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Sleep deprivation, desperation and self-care

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

When my two daughters were four and six, my husband and I had a glimpse of something.

We had a stretch of unbroken sleep for almost two weeks. The glimpse was of ourselves in a well restored state. After a few nights of our bodies just catching up on all the sleep deprivation, we started to really feel well again.

I remember feeling lighter. Our daughters’ meltdowns and fights slipped off like water from a duck. And therefore dissipated quicker overall.

We smiled more, were present more, had more energy to deal with, and enjoy life.

That window of time stands out like a spotlight on how good things could be….if we could just get our girls to sleep more consistently.

We’re a family that have run the gamut of settling techniques; Cry-it-out, gradual withdrawal, snuggle to sleep, and our most successful - bribe reward them with chocolate, if they go to sleep and stay in bed all night. Effective, but not sustainable.

Our sleeping arrangements have been fun too. After playing musical beds all night, my husband would often wake up on the top bunk, not remembering how he got there. We once made a Mega-Bed so we wouldn’t have to actually get up, just roll over and snuggle them back to sleep. Sleep desperation at 3am.

I know there are families out there with more sleep resistant children than we have. But my point is even a small amount of broken sleep impacts our overall well being. And when it’s chronic, it starts to eat away at our soul.

We had to find another way to help with lack of sleep. This meant taking better care of ourselves when our eyes were open. We were chasing that lighter, more present feeling.

Before children, I’d always thought of ‘Self-Care' as an indulgence I could do without. But since children, and spending a significant amount of time with the 3am Sleep Desperation Monster, I’ve come to understand Self-care as my salvation. And a necessity to being a good parent.

I’ve struggled with my default setting to yell at my kids. It’s a learnt behaviour from my own childhood, and can get triggered when I’m tired or stressed. I was blaming it all on the sleep deprivation. Then a friend recommended trying meditation. She swore by it and said it was how she “came back down to zero” in stressful parenting moments.

So, I started with five minutes of meditation after my daughters had finally fallen asleep. Even if it was as late as 9.30pm. It became a clear divide between Family-time and My-time.

And that was the doorway that led me back to my ‘glimpse’. The spotlight of peace.

I started by asking myself what does ‘self-care’ actually mean for Me? It helped create a mental shift for me when I started to call it ‘Marion-time’. What works for each of us is, after-all, totally personal.

For example, I’m a terrible procrastinator, which is only made worse by access to social media and working from home. My self-care isn’t soaking in a bubble bath. It’s making a list of all the hard stuff I’m avoiding, and finding a way to get it done.

When I cross off things on that list, I feel so much lighter and more present.

However, my routine has slipped recently. It’s winter in New Zealand and we’re surfing the swells of sickness that comes with that. So I’m taking an incremental ‘bite-sized’ approach to get back on track. It’s how I found Nourish, and I’m so thankful for it.

I’m finding most success with anything that fits into five minutes. Such as sipping a cup of tea mindfully in the morning sunlight, calling a friend, or doing a gratitude brain dump as I climb into bed.

My shift in perception around making space for myself and listening to my own needs has opened a whole new understanding of self care. That it’s not another chore to cross off the list, but that it’s a way to enrich and make each moment more fulfilling.

What a thing to model for my children.


About the author

Marion Shortt is a mum to two daughters, an occasional actress, writer and theatre producer. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her filmmaking husband. Her blog, covers her thoughts and ideas on parenting, kids activities and self-care. She loves discovering ways to embrace the mess that involve play, stories and drama games.

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