It is usually the number one question people ask a parent who has just had a baby.
“How is the baby sleeping?”
“Is he a good sleeper?”
“Is he sleeping through the night?”
In the beginning, you go into parenthood expecting the sleep deprivation. You know a newborn baby WILL wake up every 2-3 hours. You somewhat prepare yourself for this interruption in the first few weeks home with your new baby. If you are lucky, you are staying home with your little one or you are on maternity leave, so you really can make up for your sleep deprivation with short naps throughout the day. During the first few weeks, the days and nights all run together anyway.
And then something magical happens. Your baby matures and he learns to sleep longer stretches at night. Soon, for our family it happened around 8 weeks, your baby may actually sleep through the night, meaning 5-6 hours at a time. You are coming out of the newborn fog, and life is beginning to feel somewhat normal again.
But…then your 6 month old baby gets the flu….or he is teething…or you go on vacation and that messes the schedule up…or you hire a babysitter for one night and the nighttime schedule gets rocked. You decide to feed him in the middle of the night for whatever reason, something you haven’t needed to do in weeks.
And…. BAM. Hello sleep deprivation once again.
But this time, you have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and don’t want to go back. You are used to your new normal life with baby and the beauty of sleep. And you may be back to your normal routine of things such as returning to work.
So, how do you deal with sleep deprivation when it hits you AGAIN, after the usual newborn phase of sleepless nights is over, and you are trying to function in the real world again?
I am no expert in this area, but I have found a few tricks to help me through the days and weeks when the sleep deprivation has hit our house for a second time.
(May the moment not be lost on the fact that I am writing this post while, in fact, sleep deprived).
When I wake up from interrupted sleep, I have to take a shower to wake me up. I don’t drink coffee (gasp…I know), so the only way to get my head to start to think straight at the beginning of the day is with a shower.
2. Lower Your Expectations
I know when I wake up from a night where I have been up 2-3 times, I sometimes wonder how I will make it through my day. My job requires me to be on my game at 7:30 am sharp, every day because there are 31 teenagers waiting for me to excite them about chemical equations.
How do I overcome that pressure? I lower my expectations and tell myself that my day doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to go above and beyond. I can do the bare minimum, I will survive. I don’t have to talk to every person who crosses my path. I don’t have to be chipper and perky and personable. I don’t have to say yes to this or that. I just have to do the basics and essentials, but I don’t always have to do them with a smile.
3. Try to Keep Your Routine
One morning I was driving to work, wondering how I would remember how to do my job that day. I had to keep blinking to make sure my body was ready for the day ahead. Luckily, I had driven my route to work so many times, that my body automatically knew when and where to turn.
When I got to work, my daily routine allowed me to go on auto pilot and go through the motions without having to think too far off the path. I didn’t add any new commitments to my day. I didn’t decide this was the day to start a new fitness routine. I didn’t decide this was the day to add a new lunch schedule to my day. I just stuck with the tried and true plan because my brain couldn’t handle deviations.
4. Ask For Help
If you are fortunate to have people around to help you, call them in. My husband and I have been taking turns waking up with the baby while he is going through these multiple wake up episodes. We sometimes take different nights or we take the 1st or 2nd shift of the same night. It makes the task seem slightly less terrible because you are sharing it, and you can commiserate together in the morning. I also have family in town who can come over and watch my kids while I steal a 30-minute nap. If you have a village, now is the time to use them. Even a 30-minute afternoon nap seems to solve a lot of the headache of sleep deprivation.
5. Be Honest with Others
If someone asks me how I am doing, I usually say, “I’m good.” However, I found on one particularly hard night, sleep and the lack of sleep, was the only thing on my mind. No one really wants to hear you complain when they ask you how you are doing, but when someone asked me on this particular day, I said, “The baby had the flu 2 weeks ago. His sleep schedule is way off now because of it. His sleep has regressed. I was up 2-3 times last night. I am tired.”
Even though this sounds like you are being a Debby Downer, I found that by being honest, it took a lot of pressure off me to be or appear put together because clearly I was not. It let people understand that if I slurred my words or couldn’t answer a simple question, it was due to a valid reason. I didn’t have to work double duty, trying to appear normal while battling the haziness and fogginess in my brain.
6. Recognize and Be Gentle on Yourself
I found that on one particularly hard week, I was snapping at my older children and husband in the evening. I was being overly critical and almost trying to find faults to their efforts in everything they did. I then felt bad for having such a rough night with them. Bring on the major mom guilt of “I am a bad mom” for getting mad at them and for them getting mad back at me.
But then when I looked back on it, I began to put two and two together and realized that I was short nerved due to my lack of sleep. I was then able to forgive myself for being a “bad” mom and realized that I was not a “bad” mom. I was just having a few bad moments but it didn’t mean that I would forever be a mom who tried to criticize and nitpick her family. Once I realized where this short circuit was coming from, it allowed me to be more forgiving on myself.
I am not perfect in my search for how to deal with sleep deprivation. These are just a few things I try to do daily when I find myself in round 2 or 3 or 4 of sleep deprivation.
Here’s to hoping your hours of sleep are long and your REM is plentiful.