The Importance Of Sleep

Originally posted 06/03/16

Sleep is such an important aid to keeping the Black Dog at bay. With even just a couple of hours of good sleep the battle to stay positive or to keep everything in perspective is so much easier. Good sleep allows your mind to recuperate, to build up strength to fight another day.

On the flip side lack of sleep or bad sleep can have such a detrimental effect. If it didn’t then it sleep deprivation wouldn’t have been such a good torture technique throughout history.

When I was about 28 weeks pregnant I lost the ability to get anywhere near a decent sleep. I would drift off into oblivion and then about an hour later I was awake again and unable to get back to sleep – wide awake for a couple of hours before plunging back into exhausted darkness  but only for another hour or so. A pattern that repeated itself almost every night without fail. Every night I was plagued by heartburn, abdominal aches, a bump that made getting comfortable nigh on impossible and a persistent sniff that was not related to a bug. Every night I propped myself up, drank my warm milk and tried not to stimulate my brain too much. I did all of the things that were supposed to help me sleep and every night it failed and I grew more and more bone tired!

I mentioned it many times to my community midwife and each time she would go through all of the above actions, told me I was doing all the right things and that I had to just keep trying but each time she told me to “dig deep” I got angrier and more upset and my carefully protected mental fragility became a little more fractured.

The lack of sleep was preventing me from rationalising things properly and the fact I was so tired was having an impact on the physical activities I could do. I became sensitive to noise and I started to struggle to run the play group I set up seven years ago and had to hand over all the hard work of setting it up to my friend. I found the noise created by my Cub pack – laughter, enjoyment and their general enthusiasm for their weekly meetings – started to grate on me and I had to take a back seat earlier than I had been anticipating. All my personal achievement outlets, the places where I felt I was actually contributing to others, became something I could no longer do and this had an impact on my mental state. I was losing the ability to be “me” and I was starting to creep closer to the edge of my personal abyss and i knew I was doing it but the exhaustion meant there was very little I could do about it.

It came to a head the day I was admitted to my local maternity ward. I couldn’t even sit in the same room as my own children. I started to snipe at them for chatting and eventually realised I was being unfair as they weren’t actually being loud – it was just my absolute fatigue that was affecting everything so I left them and went to my bed hoping to get some sleep. Two hours later, with the abdominal pain, headaches and high blood pressure that had been plaguing me all the previous week I contacted the Maternity Assessment Unit for the fourth time that week and they called me back in and I was admitted but that starts a whole new saga for another time!

Looking back up my post here I can see that I have rambled away slightly off topic but I guess what I am trying to say is that sleep is so important to rational thought, to holding the leash of the Black Dog, to stop it biting, to help achieve things and without good sleep the grip on reality becomes so very tenuous and what little self esteem you may have can take a right battering.

I wish my community midwife had heard me when I told her I was struggling with the exhaustion. I wish she hadn’t assumed that I could cope despite me telling her I was struggling. I wish….I wish….I wish!

I had people telling me that the lack of sleep was my body getting ready for F’s arrival but that simply wasn’t the case. Since his birth I get blocks of two or three hours sleep but it is good sleep. It is deep, undisturbed and solid sleep and it makes such a difference. The world is clearer, I have been able to return to my play group and am looking forward to returning to Cubs once I am allowed to drive again. I can sit in the same room as my children without them driving me to distraction (well no more than three under ten year olds would drive anyone to distraction!) , I can cope with the crying in the middle of the night for a feed and a change and I can do more physically (yes I know the bump is now in a car seat or pram but I am recovering from a full general anaesthetic and an emergency section so still physically restricted somewhat)

If you are struggling I implore you to keep telling your support team and midwives – keep telling someone until one of them listens and hears you and, most importantly, tries to help rather than just telling you to “dig deep”. Keep talking to people because one of them may have another idea to try to improve your sleep quality/quantity. I have started asking people what helps them and will post some of their ideas once I have collated them in the hope that it helps someone and, if you are reading this and have ideas or tricks that work for you – please share them as they may just work for someone else as well.

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