Nothing prepared me for the sleep deprivation of motherhood.
People told me I’d be up at night with the baby, but somehow the reality was so much worse than I imagined.
I knew I’d be tired. I didn’t know the extent.
But what could really prepare anyone for the type of debilitating exhaustion that accompanies waking every hour or two through the night for weeks on end?
Babies can take us to new depths of exhaustion. Newborns are notorious for their nocturnal schedules keeping mom and dad up all hours and sleeping all day. Hopefully, once that phase has passed, your baby will sleep…
For some lucky, or perhaps super disciplined, parents maybe it works that way. For the rest of us, this newborn phase is followed by regressions, teething, leaps, and transitions meaning weeks and months and *gasp* possibly even years of night wakings.
Like most moms, I hoped that my baby would be a “good sleeper” and also like most moms, my baby was not. My first didn’t sleep through the night until he was 13 months.
I wasn’t too worried about the sleep deprivation at first as I kept hoping he’d start sleeping through the night. It wasn’t until I returned to work that I really had to face the reality that this was my new normal for the foreseeable future. I had to figure out how to cope with the exhaustion.
Sleep deprivation is no joke. There are real consequences for our physical, mental, and emotional well being. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your mood, coordination, concentration, memory, and immune system, making us grumpy, clumsy, unproductive, forgetful, and sick. The joys of motherhood, right?
So how is a mom supposed to deal with her day when she doesn’t sleep at night?
Here’s 4 tips to get a little bit more sleep…
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.
The pediatrician suggested dream feeds when I told her my six month old still wasn’t sleeping through the night.
The idea is that you feed baby (without fully waking them) right before you go to sleep.
I have to admit that I was skeptical, and scared to even attempt this. I didn’t want to risk waking a sleeping baby right when I wanted to go to bed.
When I finally worked up the courage to try it was a total life saver. I only wish I had known about this earlier.
Usually a baby’s first stretch of sleep will be their longest. Since we put our son to bed early in the evening, I was awake during most of his long stretch of sleep. Usually he would wake up an hour or 2 after I went to bed which completely sucked.
When I started doing the dream feed right before I went to bed, it pushed his night waking back. It also dropped the number of times I was woken up from 2 to 1. I know that doesn’t sound that great, but seriously, that was amazing.
It meant that I could get up to a 3 or sometimes even 4 hour stretch of sleep! This was a game changer!
I know it can sound tricky, but give it a try. You want to rouse them just enough to feed, but not fully wake up.
You can do it by bottle or breastfeeding. Keep the room dark and don’t change their diaper unless you absolutely must. If your partner goes to bed later than you do, have them do the dream feed to give you even more solid sleep time.
Yeah, I know all moms have heard the advice – sleep when baby sleeps.
I also know, like all moms, that is WAY easier said than done. If you work or have other kids, this is pretty much impossible. Naps are also your time to do all the things. I get it.
Don’t write off the idea of naps altogether. You have to get creative and prioritize sleep.
I have been so tired that I could literally fall asleep anywhere. Some days it took all of my energy just to stay awake. If you’re at the point of struggling to keep your eyes open, a quick power nap can really help take the edge off.
Can you snooze in your car on the your lunch break? What about dozing while you pump? If you’re anything like me, you may find that you do this unintentionally anyway as sitting for any extended period of time may lead to inadvertent sleep. Set an alarm.
If by some miracle, you happen to realize all of your kids are napping at the same time, do yourself a huge favor and go to sleep. Trust me – the dishes, vacuuming, and all other chores will wait.
Maybe you can catch a cat nap when your partner gets home from work. When inevitable visitors want to come snuggle your baby, take that opportunity to rest.
I know there are a million other things that need to get done, but this is the time to let them slide. This was definitely difficult for me to accept until I hit a sleeplessness tipping point. Then I stopped caring that house was mess. While you’re dealing with sleepless nights, make the most of any time you can sleep during the day.
Go to Bed Earlier
I’m a night owl so this was also a hard one for me.
After bedtime, is MY time. How could I squander that precious me time by sleeping?
I also developed the bad habit of checking the clock and thinking “well my baby will wake up in a hour anyway, so why bother going to sleep now.” Terrible idea! Using this logic, I might as well never sleep at all.
Make sleep your priority.
Do whatever you absolutely must (get ready for tomorrow/laundry/whatever truly needs to be done) then go to bed. An extra hour of sleep will feel better than another hour of Netflix.
I hate asking for help, so I know this can be difficult.
I have to admit I was almost always the one to get up at night. On particularly bad nights though like when the baby was sick, we’d split the night in half so each of us got some sleep.
Parenting doesn’t end at bedtime, so get Dad to take over a few night wakings.
One reason I was always getting up was because of breastfeeding. If Dad gives a bottle, you may still need to wake up to pump to maintain supply. That said, lack of sleep can also hurt your supply too, so you have to weigh that possible trade off.
Your partner isn’t your only option. Ask Grandma, your in-laws, or your best friend for some night help. You might be surprised who is willing to stay up with your baby, if you ask. Even just one full night of sleep would be incredible for you and is a relatively small sacrifice for them.
No one you can ask? Well, night nannies are a real thing. Be prepared to pay the same rates you would for daytime care.
OK, so maybe those ideas don’t work for you. Or maybe they do, but its still not enough sleep.
If your phase of sleeplessness lasts a while, those tips may not be enough. I hear you, mama.
We’ve got to be able to function during the day even if we didn’t get much sleep.
Aside from mainlining coffee, here are my best tips to cope with sleep deprivation…
Get Dressed and Out
After a rough night, or really even just an average baby night, I’d much prefer to hang out on the couch in the PJs all day. My son likes this too, so really why bother with clothes?
While these lazy days are kinda awesome, you will absolutely feel tired all day.
When we get dressed and get out of the house, we actually feel better, more alert, and more awake.
Get ready in the morning by doing whatever makes you feel your best, whether it’s getting a shower or doing your hair and make-up. Though it can be a challenge with little ones, doing the things that make you feel human and good about yourself will jump start your day.
When you’re feeling extra sleepy, barely keeping your eyes open, get your blood flowing.
If you’re up to it, exercise can help combat fatigue. I know that getting a good workout can be super difficult with your kids. Luckily, even just a little activity can get your out of your sleepiness funk.
Take a walk, go to the park, or just stroll around Target if the weather is bad (or even if it’s not).
Watch What You Eat
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain. So much for losing that baby weight…
Not getting enough sleep stresses your body, making you feel more hungry and even slowing your metabolism. You are likely to eat more calories, probably whatever is quick and easy (and often unhealthy).
Bottom line: you want to eat more junk when you’re tired.
You can’t really control how sleep deprivation will affect your hormones, but you can try to make healthy choices. Fight the urge for chips and chocolate.
Simplify your life
Sleep deprivation pretty much destroys your memory.
All those things you used to remember, you won’t now. Don’t trust your memory.
Moms have so many things to remember, or rather so many things that can be forgotten. Make your life easier, give yourself less to forget.
Go over your to-do list and prioritize. Is there anything that is not absolutely necessary? Go ahead and just cross that right off.
I mean it. Say no.
Now that you should have a list of just the important stuff. It’s probably still ridiculously long. Cut it more. How you ask?
Delegate or automate.
Just because it needs to get done doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the one to do it.
Can dad wash the pump parts in the evening? Put in the load of laundry? Pick up dinner on the way home?
Can you set those bills to autopay?
Can you hire a maid? Get a Roomba?
Can you order groceries for pick up or, better yet, delivery?
Did you know you can have your diapers delivered to your door every month? If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can subscribe & save. Click here to try it for free.
Once you have gotten rid of all of the unnecessary things and handed off all tasks that someone or something else can handle, unfortunately most moms probably still have a pretty long to-do list that must be completed so…
Just like simplifying, the whole point is to give yourself less to possibly forget.
I used to joke with my husband about how terrible his memory was and it has come back to bite me in the butt big time because now I remember nothing.
Have you ever walked into a grocery store to pick up one thing only to completely forget what the ONE thing was in the first place? No? Just me?
If I don’t write it down it doesn’t exist.
First, figure out what will help your memory the most: a planner, lists, sticky notes all over the place… Personally, I prefer a combination of these as well as reminders on my phone.
For instance, my husband and I share google calendars so we both know about event and appointments.
I keep lists for everything and I write sticky notes for anything I think I might forget. I place them where I can’t miss them, like the bathroom mirror or on my phone screen. Often when I’m falling asleep I think of all of the things I’m worried I’ll forget, so I keep a list on the bedside table so I can jot it all down.
Second, stick to a routine. You don’t have to actively remember things that are just part of your daily routine. This is probably the only reason, I manage to brush my teeth and wear deodorant… most days.
An evening routine when I got everything ready for the next day helped me survive. Even with a morning routine too, it was still hard to get out the door and anything that wasn’t prepared the night before was usually forgotten.
Finally, build in redundancy. What types of things might be forgotten or lost? Get spares.
After leaving my pump parts at home a couple times, I bought extras to leave at work. I kept a pack of diapers and extra baby clothes in my car in case I forgot to refill the diaper bag. I kept extra milk in the freezer at daycare.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, sometimes things still slip through the cracks, so…
Be Kind to Yourself
Getting by on little sleep just plain sucks. This is hard. Cut yourself some slack.
In all likelihood you will mess up along the way. Something will get forgotten or lost or broken. The house will be a mess. You will lose your temper or your composure. You’re only human and you’re tired… so so so incredibly tired.
Don’t beat yourself up. Let it go.
You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your kids. So take some time to yourself whether it’s to sleep or workout or do something that makes you a happier mom.
Remember that this will pass. Hopefully, your sleepless phase is short.
One day this will all be a very hazy memory. Perhaps one that I’d like to forget.
If sleepless nights aren’t really your thing, consider sleep training.