We’ve all seen those signs on the motorway, warning of the dangers of driving when tired, but what if you’ve only had four hours sleep because your son was up half the night and you’re already late for work because he had a tantrum when you had to get him dressed this morning. I would love to take a break, but who is going to take over while I do that?
Toby is now almost 17 months old and I can count on one hand the number of times he’s slept through the night since I went back to work full time and he started nursery in August. What’s so frustrating is knowing that he can sleep the whole night. When he was about 10 weeks old and he started sleeping from 7pm to 8am (or later!) every night I have to admit I was one of those smug parents who was getting a full night’s sleep every single night. That carried on for about two months, until Toby had his last set of immunisations. He also caught a cold the same night and was awake on and off all night. Not long after that he started teething and since then it’s just been one thing after another. If he’s not teething he’s got a cold, or is going through a growth spurt, or learning to roll, or crawl, or stand up, or walk. I’m convinced that if we could actually have a night where there was nothing wrong with him then he would sleep just fine. But since this time last year we have never been able to say with any reliability whether he will sleep through or not. Occasionally he does, or quite often we just have one wake up and after a bottle Toby will go back to sleep. Those nights aren’t too bad but there are plenty of other nights where he can be awake two, three or four times, sometimes taking ages to stop crying and calm down enough to go back to sleep. We’ve even resorted to bringing him into our bed if he won’t settle but even that doesn’t always work (although at least nobody is crying!)
The other major disturbance to night time sleep is of course day time sleep – or lack of it. Toby’s naps at nursery are erratic at best. He still really needs two naps a day, and they do try at nursery but too often we pick him up to find he’s slept for less than an hour in the morning and has been awake since. This then makes for a very grumpy hour before bed and a very increased likelihood of waking up again within a couple of hours of going to sleep. I really don’t know what the answer to this is – he definitely still needs those naps. Last weekend at home he napped for nearly three hours in the morning and another two hours in the afternoon on Saturday and did the same again on Sunday. He can sleep at nursery if he wants to – when he was ill with a cold the other week he had a three hour nap there too. They have a separate sleep room and he’s usually there on his own. He has his sleeping bag and his teddy from home… other than being there myself I don’t know what else I can do.
The thing is I could cope with the sleepless nights when I was at home all day and I didn’t really have to do anything except look after Toby. If we’d had a really bad night I could have a nap myself when he was sleeping. But now, I try and go to bed early but there are some nights that I need to wind down, to eat dinner, to speak to my husband and I need more than two hours after Toby is in bed to do that. Then I have to get up at 6am (which is usually more like 6:15am) to get Toby to nursery at 7am so I can drive the 25 miles to work. Then I teach all day and have to drive the 25 miles home again, in the dark, on roads packed with thousands of other people. And that commute scares me every day. I am so tired I struggle to keep my eyes open; my reactions are definitely slower than they should be. And it’s not just me, how many other people on the road are sleep-deprived too? I reckon I’ll be incredibly lucky if I make it through the year at this school without having some sort of accident on the road. Because tiredness can kill. But I’m a parent and don’t get to take a break.