In this article I will share with you my top 6 tips for coping with sleep deprivation.
I KNOW what it feels like to be sleep deprived. I have often wished I could go back to my pre-motherhood time just to get a few nights of good sleep. I will never forget the depth of exhaustion I felt after my second daughter was born and my eldest was only 1 ½-years-old. I remember they needed to nap and I took them for a walk in the double stroller. I felt exhausted to my bones. It was almost like a thirst that could not be quenched. Walking and pushing that stroller felt like the hardest thing in the world. But getting them to sleep and getting a break once we returned home kept me pushing forward. I still hadn’t really learned how to teach my girls to sleep well at night or to nap well. Later I saw a sleep consultant who really helped me learn new skills for helping my girls sleep and my life changed for the better. I needed sleep and I needed it bad.
Since this article is not about sleep training our little newborn babies, because that comes a little later for most of us, I will instead aim to give you some tips for coping with complete exhaustion. Also, even when our kids sleep better at night and at naps parenting is often exhausting and draining. Even older kids are up at night sometimes. They are often sick or teething or have bad dreams. I have gone online myself before and searched, “too exhausted to function”, hoping to find support and advice during desperate times. So here are my tips 8 years into parenting, in case any of you were thinking to do the same search:
1) THIS TIME WILL PASS
Sometimes when we’re in the depths of exhaustion day after day we fear that this will last forever. We may think, “I am doomed. I have this baby now and there is no turning back. Goodbye sleep FOREVER!”
Remember that this time will pass and one day you will get some sleep. Life will not be back to the pre-parenthood type of consistent sleep. But hey, I’ll take what I can get. Once my daughter was 10 months old I did see a sleep consultant who helped me A LOT. She helped me understand what both of my daughters needed to sleep well, and my daughters started to sleep through the night within a couple of days. I can’t tell you what your timeline will be, because every child is different and your choices around sleep arrangements and sleep training may be different than mine were, but I can assure you that you will get more sleep and longer stretches of it than you do now.
2) YOU SHOULD NAP
Daytime naps are truly your saviors right now. If you can learn to close your eyes during the day and fall asleep while your baby naps, even for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, it can really make all the difference and help you get through the rest of the day. This is a tough one for many people. I often hear women say, “I just can’t fall asleep during the day,” or “but I have so much to do. Her nap is my only time for myself”. I hear you on this one, and I have had to pick and choose when to nap, when to be productive, and when to do something for myself. But please remember that napping is often the right thing to do for yourself and is often the most productive thing you can do for your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
3) DARKNESS AT NIGHT
Try your best to keep the lights off or as dim as possible throughout the night and during night feedings. Remember to turn off as many electrical devices in your room as possible or cover lights from radios, TV’s, computers, printers, and alarm clocks. Too much activity during nighttime feedings can confuse both your body and your baby’s body and make it more difficult for your baby to learn when is night and when is day. If you read my earlier article in which I mention elimination communication, you’ll know that I have experience in using too much light and causing my first baby much confusion as to the difference between day and night. Once I stopped getting up with her and turning the light on to feed her she slept much better.
As hard as it is when we are exhausted, PLEASE take good care of your body. Nourish yourself through healthy foods. The more exhausted and under-resourced you feel the more you need to give you body healthy nutrients and minerals. The best way to do this is to stock your cupboards and fridge with EASY and fast foods that are healthy. Have fresh bananas and almonds that you can grab when your blood sugar is low. Focus on protein to sustain you throughout the day. You can hard-boil some eggs and have them ready to eat from the fridge. You can buy baby carrots and sugar snap peas for easy to eat veggies. Sometimes I’m just too tired to make a salad. So I grab a whole red pepper or a whole cucumber and just munch on them without cutting. I also like canned salmon and canned sardines. I feel like sardines are really healthy because of their omega 3 content and vitamin D among other essential vitamins and minerals. I always keep some cans in the cupboard. My favorite sardines are the kinds in tomato sauce. Canned salmon is also high in omega 3 and I mix it with mayonnaise. It’s great on crackers or bread, with avocado, veggie sticks, or all by itself. I don’t eat much dairy, but cheese slices, cottage cheese and yogurt are also easy and healthy protein snacks you can eat. So find the foods you like that are healthy, quick, and easy. Have them stocked and easily accessible so you can eat them instead of sugary, salty, oily junk food. Eating better during the day will also help your body rest better when you are sleeping.
Make sure to get the support you need. On extra tired days give a friend, a family member, or your partner a call and say, “Hey, I’m really feeling overwhelmed by my exhaustion today, can you please…..?” Depending on who you ask for help you can fill in the blank appropriately. Some examples are: buying groceries, picking up take-out, making you dinner, watching your baby while you nap or shower, helping you clean your house, taking your baby for a walk, or hanging out with you. You will be surprised by how happy people are to help when they are asked directly and know exactly what to do.
After my son was born my friend called just to check in. When she asked me how I was doing I broke into tears and said that I was feeling overwhelmed and I went on to list all the things that felt impossible to me. She showed up minutes later to pick up all my dirty laundry. She took it home, folded it and brought it back to my house! I couldn’t believe it! In this case I didn’t ask her for this directly, although I did list is as one of the overwhelming tasks at hand, but it goes to show you how happy people are to help.
6) EASY ON YOURSELF
Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. It is not uncommon to be an emotional wreck when you are sleep deprived, not to mention your hormones are all over the place. Try to stay soft internally and allow the waves to wash over you, weather they feel like despair, anger, fear, or sadness. Focus on loving yourself through it all, and loving your baby as much as you can.
I bless you to get more sleep and to have a baby who learns quickly that a mommy who sleeps enough is a better mommy for him/her. I bless you to find ways to use all of the above tools to the best of your ability and to feel their blessings showering over you until this time passes and you look back at it wistfully.
Much love, Rachel Sacks
P.S. Do you wish to use this article on your website, blog, or newsletter? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Rachel Sacks is the author of “Are You Too Exhausted To function?” You can download her special report on how to “Achieve a Strong Postpartum Core in Just 15 Minutes a Day” by going to www.newmotherwellness.com