Whether or not you are a fan of Family Fortunes, I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve all heard of the game show, at some point marvelled at Vernon Kay’s “Ultrabrite” smile and understand the basic premise. I am therefore going to use this as a neat little introduction to a subject close to my heart. If 100 women were polled on the following question: “Name something experienced by new mothers,” I believe right up there with “joy” and “pain-of-biblical-proportions,” would be “sleep deprivation.”
Oh yes, my old nemesis sleep deprivation, so prevalent in those early months, nay years, of motherhood. To quote Charles Dickens: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. For me, the frequent gummy smiles offered by my baby son would be enough to briefly erase the near constant longing for an uninterrupted sleep of sufficient duration to eradicate once and for all the puffy grey bags hanging beneath my eyes. The infectious hearty chuckle that only babies can muster at a simple game of peep-o would also serve to take my mind off the hallucinated crawling insects ever present in the corner of my eye. Believe me, sleep deprivation is no laughing matter.
Actress, Terri Dwyer went public with her experience of sleep deprivation and attested to the physical and mental fallout resulting from lack of sleep.
'Sleep deprivation is a form of torture,' she explains. 'I was so run-down, my hair started falling out, and I was seeing black dots in front of my eyes.'
Myleene Klass, as a new mother, said: “I am tired, tired all the time. Sometimes I feel like crying because I am so tired. People say I make it look easy, but I don’t have any of the answers, I’m still trying to figure things out.”
It is no coincidence that several of my friends who returned to work at the conclusion of their contracted period of maternity leave referred to full time employment as “a break.”
Yet there is little escape from the perils of sleep deprivation. You might think that it is an affliction only suffered by real mothers, by which I mean those of us without a recession-defying bank balance, Hollywood lifestyle and live-in Nanny. Firstly, let me tell you, I know a mother with a live-in Nanny and this mum is as devoted and as hands-on as it is possible to be, given her workload. The live-in Nanny is only relied upon during physical absences and nighttime bedside attendances are fully tended to by both mum and dad. Sustaining a career and having the financial resources to hire in help does not mean that such women are willing to take a back seat when at home.
One of the most influential messages from the women’s movement was the concept that a woman can “have it all.” Without getting bogged down in the debate surrounding this, many of us now believe that message to be somewhat clouded by mythology. Everything comes at a price. We could all relate to Gwyneth Paltrow when she said: “Some days I feel like everyone in my world has plugged themselves into my kidneys. I’m so tired…”
The point I am making here is that even Hollywood A-listers, the much revered, beautiful people; the pampered and the privileged, experience sleep deprivation too. Just because you are an actress being paid a king’s ransom for appearing in a film, does not mean that you are unwilling to invest time in your children. The maternal instinct is not a tap, which can be turned on and off. So if your child is crying in the night, whether you are a supermodel or a secretary, the likelihood is that you will immediately rise from the lightest of sleeps and rush to their side.
US actress, Selma Blair is mother to 5-month-old Arthur. In an interview with PEOPLE she was quoted as saying: “It’s exhausting. If I could sleep more, I would be the happiest woman in the whole world. I’m not sleeping and it’s showing. But I’m so blessed….I am totally going to stop complaining.”
See there’s the female guilt creeping in.
However, Selma has devised her own solution to the problem: “I will just start to buy more makeup.”
Well, there are many other solutions out there (many of which have been tried by me at some point in time), but you have to be creative and adaptable. You may hit on a solution that results in an extra hour in bed one weekend but fails the next. Babies are changeable creatures and you have to be one step ahead. My quest for sleep inspired a book, Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum (no explanation required!), which is currently residing at number 1 in the Apple iBook store. Thank you, Australia!
Perhaps the strongest message from my book is that families with newborn babies must do what works for them. To a certain extent, we must ignore the textbooks if we hit on something that works. I’m not advocating ignoring advice, which could compromise safety; but rather, don’t be made to feel guilty for taking steps which are not widely acknowledged. A simple example is if you and your husband are happy to sleep separately for a time in order to ensure one of you has a decent night’s sleep, then don’t let any armchair expert tell you that you otherwise! Supermodel Heidi Klum is an advocate of this approach, saying: “I go to sleep pretty much when the children go to sleep! My husband has to come find me in one of their four beds and remind me that I’m still a wife too!”
It’s fair to say that men suffer from sleep deprivation as well as women (although obviously not to the same extent! *Awaits backlash*) As Hugh Jackman so succinctly puts it: “I’m lucky to get 7 hours. I have a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old.”
There are many practical steps, which can be taken to maximise your chances of a longer sleep. I have referred to them as the “Nocturnal Nineteen.” I do not pretend that they all result from my own clever scientific sleep experiments, but are a heady mix of tried and tested, accepted and rejected, bought and borrowed. Some are short-term fixes; others are for the truly sleep-resistant child.
If all else fails, take comfort from the fact that some good can come from sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation forces creativity to the surface. We have to be creative simply to get through the day on insufficient sleep – whether that is by sneaking forty winks whilst breastfeeding or constantly changing your brand of coffee to ensure maximum caffeine hits. My experience resulted in my first book. The rosy hue of nostalgia has enabled me to inject into this text, much greater doses of humour, fun and sex than I recall experiencing during those innumerable dawn wake-up calls.
Even Gwen Stefani, probably one of the most creative women on the planet (who else can pull off vintage Hollywood glamour and how-does-she-do-it mystique), has been quoted as saying: “Everything I’ve done for the past five years, I’ve done while sleep-deprived.” Well, with a successful recording career, clothing line and acting credits, perhaps sleep deprivation can be a force for good.