It’s what tired mothers and fathers dream about in those 40 minute blocks of sleep we manage to catch. A full, unbroken night of sleep (my mouth is literally watering just thinking about it).
At the ripe old age of 18 months, my daughter has just started sleeping through the night. Yet despite it being something that I’ve longed for/would have considered selling a kidney for, the emotional reality is actually a bit more complex. I expected that I’d feel happy – and I definitely do – but there’s more to it than that.
It’s really more of a smorgasbord of emotions, where you feel a little something like this:
The night is pretty consistently one thing: dark. But by the time you’ve been getting up to a baby regularly for six months (or more), you start to know what 3am feels like. Waking up for the first time to daylight is unbelievably disorientating.
Your mental process might go something like this: Hang on a second, is that light outside? What day is it? Is this a dream? Or were the last six months a dream? Did I actually get up last night and just forget that I did?
Once you’ve established that yes, it’s light outside, and no, there hasn’t been a freak reverse eclipse, that feeling of indescribable joy comes flooding in. You giggle softly to yourself and hug your pillow. Today is going to be a great day.
By now, you’ve been lying in bed for five minutes thinking about how you’re feeling. Then it starts to feel weird that you’re awake before your baby, and you double check just to make sure they’re okay. Plus there’s the other flurry of questions that come in. Will she not nap properly today because she’s slept too long? Will she sleep tonight?
The exertion of the pillow hugging and giggling and checking has really started to take its toll, and it’s pretty much time for a nap again now. But seriously, what is it about a full night of unbroken sleep that makes you feel more tired? Surely since you’ve just had a solid eight hours that’s enough sleep to last for at least the next three days?
Now that your baby has Slept Through The Night (it deserves the capitals), there’s that desire to do everything possible in your power to make it happen again. For me, this was a very real urge to go through the day before in intricate detail and make a graph of what my kids ate, when/where they napped, how many times they pooed, how long they were outside etc etc. Then replicate it exactly. (It didn’t work).
Even though the middle of the night can be a lonely time, there’s also an unofficial club of ‘parents who get up’. The solidarity of a fellow mum or dad at the park with dark rimmed eyes and a giant cup of coffee. Having a child who sleeps through means there might be some guilt that you’re leaving the club (and this means too that you’re to have to hand in your ‘I get up’ badge of honour).
When my kids started sleeping through the night, I weirdly experienced a really strange sense of loss. Sure, the last 12 months of middle-of-the-night awake time brought out the crazy in me (3am ‘I’ve been up for two hours’ Kiah is not a person I’d like to spend time with socially), but what if I’m now missing out on really important moments? That time was exhausting and debilitating and emotional, but there were parts of it that were also really special.
Even if they don’t do it every night, the knowledge that your baby can sleep through the night is a nice feeling. It means that pretty soon you’ll be able to start saving up those hours for when your kid is 16, and you’re awake for a whole host of other reasons.