SLEEP. It’s one of those things we don’t fully appreciate until its gone. When all you can get is a few broken hours at a time, or when 5am becomes your new ‘wake up-and-face-the-day’ time, only then do you realise how much your wellbeing and productive hinges on the ability to rest and repair your body and mind.
Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on our health, that we know, but what many parents don’t expect is the toll it takes on our relationships. Sleep problems are an exception to the ‘problem shared, problem halved’ rule. Sharing - in this case - can double the stress levels! You’re both tired, cranky, and each is probably convinced that they’re worse off than the other. As a result, resentment and friction is inevitable, whether you’re sharing getting up duties or not. Especially if you’re not!!
The struggle is known as ‘competitive sleeping’, and we asked real parents to describe to what extent it affects their relationship....
‘From early on we were really lucky with Ivy’s sleeping, she would sleep straight through up until about 8 months, when she got too big for her sleepyhead. Unfortunately, since then Ivy’s always ended up in our bed, and due to our living arrangements, I co-sleep with Ivy and my husband usually ends up on the sofa bed. Unfortunately this does mean I’m the one up with her when she stirs, or has a bad night, which would happen often with teething, and as I work full time again, it causes the dreaded ‘who’s more tired’ argument. We would all be lying if we didn’t get annoyed by our partners moaning about lack of sleep when we are the ones who have been up with the fidgeting, and the crying, and the giving of milk, then the giving of medicine if necessary, then the cuddles and then the not being able to really settle until you hear their heavy breathing. Of course our partners have been working all day so we need to sympathise! But being a full time working mum, it’s hard to offer the sympathy. As much as I think some families believe you must ‘work as a team’ we all know Mummy deals with the majority, if not all of the night stirs. 4 hours sleep followed by 8 hours of work is intense and difficult, and I always make it known to my husband what kind of night I had. Not in a competitive way, and not to make him feel bad, but just for him to recognise what I’m doing for the family, and that when I get home that night, his help and support isn’t just required, it’s a necessity. I do believe sleep is the root of most arguments for couples, and I don’t believe there will ever be a resolution for it. My advice for any new parents are not to take sleeping habits out of each other, work as a team even if you feel the game is one sided, and most importantly do what is best for all of you to get a good night’s sleep. We’re lucky that we get nights and weekends away with each other, so we can catch up on our relationship then, but in the meantime, we have a happy toddler, we have a good 6-8 hours each and until WE decide the time is ready for us to stop, then we have a happy household and to me, that’s the most important thing.’