Into the sleepless abyss
A mom recalls the harrowing months of sleep deprivation a baby brings.
Nothing could prepare me for the shock of having a baby who woke hourly between the ages of 6 months and a year.  Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to talking about sleep deprivation amongst new mothers—an unspoken ‘if you can’t cope, there must be something wrong with you, just deal with it’ attitude. 

One of my biggest fears about becoming a parent was the lack of sleep. My husband and I are not the ‘up at sparrows’ sort who leap out of bed at first light. No, we’re more the ‘how long can we stay in bed before it becomes criminal?’ kind of people. And need my 8 hours a night!

Those challenging, seemingly endless months introduced me to what sleep deprivation truly is. 

Deprived of precious sleep 

My daughter was born a month premature and spent ten days in an incubator before coming home. Her terrible reflux meant that after each feed I had to hold her upright for at least 45 minutes to an hour or the feed would be vomited up.

I think that this, together with birth trauma and perhaps personality type contributed to Eva’s sleep disorder.

At about six months, many babies start ‘sleeping through’ for between 5 and 8 hours at night. Yet, my Eva Rose awoke at the end of each sleep cycle (every 45 minutes or so) and if I didn’t pick her up and hold her for at least twenty minutes, she’d scream blue murder until I did.

She had no ability to self-soothe and at this point, as I wasn’t yet working full time, I felt it unfair to ask my husband to get up during the night. By seven months, I was exhausted and depressed. I hadn’t the energy to work or to socialise. I was more than just exhausted; it was a weariness of the deepest kind, as if a thick fog had submerged me.

There was some respite though. On weekends, a night nurse would come, but two nights of sleep just simply can’t make up for five nights of none.

How low can you go?

I began to suffer terrible, constant pain in my jaw which was diagnosed as TMJ from gritting my teeth at night, something totally foreign to me. Even when Eva slept, I lay awake; my sleep cycle was so disrupted.

The lowest point was screaming at my daughter in the middle of the night, gripping her, pushing her down so hard in her cot that I was afraid I might hurt her. Another night, I shouted so loudly that I woke my husband up in the next room. He ran in and grabbed her from me.

I realised then that I needed help—my nights had become hellish and during the day I was zombie-like and didn’t want to be around my baby. The sleep deprivation had domino-like affected everything: my work, my relationship, my ability to parent effectively and my bond with my baby. 

It was frightening and something that needed to be addressed and so I sought professional help.

If you want to know more, try these.
Making sleep work
Sleep training 101

Did your sleep deprivation ever go this far? What were your experiences?

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