Coping With Sleep Deprivation

As a parent, 9 times out of 10, the first question you get asked is, “So, how is he/she sleeping” – or something to that sentiment.

And often, when you honestly shrug and say you aren’t sleeping well, or admit that your baby is still nursing all night long, there is an awkward pause, silence, change in topic… sometimes you get some advice to follow a particular book or sleep training plan.

My advice is different.  And it boils down to this: Your life looks different right now.  Don’t fight it; be flexible.

Yes, I know, many of you really did follow such-and-such a book or plan, and it worked for you, and baby sleeps through the night and life is good.  But there are more parents out there that also tried that book or plan, or five books and three plans, and it didn’t work, for whatever reason… this is for you.  After all the books, plans, tears and anxiety – what worked for me and countless other moms, is a shift in expectations.

I started with Dr. Sears' “The Baby Sleep Book”, and because things were not “solved”, I read every other book written on babies and sleep.  Then after I sent some desperate texts to some trusted mom friends who then actually came over to my home to level with me, I realized something.  My baby not sleeping through the night was not the problem – the real “problem” was that my life didn’t look how I had pictured it, and that scared me.  I was acting out of fear instead of tuning into my instincts and to what my baby was telling me.  I re-read “The Baby Sleep Book” and this time, I got it.

Once you come to that conclusion, I promise things will get easier.  I have an 8 month old baby who still nurses all night and I wake up every morning feeling rested.  OK, I admit I still go running for the coffee maker, but I wake up happy and able to pursue my passions and enjoy my family.

10 Tips for Coping with Sleep Deprivation:

  1. Dr. Sears says that you should teach your a child “healthy attitude about sleep”.  When you’re NOT teaching your child a healthy attitude about sleep is when your blood pressure rises when baby wakes up early from a nap, and you are angry at the little one.  When you are stressing out about every nap and bed-time, your baby can sense your stress.
  2. Be Present.  Remember your baby is only human and they are not waking up early or not sleeping to spite you.  The day/week/year/your life will not be ruined by a cranky baby, even though it might feel like that now.  If today was the end of the world and you had just one day, how would you spend it with your baby?  Believe it or not, the hardest times will be looked back upon with warm nostalgia.
  3. Just roll with it.  If you have the option to cancel or change plans because you didn’t sleep much the night before, do it.  Take a breathe and ask yourself, “What can I change to make today a better day”.  It’s true what they say, “sleep when baby sleeps”, enjoy a nap or three with your baby, and just get through the day.  Go to bed early.
  4. Relax.  Sometimes you can’t sleep when baby sleeps, because you are too wound up (or caffeinated) to do so.  So do something else that relaxes you – talk to a friend on the phone, watch a TV show, knit, or read.  When bedtime comes, I don’t suggest logging all your wake-up calls (unless you are doing so because you suspect a real issue you want to discuss with your doctor).  Looking at the clock and waking up fully to document every feeding or diaper change will only make you feel less rested and more out of control.
  5. Unplug.  Stay away from your computer or cellphone as much as possible.  Sometimes it is nice to take a break and check your Facebook, but if you are checking your phone every 20 minutes for example, it’s time to unplug.

  1. Have an Alfred E. Neuman attitude. “What, Me Worry?”  Don’t act out of fear, this time in your baby’s life is so fleeting.  Your child will not be permanently damaged because you took a nap with him, or let him sleep in the stroller.
  2. Be proud.  There is no shame in having a wakeful baby, in fact there is a lot of literature around that states that babies are MEANT to wake up through the night as a survival instinct.  So don’t feel badly when you are asked how baby is sleeping.  Just smile and say, “Like a baby!”
  3. Find out where you and baby sleep best.  Another tip straight from Dr Sears’ “The Baby Sleep Book”.  This could be an arrangement that changes day to day, week to week, month to month.  You could sleep best with baby beside you in bed, but as baby becomes more active, a side-car arrangement might work well.  Again, it is important not to be disappointed if what you pictured does not end up working.
  4. Exercise.  You might be thinking, “Are you crazy!  How can I exercise when I am getting no sleep?!”.  However being active has many wonderful benefits, including improved quality of sleep.   You are also more readily able to relax.  Commit to doing one thing a day – a walk to the park could be all you are up for.  But as your body permits, take a fitness class or go for a jog.  I love going to “Belly Bootcamp”, and recommend you try a class!  Such a great way to do something for yourself while spending quality time with your baby.  Remember to get clearance from your doctor before starting any fitness program.
  5. Eat Pure.  Balanced nutrition is the best preventative medicine there is, and will make a world of difference in your ability to handle the stress of motherhood and interrupted sleep.  When you are getting ample nutrients from clean eating, and enough fruits/veggies, protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats, what you are doing is loving yourself and your family by equipping yourself to best handle what comes your way.  Dr. Sears says we should take an Omega 3 supplement daily if we can’t get 2 servings of fish (preferably wild salmon or tuna) per week.  Other than that, he says a whole foods supplement like Juice Plus+ really helps bridge the gap between what we are able to eat, and what we do eat each day.  I can tell you from personal experience that being happy to greet my baby after being woken up every 45 minutes during teething, is way easier because I nourish my body as I deserve.

These tips are not always easy to put into practice, but I do hope it helps you to gain some perspective and balance and joy.  Think back to when you were young and staying up all night long to talk to the love of your life, and you went to work on no sleep.  This is just another crazy time in your life, with the new love(s) of your life!

Originally published by Brandie Hadfield at With Love From Mom: www.withlovefrommom.ca. Check out Brandie's wellness coaching and workshops for sensible, accessible nutrition and wellness advice for mommies, daddies and little people.