This morning my three-year-old woke me up at 5:10am after a broken night where the baby woke up to feed every two or three hours. This is normal for me; in fact I often joke that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for about seven years – since about March 2005 to be exact.
This may sound like hype, but the fact is that I stopped sleeping properly towards the end of my first pregnancy – I was too big to sleep on my back and find it very hard to nod off in any other position. Then I had a screaming baby who grew into a screaming toddler,who gradually slept through the night when he was nearly two. One of the biggest lies some parents tell is that their 2/3/4 month old baby “sleeps through the night”; that is unless “sleeps through the night” means goes to sleep at midnight after an hour of screaming and then wakes again screaming at 5am. You get the picture.
My second child was conceived when child number one was 3, so I guess I probably did get about 18 months of better sleep. Child number one, however, was an early riser until very recently – now we fight to make him go to bed, but once he’s in there, he does stay asleep until about 8am. So I may not have had the broken nights for a short interval, but going to bed any time after midnight meant serious Thatcher-esque sleep deprivation.
Luckily I’ve never been tempted to invade any small South American islands, but I do wonder about the long term effects on my physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is blamed for everything from obesity, to depression and poor cognitive functions. It has been known to cause death in lab animals.
Anyway, the broken nights returned with a vengeance just before the birth of child number two (born Feb 2009). He finally slept through the night at 18 months, by which time I was pregnant with number three – a surprise baby conceived days after my 40th birthday. Insomnia in pregnancy is all too common and my sleep was TERRIBLE long before I reached the beached whale stage. I was very anxious during this pregnancy and worried about literally everything – and let’s face it, if you want to, you can always find stuff to worry about. Then obviously the baby was born in April last year and the hardcore sleeplessness started all over again.
This may sound like a long whinge of a post, an exercise of cloying self-pity more suited to the letters page of Mother and Baby magazine. I think the parents of young children do experience a specific form of sleeplessness, but what I’m starting to realize is how few of us (especially young people) are getting enough sleep.
I often play a game with young people I work with asking them to raise their hands if they went to bed before midnight. No one raises their hands. Then I ask who went to bed before 1am. You might get a couple of hands there. And so it goes until you get a couple of die-hards who’ve gone to bed at 5 or 6am and then have to drag themselves out of bed again at 8 to go into college. Friends of mine who are the parents of teenagers confirm that they constantly row with their offspring over late nights.
The culprit it seems is technology. Without meaning to resort to lazy gender stereotyping, parents of girls tell stories about how their little darlings lie with the Blackberry nestling on their pillow, its constant “pings” preventing any kind of sleep. The girls themselves confirm this. Boys, however, are more likely to indulge in all night X-box sessions, playing online with friends or total strangers. It’s very hard for mum and dad to police this – after all how many adults want to sit up all night monitoring teens’ tech use when they’re frazzled after a hard day’s work/child wrangling?
As the parent of little ones I can huff and puff about how I won’t let my kids do this, but I know that I’m guilty of letting them watch too much TV/play with computers too much because I’m tired or have stuff to do. Kids can be sneaky and unless you literally put the stuff under lock and key, they will find it and defy you. Making it into forbidden fruit makes the tech even more tempting and gives it an allure it doesn’t probably deserve.
I also think controlling and monitoring the use of phones/games/TV and so on is much harder for some parents than others. A well-off middle class couple with plenty of space will find it easier to police a ban than a single parent living in a tiny flat – for a start, the richer family will have somewhere to store the equipment, plus the parents have the support of each other when dealing with an angry teen. They also have the money to take kids out and introduce them to hobbies and sports that don’t just involve sitting in front of a screen. Yes, buying the tech costs a few hundred quid, but that’s a hell of a lot less than riding lessons or going snow-boarding or regular trips to the theatre. Obviously there are some really cheap hobbies (like reading) but it would be optimistic to expect this to be seen as cool or fun by the majority of teenagers.
There’s also the added fear for a lot of parents that their kids will get into trouble if they let them out of the house – look at the claims that last summer’s riots were the fault of ‘bad’ parents who couldn’t control their children.
So maybe it’s no surprise that many a tired and stressed mum or dad turns a blind eye to their teenager’s technology addiction, even if that does mean that those kids are missing out on the precious commodity that is a good night’s sleep.
I’d like to see a government backed health education campaign that spent as much money advertising sleep as Nintendo spends advertising Wii or Apple spends advertising the Iphone.
As they say, dream on…..