Tired mum admits she’s been taken hostage by sleep thieves who vomit and have nightmares

I got up at 6.48am the next morning. So, I must have had a pretty decent kip, right? No.

I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep for nearly six years.

The bags under my eyes are like suitcases and I’ve single-handedly propped up the beauty industry in pots of concealer.

The reason? I’m a mum. Not a mum of a newborn baby who demands midnight feeds and pre-dawn nappy changes, but of two boys aged 5¾ and three.

Both of whom “slept through” the night at around six months. What no one tells you though, is that while little ones can luxuriate in eight-hour stretches, it’s NOT assured.

From bouts of projectile vomiting to bed-wetting, nightmares and random early wakings, you can NEVER guarantee a peaceful slumber.

Research published this week by Warwick University showed that having children can disrupt your sleep for six years.

Of course the first year is the hardest, and I would never dare compare my constant fatigue with that of a new mother.

I wouldn’t want to risk her bleary-eyed death stare, for a start.

The study showed that during this first year, a mum loses 40-60 minutes of sleep per night.

Which doesn’t sound so terrible, but anyone who’s been held hostage by a tiny sleep thief and walked around in a zombie-like state for months on end knows it feels like an awful lot more. But — and this will not come as a shock to any mum — women in the study were still fairly sleep-deprived in terms of quality and quantity between four and six years after their first child’s birth, losing out on an average of 25 minutes a night.

The only surprise to me is that it’s only 25 minutes.

Every evening is like a game of Russian roulette.

Now every cough and splutter, every barely audible whisper, has me sitting bolt upright with heart pounding

Will Dylan, my eldest, sleepwalk again?

Will Joe have a nightmare and need me to stroke his sweaty blond hair as he drifts back off?

Will I hear the disheartening cry, “I’ve had an accident”, and have to strip off sodden pyjamas and bundle a small child into my own bed, only to be kept awake by his constant moving and stretching.

And there’s nothing more disorientating than being roused from the deepest slumber by a call of “Mummy, I need a drink/my favourite toy/my Spider-Man outfit now.”

Actually, they don’t wake up every night at all. But while I used to be snoring away within seconds and would barely flinch if a herd of elephants stampeded below my window, those days are but a distant dream.

If only I could dream, that is.

Now every cough and splutter, every barely audible whisper, has me sitting bolt upright with heart pounding.

Then, of course, all the thoughts about school admin and reading diaries start to swirl.

I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep for nearly six years

And by the time a little voice is saying: “Mummy, it’s morning time,” I feel like I’ve barely nodded off.

Apparently, it gets worse when they become teenagers and you lie awake watching the clock until they come home.

I’ll likely never sleep well again. It’s a good job they give me such joy in my (many) waking hours.


Waking at night is normal for all humans – not just parents – as our survival mechanism means we need to stay vigilant, says sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.

But Dr Ramlakhan, author of The Little Book Of Sleep, says there are ways to combat the tiredness and increase our chances of feeling fully rested:

  1. Look after your diet: Eat breakfast within half an hour of waking. If you’re sleep deprived, you need to stabilise your blood sugar and stop your body running on adrenalin in the morning. Treat your body like you’re running a marathon. Have some protein, like toast with peanut butter, or a boiled egg.
  2. Don’t substitute food with caffeine. Ideally, don’t have caffeine after 3pm as it affects the body for five or six hours, and if you’re a sensitive sleeper consider stopping it even earlier or cutting it out completely.
  3. Keep well hydrated. You will get a better quality of sleep – even if you’re not getting as many hours as you’d like.
  4. Have an early night at least three times a week. Go to bed at 9.30pm and read until 10pm, then turn off the light and sleep.
  5. No electronics in the bedroom. Blue light from phones and tablets stimulates the brain.
  6. Practise micro-napping. Close your eyes for five to 20 minutes between 2pm and 4pm, but no later as it will disturb your night’s sleep.
  7. At the weekend, if tired, nap for a maximum 40 minutes between 2 and 4pm. Negotiate between your partner who gets the nap, or take turns. You’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards, but only do this occasionally.
  8. Be active. Go out and get some fresh air. Take a short walk but don’t look at your phone. Try to remember we are resilient and although seven to eight hours’ sleep is ideal, we can manage on less.
  9. Disturbed in the night? Don’t look at the time. If you do, you’ll worry about how long you have left to sleep, making it hard to drop off.
  10. If you wake too soon, stay as relaxed and drowsy as you can. If you still can’t nod off, concentrate on your breathing and silently say “in” as long as the breath takes, then follow the out breath and say “out” for as long as it takes.

  • Dr Ramlakhan will be at The Sleep Show on March 15 at the London Business Design Centre.

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