Sunday, 13 February 2011

The curse of maternal insomnia By Kate

You're used to your baby waking you up at various times in the night. It's not exactly fun, but it's one of those aspects of parenthood that most people have to live with at some point or another. The real bummer is when your baby is sleeping like a small log and you're wide awake, wishing someone could rock you back to sleep, offer you a pacifier or stroke your head until you manage to get settled again.

Yep, maternal insomnia sucks. It's definitely worse than being kept awake by a fractious child. It's also surprisingly common, especially when you consider how exhausted and sleep-deprived many mothers of small children are.

Ironically, the insomnia usually hits hardest when the baby is sleeping better. You wake up for no particular reason, then something inside you tells you there's no point in sliding back into unconsciousness because you're bound to be woken by your offspring in a minute. Then another minute passes. Then an hour. Then another hour. And so it goes on.

Inevitably, just as you are on the point of dropping off again, that's the cue for the baby to start wailing. It's as if they know.

Well, I've had enough of it. The maternal insomnia, that is. So I'm doing something about it.

I tried a short course of hypnotherapy and although that helped a bit, it didn't solve the problem.

So now I'm following a self-help book which uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to get the insomnia put to bed. I'm in Week Four and after keeping a sleep diary; working on correcting my thinking about sleeplessness; and practicing relaxation techniques, I'm now at the tough part.

For this bit, you have to decide on a daily getting up time, work out what your average amount of sleep was over the last ten days, then go to bed no earlier than that number of hours prior to the morning alarm call. Does that make sense? In my case, I've been getting just over five and three-quarters of an hour of sleep per night, so subtracting that from 07.15, you get 01.30.

Oh, and if you wake in the night, or can't get to sleep when you first lie down, you have to get up again after fifteen minutes of lying awake in bed. You can only go back to bed when you are feeling genuinely sleepy again.

For someone who's fallen asleep no later than 22.00 for the best part of a year, that's a bit scary. But it kind of makes sense. Instead of lying unprofitably doing nothing except feeling narked about being awake, I might as well do something vaguely productive. Like write a blog, for example.

One point to make is I have to make allowances for Rosie. On average, she's awake for just over an hour a night. She also tends to wake earlier than my preferred getting up time - often between 06.00 and 06.30. So I've factored both those things into my calculations, leaving me with a going-to-bed time of 23.15.

Apparently, if after a week you score a 90 per cent snooze rate for your designated kip window (not the official term), you can then lengthen the in bed time by 15 mins and see how you do for another week. Etc.

The aim is to get you to "sleep through". Well, I'm all for that. I'm just aware that the chances of nighttime derailment by Rosie are very high, given that she's never "slept through" in her life thus far.

But if I can at least maximise my sleep around Rosie's nocturnal habits, that at least would be progress for me. As for Rosie's sleep, I'm hardening my resolve to do something radical to get her "sleeping through" the night as well. Just not yet.

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