The story behind ‘Don’t Wake Dad’

Jonny Marx aka Eden Wells shares the story behind rhyming picture book Don’t Wake Dad and how sleep deprivation as a first time dad affected his mental health.

Illustration: Sharon Davey for Don't Wake Dad

The initial idea for Don’t Wake Dad came about whilst our wonderful commissioning editor Becky Brown was reminiscing about a board game she used to play, conveniently called 'Don’t Wake Dad', which we agreed would make a wonderful title for a picture book! The concept itself was very much her brainchild and she kindly asked me to write the text. 12 months down the line and we’re now working away on our third book in the series with the immensely talented Sharon Davey providing the artwork and Erin Browell designing! 

Anyone who has read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep will likely know that lack of sleep is arguably the most detrimental aspect of becoming a parent, as it not only exacerbates low mood, low energy, and poor memory, it also stymies motivation to partake in physical exercise, whilst actively encouraging the consumption of high-energy (often unhealthy) foods and caffeinated drinks. All this ultimately increases the risk of poor physical and mental health. Exercise had been a key aspect of my lifestyle before becoming a father and I really struggled to find the time or motivation to go for a run or hit the gym. Lockdown didn’t help, of course! 

Lack of sleep is a battle of attrition, and it gradually wore me down to the point where I realised, I needed to speak to someone. My son was born at the peak of lockdown, so we couldn’t depend on help from friends or family. Subsequent appointments with my GP and with a psychologist resulted in a crash course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Though this didn’t solve the sleep deprivation, it really did boost my mental wellbeing, pragmatism, and optimism. 

A photo of a young father and his baby asleep on a bed. The father and baby are both covered in a blanket
Image: William Fortunato at Pexels

I found the initial 12 months of insomnolence tortuous at times (indeed, sleep deprivation has been used as a method of torture for centuries, if not millennia!), but it’s important to find solace in the truism that it will get easier as your little one grows up. Talk to friends and other fathers. Granted, there will always be someone whose child slept through the night from day one, but rather than hoping the ground opens up and engulfs them in flames, just know that we all get there in the end. Teenagers tend to sleep most of the day, so we only have to wait 13 years or so! If it helps, my son brings me an immense amount of joy (I’ve never known love quite like it) and he has only ever slept through the night once… he’s now two!

If all else fails, invest in a decent coffee machine, and try and start the day with a brisk walk, even if it’s just around the block. It’s not ideal, but thanks to flexi working, there’s a chance you might be able to have a little nap during your lunchbreak. If you’re really struggling, talk to loved ones and to your GP. Few of my friends had had a similar experience to me – all their children slept like docile little koalas – and this was isolating at times. It was important to converse with someone who had a comparable understanding.

Aside from the usual sleep-deprived dad anecdotes, like accidentally putting ice cream in the cupboard, my clothes on inside out, and my shoes in the freezer, the worst-night sleep I’ve had coincided with my final interview for my current job at Penguin Random House. After a particularly troublesome night, whereby my son had decided to wake every hour, I started the day on no more than 2 hours of rest, three cups of coffee, and for the life of me, I can’t really recall much of the conversation, other than that I had to stop at one point stating that 'I didn’t really know what I was talking about!'. Luckily, the interviewer understood my plight and I’m delighted to say that I was offered the job. 

Don’t Wake Dad was actually my first book for Ladybird, and I’m delighted to say that we have two more books in the series out next year!

Read the series

Don’t Wake Santa will be released in October 2023

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