If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have children. If you do, you experienced sleep deprivation. Maybe you’re going through it now. Sleep deprivation makes us do funny things, like putting stuff in the freezer that should go in the fridge and vice versa. But it can also be dangerous, and it’s not a joke (think nodding off behind the wheel).
I’m on my second ride of the sleep deprivation tilt-a-whirl, and it’s not any easier than the first time (other than having a bit of an idea what to expect). Now that Baby Dos is four months old, he’s beginning to take naps at more consistent times and starting to sleep longer stretches at night. While sleep is still unpredictable and at a premium (especially with a toddler who sometimes wakes in the middle of the night), I sleep more now than I did two months ago. “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” one of the most common phrases new moms hear, can be good advice, but it’s not always feasible or realistic, and it’s nearly impossible with multiple kids. Here are six strategies I employ to survive sleep deprivation that don’t include sleep when the baby sleeps.
Pray. Not only has blogger Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom saved me money, she’s saved my sanity and helped me to be a better mom and homemaker with her informative and encouraging posts. In one of her Q&A Tuesday posts, How can I be organized when I have a nursing baby and toddler, she writes about how she gave up the expectation of a good night’s sleep and prayed for grace and for God to multiply the sleep she did get. She says, “This was hugely helpful to me to realize that God knows how much sleep I need, He’s not confined by a clock and I can trust Him to provide what I need.” Amen! Prayer might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to sleep deprivation survival strategies, but give it a try. Nothing is too small or silly to take to God, including your sleep needs.
Nap when you can. Make sleep a priority in your life and take it however you can get it. Go to bed earlier. Nap when you can. The baby or kids don’t have to be sleeping if Dad or another caregiver can spend time with the little ones while you sleep. If you can’t sleep, just lay down, be still, and rest. I’ve been bleary-eyed delirious from sleep deprivation and even laying down for five minutes makes a huge difference until I can get some deep slumber. Ten to 20 minutes is even better.
Use a bedside bassinet and the side-lying position if you breastfeed. With both my babies, the bedside bassinet and learning to feed in the side-lying position saved my sleep. You can get some much-needed rest while breastfeeding in the side-lying position, even if you don’t actually sleep. Once the baby is a bit older and doesn’t need an overnight diaper change, not having to get out of bed to nurse is a tremendous restful boost.
Make arrangements so you can get more sleep. Whatever this looks like for you, whether you take turns with your husband throughout the night or alternate nights, arrange some sort of sleep schedule. For us, what works best is for Mark to take one or both kids in the morning when he can so I can get another hour or two of sleep.
Scale back to essentials and say no, a lot. You’re not going to have much energy or time to devote to much else besides babies and basics for awhile, and that’s ok. Say no, often, to requests for your time and energy. People will understand you’re getting only a few hours of broken sleep a night and can’t commit.
Remember, this is a short, special season, and it will pass. Enjoy it while it lasts. I know it’s cliche and everyone says that, but that’s because it’s true. It may not feel like it when you’re in the trenches at 3 am changing poopy diapers, but soon you will look back and the baby phase will be behind you, along with all the cuddles and coos babies bestow upon us to make all those lost hours of sleep totally worth it.
How do you cope with broken sleep? What advice would you give to new parents to survive the sleep deprivation that is one of the hallmarks of the newborn phase?