Some babies are great sleepers (so I have heard) while others are more keen on a 20-minute nap every 3 or 4 hours. Either way at some point most parents will endure a period where they get less sleep than is needed to function well.
Perhaps the hardest thing about sleep deprivation is that it can be hard to enjoy your baby and even harder to cope with the challenges. Some parents don’t seem phased by lack of sleep, but for most people ongoing sleep deprivation turns us into a zoned-out zombie version of ourselves.
Here are a few tips to help you stay sane when a good nights sleep is a distant memory.
Be kind to yourself: It varies from person to person but generally less than 6 hours or a frequently interrupted night means you won’t be on top of your game. When you are sleep deprived you may experience clumsiness, forgetfulness, poor judgement, have a lowered immune system, may be more emotional and prone to anxiety or depression. Add in overseeing a demanding little person and you may find yourself wandering the aisles of the supermarket with your top on backwards, putting things into someone else’s trolley and losing your car in the car park. When you are used to being a functional capable adult it can be frustrating and worrying but try to take lack of sleep into account before booking yourself in for a psychological assessment.
Cat Nap: Envious of the cat? Join him! If you are sleep deprived a short nap can give you enough of a boost to get you through the rest of the day feeling more alert and refreshed. It may be hard to allow yourself to rest because when baby is sleeping you can finally get the dishes done, the washing folded or catch up on social media. But a power nap of just 20 minutes can be enough to increase alertness and coordination and give your brain the rest it needs to get through the rest of the day.
Avoid extra caffeine and energy drinks: It may be tempting to turn to sugary energy drinks or a short black every hour to get through the haze but this will just make you feel worse in the long run. What goes up must come down and if you are already tired you will hit the down harder. Plus a lot of caffeine or energy drinks can also increase anxiety and stop you from sleeping properly when baby does finally decide to crash.
Can’t Nap? If you are too hyped up from all the coffee or are a person who just can’t sleep during the day try a relaxing Meditation session. Mediation is simply the practice of quietening the mind, like resting a tired body after a physical workout mediation helps rest the mind. Meditation has been shown to balance, repair and heal the mind in the same way sleep does, it also boosts melatonin helping you to sleep better when you do sleep. If you have always thought of meditation as something for hippies – think again, it is now accepted as an effective tool for managing stress. There are some great apps available to guide you through simple meditation techniques.
Take off the pressure off: Make life easier in any way you can, cook quick easy meals, use the dryer, get the shopping delivered – anything to make things simpler and get through the tough times. Don’t be afraid to say no to extra commitments, and if you are going through a particularly tough sleep phase with your baby it is OK to cancel plans. If you force yourself to do things when you are super tired you probably won’t be much fun and if there is alcohol involved you may go overboard as tiredness makes it harder to know when you have enough. That said it is still important to take time out without baby to re group and relax, a walk on the beach, coffee with a friend or even a solo shopping trip can be refreshing.
Don’t crunch the numbers: Try to avoid tallying up the hours of sleep you have had, it will just make you stress more about the lack of the sleep and lead to thoughts like “I’ve only had 4 hours of sleep, how will I cope today?”. These thoughts lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and create more anxiety.
Getting enough sleep but still super tired? Childbirth, Breast feeding, and parenting in general can be tiring but if you are experiencing on going exhaustion you should seek a professional medical opinion to rule out an underlying condition such as low iron or depression.
Mostly its important to realise it won’t last forever. While it is awful when you are in the midst of it children’s sleep issues do eventually fade. After all it’s very unlikely that your 15-year-old will still be getting into bed with you or crying for a feed every 2 hours.