When Your Child Just Doesn’t Sleep

Your big sister slept through the night at 7 weeks old. I remember waking from an exhausted slumber in the early hours of the morning in a complete panic because she hadn’t woken. I was positive something dreadful had happened  but she was, of course, fine. Like me, she is a sleeper. She has slept deeply through the night pretty much every night since. You see the thing about sleepers is they need their sleep.

But you, my beloved daughter no. 2, you have tested everything I thought I knew about babies and parenting and sleep. In the course of 1442 days and nights of loving you, you have slept through the night less than the number of fingers on one of my hands.

You truly are my lesson in patience.

A lesson in patience

I am not always a cooperative student. Sometimes I get cranky and frustrated. The nights I am woken just as my body has fallen into that first deep slumber that it has craved for a whole day, those are probably hardest. I’m not proud of those nights.

It’s hard to go without good quality sleep for such a long time.

Some days it is all I can manage to just get through making sure everyone is fed and dressed and doing whatever it is they need to be doing, usually sighing in exhaustion at the catastrophe left in our wake that I just can’t muster the energy to deal with right now.

Many days I have opened my eyes in a panic, those eyes I closed for just a moment as I sat on the couch to watch you play or alongside you as you watch you favourite show, feeling guilty at the time that has somehow ticked much more quickly in my slumber than it does when I am awake.

Some nights I cope better and I use that time beside you bed, holding your hand until you are finally still to just breathe and be quiet, determined to find a sense of peace in those moments, enjoying a quiet that feels so totally foreign in the course of our busy family life.

But it is slowly getting better. Maybe I am getting better at managing with less. You are most definitely getting better at managing with little bits less of me. I know a day will come when you won’t call for us anymore. And whether that day is a week, a year or five years away, I know that one day this will all seem like a distant dream. So much of parenting is like that.

To those parents who find themselves in the throes of long term sleep deprivation, I am sorry that I cannot offer you a magic solution. We have tried literally everything and while some things help for a little while, no one thing has worked consistently long term. You will find yourself questioning their diet, the temperature, their clothing, the bedding, your routines, their development. We have certainly learnt that for a sensitive child sleep can be affected by so many things – separation anxiety, sensory disturbances, mastering new skills, changes to family circumstances. But the reality is, these things affect our rest as adults too, so it is really no surprise that our children feel them deeply too. The difference is that as adults, we generally have the capacity to rationalise or find a solution to whatever it is that is disturbing our sleep, without impacting everyone in our immediate vicinity. Well, at least most of the time.

When our children do not sleep it can be so easy to blame ourselves but please know that it is not you. It is not something you have done. Remind yourself that babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kids, they all sleep differently. Each and every one different to the next. That through patience and love and understanding, and a whole lot of trial and error, that things will get better. They will be better. In the meantime, be sure to take care of you because that is the number one thing that will help you cope better, when you are kind to and forgiving of yourself. Especially on the hard days.

This is the lesson in patience that I have learned.

Do you have children that sleep very differently to each other?





  1. I have two deep sleepers, but I DONT SLEEP! I have terrible insomnia and sometimes I think- sheeesh- my insomnia is wasted on my children! But my girls are so so so so challenging in other ways (so challenging) and I was just thinking the other day how parenting is just one enormous lesson is patience.

  2. I could have written this, albeit not as eloquently! My 18 month old still wakes at least 5 times a night, yet his sister started sleeping through at 12 months. Some nights I am out of my mind with sleep deprivation (and days). It is such a comfort to know that we aren’t the only ones struggling. Thank you.

  3. Sleepless mom says:

    I have two non-sleepers. In 4 years, I think they have slept through the night maybe three times. Sleep deprivation is my normal. I have a demanding job in Tech, so no naps for me. I look forward to a time when sleeping through the night is again my normal. Maybe a few more years away.

Comments are closed.