5 Tips to Beat Sleep Deprivation

If there is one thing that we as a human race should invent, it has to be a system to store sleep. We live in a world filled with technological geniuses who create new inventions almost daily and yet no one has been able to find a scientific solution to the very common problem of sleep deprivation, except, of course, to tell us to sleep more. But as every parent knows, sleep is one luxury that is in very low supply.

This weekend, for example, we went on a much-anticipated date night. When we got home, tired and ready for bed, Bean was wide awake. With difficulty, he finally fell asleep around 2 am, only to wake up again at 6 am. Now, how absolutely amazing would it have been if we could have simply tapped into a supply of stored sleep, instead of getting through our day like a pair of zombies?

Seeing as our scientific community has, however, let us down in this department, I have put together a list of 5 tips to help every parent deal with the continuous lack of sleep.

  1. Stop feeling sorry for yourself

I get it, you are tired. Being a parent means that you probably didn’t get enough sleep last night, or the night before, or even the night before that, but wallowing in a sea of self-pity will only make the situation worse and bring unnecessary negativity into your life and home.

These sleep-deprived days are exhausting, but you need to ‘man up’ as they say, make the best of the day ahead and trust that one day you will sleep again.

  1. Share the load

Take the night and early morning shifts in turns, ask someone to watch your child while you have an afternoon nap (even a 15-minute power nap can work wonders) or indulge in a sneaky snooze while your child naps (the dishes can wait).

If you have no one to share the sleep-deprivation-load with, take a couple of minutes out of every day to simply be. Sit down somewhere alone and just breathe, centre yourself. I often have an extra-long shower in the morning and most of this time is spent simply standing still, letting the water wash over me. It is the only time I have to just be and I relish it.

  1. Ditch the Caffeine & Eat Healthily

Yes, I know, ditching caffeine sounds counterintuitive – coffee is what makes me get through most mornings as well. The good news is that you do not have to give it up altogether, simply in the afternoons and evenings. Believe it or not, sleep is the best cure for sleep deprivation (insert sarcastic wink here) and the best way to guarantee enough sleep is to sleep when your child is sleeping. And that means going to bed early. Having too much caffeine during the day will prevent you from doing this.

Our body gives back what we put into it and the best way to refuel those tired old bones is to eat good food. I can feel the negative effects on my body when I have over-indulged in the bad stuff (specifically food high in preservatives, trans fats, colourants and sugars). I therefore try and stick to a healthy, natural diet, including as many super foods as possible, and it has had a huge impact on my daily energy levels.

  1. Exercise

The benefits of exercise have been well-documented so I am not going to list them all here (you are all aware of them), but I will note that exercise will make any tired body and mind feel refreshed and awake. I often go for early morning walks with Bean (even when I am really tired) and although it feels like a drag in the beginning, those endorphins soon kick in, making me feel fantastic, refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

If you do not have the means or the time to go to the gym or for a long walk, create your own 15-minute exercise circuit at home. You do not need a lot of space or time for this and best of all, your littles can join in on the fun.

  1. Limit screen time before bed

A while ago, I got into the habit of checking my phone, scrolling through all my social media feeds, before going to bed. Not only did this prevent me from going to sleep at a decent time, it often woke me up more when I saw something interesting. I soon realised that this ‘always-on’ mentality is encroaching on my much-needed sleep time, so I stopped it. Now, I read a book: it allows me to escape, to switch off from my daily troubles and to fall asleep peacefully.

A bedroom is supposed to be a sanctity for rest, so remove all screens from your room and invest in an alarm clock. Allow our mind to switch off properly before going to bed.

Maybe one day, we really will have a way in which we can store sleep. For now, the good news is that as our bodies get accustomed to less sleep, we have the opportunity to experience more of our daily lives and our kids in the limited time we have.

Didn’t I tell you not to do that?

A while ago I wrote a post about needing to discipline my Bean. A few months have since passed and I thought I would share my progress, and the lessons I have learned along the way, with all of you. Before I dive right into the various scenarios however, I thought I should first give you some background about certain aspects of my personality:

I am a perfectionist control freak, convinced that I can control every aspect of my life so that everything is always exactly as it should be, exactly as I have planned it. Being this person, I am of course also a neat freak obsessed with cleanliness: everything has its place in the house and if something is even slightly out of place, I go a little bit mad. Although I mostly manage to control this obsession, I do sometimes get into these tunnel-vision-like cleaning modes, when I dart around the house like a meerkat, my hawk-like vision zooming in on messy or dirty spots, and I do not rest until everything is just perfect.

Now, imagine my surprise when Bean arrived with his very own strong-willed personality, meaning that although he does sometimes listen, he often decides that his way is the better way and subsequently simply ignores his mother’s attempts at discipline (something he inherited from me by the way). This of course infuriates and frustrates me and although I do recognise the behaviour in myself, I often lose my patience and then always feel guilty almost immediately after.

You could reason that he simply does not know what the word ‘no’ means but Bean definitely does. Yesterday for example, I was on the toilet and Bean, not wanting me to ever feel alone, graciously decided to be my audience. I realised that there was no toilet paper left and so I asked Bean to fetch a roll from our second bathroom. Let me just add here that he is well aware of what toilet paper is and where it is kept – to my dismay he loves playing with it and it does not matter where I hide this über-desirable toy, he will find it. But back to the story at hand: as I asked my son for help, he looked at me, his eyes starting to crinkle into a smile and responded quite emphatically, ‘No!’, after which he started to giggle gleefully, fully aware of what he had just said.

Bean has recently started the habit of rushing off to our TV room sofa and climbing onto it, whenever I give him a snack. This of course means that he smears whatever snack is in his hand into the suede fabric as he climbs this specific mountain. Once he makes it to the top, he proudly smiles at me and sits down to eat. As this is quite endearing, I have decided to leave him be (against my own rules, but, he does stay off the other sofas and chairs, I persuade myself) and in order to appease my own neat freak tendencies, I usually hover around him, wet cloth in hand, ready to clean up any mess. So, the other day, I gave Bean an ice lolly with a word of warning that this particular snack can only be eaten in the kitchen. As I was preparing dinner, my back turned, I however noticed that my sweet child was slowly edging away from the kitchen into the direction of his much-loved sofa. I admonished him with another word of warning and as he came toward the kitchen, I turned my attention back to cooking dinner, confident that he had listened. About five minutes later, I looked up and glanced over to the sofa, only to stare straight into my son’s big blue eyes, the sofa now a mess of melted orange juice. I was angry. Immediately I stormed over to him, told him, ‘No!’ in my sternest voice, grabbed the remainder of the ice lolly and stormed back into the kitchen. Bean, baffled, stared at me until all of a sudden he climbed off the sofa, ran over to me in the kitchen, grabbed the wet cloth out of my hand, ran back to the sofa and started to clean! My son, broad chested, with a cheeky grin, looked at me proudly and I had to laugh.  I had warned him that I didn’t want a mess on the sofa after all.

First lesson learnt: be a better example. Bean started to eat on ‘his’ sofa, because he sees A and I doing it all the time and he simply cleaned up the mess because I am forever cleaning. (On a side note, he has started to clean everything all the time, which makes me wonder how often I run around the house in meerkat mode with crazy eyes).

A few days after the sofa incident, my husband and I were both sitting at the dining room table, working through our taxes, while Bean was running around the lounge, playing. We interacted with him every now and then but for the most part he was delivering his usual monologue while entertaining himself. Suddenly it became quiet (yes, that peaceful sound everyone yearns for until they have a toddler to contend with) and my husband looked up, his eyes expanding in surprise. I turned around quickly, only to find Bean casually sitting on our coffee table, peacefully pulling apart my plants. Instead of being angry, I laughed – my little boy was now able climb on top of the table! I immediately grabbed a camera and started snapping away, until I realised I should actually be angry. My smile faded and I gently asked him to get down (which he did without a fight).

Second lesson learnt: it’s OK to let kids be kids sometimes. I will of course teach him (consistently) that he should not climb onto tables from now on, but in that moment, he was simply a little boy, learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need to let go.

Being a toddler who struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively, Bean often gets frustrated, so much so that he started hitting me a while ago. This is, of course, not acceptable, but I soon realised that raising my voice and shouting at him in these situations only seemed to make things worse. So, instead, I started to teach him a positive action (a loving stroke) to replace the hit whenever he raised his hand. I consistently did this (and I still do it to this day) and he has stopped hitting me all together.

Third lesson learnt: be consistent and respond positively to negative actions.

Although I am here to teach my son life skills, he in turn teaches me about life and one of the biggest and most challenging lessons I am now faced with is that everything in life does not have to be perfect. Although there need to be certain boundaries and certain rules in life, it’s OK if things are not always 100% as planned. Kids need to explore and learn and they cannot do this if they are always being controlled and always being placed into moulds.

Let them break the mould every now and again – with our positive guidance they will create their own moulds soon enough.

 

 

When Kids are Mean

The other day we were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and Bean was busy exploring, when a mother with her two sons walked in. The younger of the two must have been around 3 or 4 and my 16 month old took a liking to him immediately. He promptly grabbed a children’s book (the first thing he could grab), ran up to the boy with the biggest grin on his face, saying “oooh ooh ooooh” and excitedly tried to give him the book. My heart almost exploded with pride – my little Bean was trying to make a friend! The boy, however, did not think this as cute and promptly waved Bean away. Not in a rude way, but rather, in a confused, ‘I did not expect this boy charging up to me as I was peacefully following my mom into this strange room’ kind of way. My heart sank, but instead of interfering, I decided to watch what would happen next. A little confused by the rejection, Bean tried to make contact again and followed the boy around for a good couple of minutes. The boy however simply did not want to play and after a while Bean gave up, walked over to me with his thumb in his mouth and climbed into my lap.

A few days later, we went to friends for lunch. Another couple and their daughter, who is a few months older than Bean, were also there. Although this girl was initially quite sweet to Bean, something made her angry and she became mean, once purposefully pushing him into a wall and another time yanking at his hair, hard.

I interfered both times: the first time, to take Bean out of the situation and to console my hysterical child, and the second time to calmly tell the girl that she must please be gentle with other kids. Her mom of course also got involved and the rest of the afternoon went by rather peacefully, everyone having a good time.

This scenario reminded me of yet another incident, when we were at a playgroup and one of the older kids decided it was a good idea to throw balls at Bean’s head. That day, I kept quiet, not wanting to reprimand someone else’s child. In retrospect, however, I should have said something. Not something mean, or derogatory, but something firm and gentle. Just a simple, ‘balls are not for throwing at other people’s heads, why don’t we kick the ball instead’.

What upset me the most about all the incidents described above was not that the kids were mean or shy or indifferent, but rather, that Bean could not understand why they were acting the way they were. He could not understand that the child in the first incident was probably just a little bit shy, or a bit confused as to why he was being bombarded with a book. He could not understand that the little girl was probably feeling threatened or that the older boy was probably simply seeing what would happen if he threw a ball at someone’s head.

Being a mom, I want to protect my Bean from indifferent and mean people, I want to protect him from heart ache and I wish there was a way in which I could always protect him from the very many negative aspects of this world. But reality is, I can’t.

We as parents set the example for our children and although I do believe that children need to learn to fight their own battles, they learn how to act, react, and how they fight these battles, from us. By saying something, standing up for my son, I want to teach and encourage my child to stand up for himself. Not in a mean way, but in a fair, firm and gentle way. I want to teach my child to have enough self confidence that he will not allow himself to be bullied, I want to teach him enough empathy to stand up for those who are and I want to instill enough discipline in him not to become the bully himself.

As the Dalai Lama so poignantly said, “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains, we do not neglect to educate their hearts by nurturing their compassionate nature”.

 

A Newborn Marriage Challenge

We attended a wedding last weekend and as I was listening to the pastor deliver his sermon, I was transported back to my own wedding day and the feelings of joy and elation I experienced in anticipation of something great. I remembered our priest saying that we had committed to being together, to finding strength in each other through times of abundance and happiness (and lots of wine), as well as through times of drought (and only water). As I took hold of my husband’s hand while we witnessed our friends committing to a life of happily-ever-after, I realised that our own fairy tale had recently started to fade, our marriage being characterised more by drought, than by abundance.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not broken, a piece of shattered glass which cannot be repaired. We love each other, our family and our life. But, having a child has put a strain on our bond, which, if not nurtured, will shatter. Having a child has meant that there is an extra person, a little blessing who needs constant love and attention, in our life and in our marriage. It has meant that we are always tired and it has meant that we have placed Bean first, letting our marriage fall into the background. Nobody functions well when they are tired and an exhausted person can easily become unreasonable, snappy and bitter. Combine this with a lack of fun, romantic activities and added financial pressures and it is all too easy to fall into a cycle of blame and fighting.

Because of this, I have put together a challenge, a few daily actions focused on strengthening our relationship, and as I am sure that most couples (whether married or not) experience this, that A and I are not the exception to the rule, I have decided to share this challenge. So here goes:

  1. Remember that your relationship comes first

Being a mom, it is so easy to place the needs of our children first. That is what being a mom is after all – it means that our children’s needs, their growth and their emotional development are of paramount importance. I am guilty of this a hundred times over. I have however realised, that there would be no child, there would be no family, if it were not for us, for our relationship, for our marriage. I would not be able to give my child the stable family home environment I believe is so important in his upbringing, if A and I are not in a stable, happy and strong relationship.

Do something for your partner every day: whether it is making a sandwich for work, or it is taking 5 minutes out of your day to hear how her day went, do something which is only for him/her.

  1. Tell your partner you love them

This should be done every day, at least once. And not in parting, out of habit, as you say good bye. Look your partner in the eye and say it. Mean it.

  1. Choose your partner

Being in a relationship with someone is a choice, a choice we make every day. Whether it’s an easy subconscious choice (as you wake up in your partner’s arms with a smile) or a more difficult conscious choice (after a fight), it is a choice. Be sure to always choose your partner, your relationship and your family.

  1. Give your partner a compliment

It is so easy to criticise and to harp on the negative as the pressures of daily life get too much. But instead of focusing on the negative: the fact that your partner is not helping with the dishes (again) or that he or she is late from work (again) leaving you with all the house hold chores and kids to take care of, for example, focus on the good. Tell him how much you appreciate him working late to provide for your family. Tell her how beautiful she looks today.

  1. Be grateful

Take a moment every day to say thanks. There is always something to be thankful for.

  1. Take care of yourself

My mom always reminds me of the oxygen masks and their rule of use in an aeroplane: the air hostesses always say that in an emergency, first place the oxygen mask over your own face before helping others to fit theirs. The reason: you will not be able to help them if you pass out due to a lack of oxygen. Similarly, you cannot take care of your family, if you are not taken care of. Every single person has needs and desires, dreams and aspirations and they are all equally important. Do not lose sight of yours simply because you have a family to take care of. Find a balance and be sure that you are happy – a happy parent leads to a happy family.

Do something every day that makes you happy (even if it is just a hot cup of coffee).