sleep whenever you can, and call on help to enable it.

Sleep on the bus on the way to work. Take a nap in your lunch break. Go to bed early. Do whatever it takes. Call friends or family to watch your older child/ren while you take a power nap. Sleep deprivation will kill you in the end, after it’s caused you vast physical and psychological damage. Don’t let it.

I hope anyone suffering out there finds the answer to their sleep deprivation woes quickly. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy! As always, I love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.