EXCLUSIVE: Giaan Rooney talks sleep deprivation and finding the sweet spot of motherhood

'Motherhood was the toughest thing I had ever done'
Loading the player...

Finding that work/life balance when you’re a mum is never easy, and the sweet spot might not be exactly what you imagined, but when you do find it, life feels good.

And that’s where double Olympian, Giaan Rooney sits about now.

“Like it is for all working parents, it’s been a challenge and I’ve had to work hard at it, but I feel like I’ve almost got there,” the mum-of-two tells Now To Love.

But it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, had we asked her how she felt about motherhood in the early days her answer might have been very different.

“Without trying to sound smug, motherhood was the first time I had ever really felt like I was failing in my life,” Giaan confesses. “Whether it was swimming or something else, hard work had always been my instigator for success.

“If there were something that needed to be fixed, I could work hard and solve it, but motherhood was my first experience of true proper failure, and because I wasn’t getting any sleep I realise now that I had no way to properly deal with what was going on.”

What was happening was new motherhood. What wasn’t happening was sleep – for anyone in the house.

Zander, now four-and-a-half, like all babies came into the world with 40-minute sleep cycles, however he never seemed to manage to link those cycles, meaning that neither he nor his parents were ever properly rested.

Giaan found new motherhood with Zander, now four-and-a-half made all the more challenging because of sleep deprivation. Image: Supplied.

“I was a champion sleeper!”

“One of the greatest strengths I’ve had in life is my ability to sleep. When I swam, I could sleep anywhere, anytime,” says Giaan. “It was not uncommon to find me sleeping on an exercise mat in the warm-up area right before a race.”

For Giaan, sleep was a way of dealing with stress and anxiety. “It was like my brain and body were saying ‘you don’t want to deal with this now, have a nap and you’ll be better equipped to handle it then’,” she laughs.

She never had to take a sleeping tablet when travelling for competitions either. In fact, Giaan could sleep on any mode of transportation, at any time of day.

“Sleep, I realise now, is so important to me. I love it. I love going to bed, I love naps, I need sleep.”

Baby Zander, on the other hand, had other ideas.

“His first six months were the toughest of my life,” the television presenter admits. “I was so frustrated with myself, and my pride was hurt. I felt like I was failing at the most fundamental thing a woman does – motherhood.

“I loved my son, but I didn’t like him, and I didn’t like motherhood.”

Giaan expected baby #2 to be a better sleeper, but little Lexie had other ideas. Image: Supplied.

Without sleep the new mum’s natural way of dealing with stress, anxiety, fears and frustrations was eliminated, leaving her overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling completely alone in that sense of failure that was so uncommon to her.

Eventually going to a sleep school when Zander was six months old helped Giaan realise that a newborn’s lack of sleep was ‘a thing’, not a ‘failure’ and she wasn’t alone.

“Sleep school saved us!” says Giaan.

So when Lexie, now 15 months old, came along it was a shock to learn that once again, they had a non-sleeper.

“I thought for sure the second time around I would be fine, but I was thrown right back to when Zander was a baby and it wasn’t great. It took two sleep consultants this time,” she laughs.

“Without sleep I just had no way to deal with situations. My body was falling apart and so was my little family.”

Australians aren’t sleeping properly

A good sleep is so important, but like Giaan, a lot of us simply aren’t getting enough and it’s impacting on us in a negative way.

Results from the 2018 Sealy Sleep Census – an independent survey of more than 5,000 Australians commissioned by leading mattress brand Sealy, was released on Wednesday to coincide with National Sleep Awareness Week.

The study reveals that 77 percent of the Australian population isn’t getting enough sleep each week. In fact, 1 in 5 Australians fail to get enough sleep every night of the week.

When it comes to parenting and sleep, the research found that those with children under five are twice as likely to suffer from lack of sleep every night, compared to those without children. However, despite parents being the most sleep deprived, they are 1.7 times less likely to take time off work because of fatigue.

More than half of parents with children under 18 only get six hours or less sleep each night, compared to 40 percent of those without children.

What’s more, in a typical week, one third of Australians skip exercise due to tiredness, while three in 10 find themselves eating more. Australians believe more sleep would make the biggest improvement to their lives – ahead of earning extra money, being thinner or more attractive, having an extra hour in the day, and working fewer hours.

Story continues after video …

Loading the player...

Giaan, who has been partnered with Sealy for a couple of years is not surprised by those results. “I bet people aren’t going to work when sleep impacts so much about how you function,” she says.

“The things I would suggest people do to get more sleep are reducing screen time from TV, iPads and phones right before you go to bed, invest in a great bed and a firm mattress, and make sure the room temperature is just right.”

With sleep worked out (sort of – “Lexie is teething this week,” Giaan yawns) that work/life balance is finally starting to fall in place.

While her family is based on the Gold Coast, Giaan’s work is mostly elsewhere meaning there’s a fair bit of travel.

“It wasn’t planned to be like this, but what it has ended up meaning is that my time at home is solely focussed on being a mum and wife,” she explains. “When I travel for work, I am alone which means I can put my focus and energy into doing that well, so that I can get home and refocus on my family. It’s nice. I enjoy the travel, and I enjoy coming home … and sleeping!”

Related stories