How to survive when your kid doesn’t sleep

I’ve tried it all. Sunlight and fresh air first thing in the morning. Lots of exercise. Lots of stimulation. But not too much stimulation. No screentime. Dark rooms. Sound machines. Oil Diffusers. A set schedule. A loose schedule. Nightlights. Early bedtime. Late bedtime. No bedtime. Bribery. Pleading. Eating only purple foods and sprinkling my child’s bed with unicorn dust.

So if you’re feeling desperate and sleepless, but your child is still bright eyed and happy and healthy on less sleep that a college kid writing their thesis, I feel you. Believe me. When your child needs less sleep than you need yourself, it can have huge impacts on your own mood and health. And while I don’t have any magical tips to make it go away, I can tell you how I survived this long.

I stopped blaming myself

For years I blamed myself. I thought I was a horrible mother who could not soothe her own child. And then something crazy happened: I rocked a friend’s baby to sleep. I almost cried. It took seconds. And just plop, asleep. It happened again and again with other people’s kids. And while I’m not saying that these babies went that easily for their own parents, it did make me realize that it wasn’t my fault. Kids don’t always want to do what’s best for them. And on top of that, my kid’s wiring is different. He needs less sleep. And as long as he’s happy and healthy and rested, then I am giving him exactly what he needs.

I found ways to sneak in sleep

This one may not work for everyone, but stay at home parents hear me out: you don’t have to entertain your kid 24/7. When my son was a toddler, we had a playroom that was completely baby proofed. I would put up a baby gate at the doorway and nap while he played quietly. Some days it was 20 seconds, but every once in a while I’d sneak in an entire blissful hour. When he was a little bit older, I would set breakfast on the kitchen counter for him before we went to bed, so that I could sneak in an extra half hour in the morning. And now that we have an Echo Dot in his room, he can listen to an audiobook to fall asleep instead of staying up all night reading, getting fuelled by his lamplight and “one more chapter.”

I coslept

Safely. In the early days I was so sleep deprived I could very easily have fallen asleep in the rocking chair or on the couch and smothered my child. Consciously choosing to cosleep was so much safer. Even now, when my kiddo wakes up in the middle of the night, he’ll saunter into my room and I’ll wake up with him next to me in the morning. It’s so much easier than being called to his room, and most nights I sleep through his wake ups.

I read up on second sleep

It sounds silly, but knowing that there’s a biological basis to nighttime wakings helped me be a bit more understanding of my kid. I’m not saying I was always as patient as I should have been, but at least there was a little voice in the back of my mind knowing that I was the weird one who could sleep through the night.

I got an e-reader

Some nights, no matter how little sleep I got, I found myself celebrating the freedom of a sleeping child by scrolling social media on my phone in my dark bedroom. I liked the dark. I liked the silence. And I wasn’t quite ready to turn in. I wanted to enjoy it. The problem with my phone however, is that the internet is a boundless supply of entertainment and before I knew it hours had passed and the cycle continued. But with an e-reader I could have dark and quiet and actually go to bed at a decent time.

And yes, I started drinking coffee

I’m not going to lie, coffee helps. I don’t drink it every day, but I do find on those days when I need a bit of an extra oomph, it helps me get through the day. And because I have the ahem, motivation, I’m more likely to do the things that I need to do for my own well-being, like exercise or meditate or journal– things that are difficult to do if you’re mentally and physically exhausted. I’m not suggesting you take up a caffeine habit, but I’d be lying if I didn’t credit it with my survival on the worst days.

I stopped trying to make sleep happen

I’m not saying that I gave in and pandemonium reigns, but I am saying that I stopped obsessing and trying to force it. Telling my kid, “Okay, you don’t have to sleep, but you do have to stay in your bed,” or letting him come sit with me on the couch for a bit when he’s been lying sleepless for an hour both have to happen sometimes– try as you might, you can’t force your kid to sleep. Sleep guidelines are just that, guidelines, and while sleep deprivation is a problem for us all; at some point you have to just live and let live if your kid isn’t showing any signs of lack of sleep. Which is a difficult pill to swallow when you’re a bit of a control freak like myself, but trust me, it makes life so much easier when you make like Elsa and let it go.

Sweet, sweet time

Of course, maybe none of these things actually helped, but they only coincided with gains we were going to make anyway thanks to whatever invisible growth was happening inside my kid’s brain. That’s the thing about parenting: you never really know if your crazy life hack worked! So if you’re reading this and thinking “I can’t do any of those things” then take heart, eventually your kid will move out.

I don’t want to say that it gets better all at once, because it doesn’t, but it does gradually. My kiddo no longer needs me to lie with him to fall asleep thanks to a good audiobook. Some nights he even makes it the entire night in his own bed. He’s old enough that if I really need a nap, I can go take one. These may seem like small wins to some, but for us, they’ve been tremendous strides. And believe me, I’m celebrating every little milestone.

Meme reads: I was going to give up caffeine and sugar but then I remembered I have a kid. I'll try again in 18 years. @lifeattiffanys

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