Living With Sleep Deprivation
Undoubtedly sleep deprivation is one of the more difficult aspects of parenthood – particularly early parenthood. Sleep deprivation can cause a range of problems for parents, including poor concentration, clumsiness, forgetfulness, irritably, anxiety and depression. If you feel like you aren’t coping speak to your doctor or children’s health nurse.
Below are some general tips on how to keep on going. I’ve have two “bad sleepers” my eldest woke every couple of hours until he was 3 year old and still wakes at night a few times a week, my daughter who is 17 months still wakes every couple of hours. They’ve both been to “sleep school” with the children’s health nurses and I’ve read and tried many books on infant and toddler sleep – I’ve come to accept that my children just don’t sleep well.
You might notice many of these tips are contradictory – you just need to pick out what’s going to work for you.
- Coffee. That’s all folks! Caffeine! That’s my big tip – joking – but I do drink a lot of coffee. I go to bed at night thinking about coffee. Coffee for me is an emotional crutch, not just a caffeine hit. When my daughter was first born I bought decaffeinated coffee for drinking during long night feeds, because the whole ritual of making a cup of coffee and drinking it would actually make me feel more alert – without then keeping me awake after she’d gone back on sleep. Another tip with coffee, is at home to use a travel mug and when out get a takeaway cup, because it’s easier to handle a coffee cup with a small spout while juggling a baby or toddler.
- Open the windows and blinds. Let light and fresh air in as much as you can.
- Get out! Get out of the house. Obviously if you’re totally shattered and baby is going to have a day sleep – and you can sleep or at least rest when the baby sleeps – stay home and take that rest. But if you can go for a walk, get some fresh air, meet some friends at the park or for a coffee (see above). Even if all you can manage is walking to the end of the driveway and back.
- Try to eat healthy. The operative word being “Try”. It’s totally understandable just grabbing for whatever there is that you don’t need to prepare or stocking up on sugary treats. Sugar will help pick you up initially but the sugar crash while sleep deprived can be pretty shattering. Aim for fresh fruits, vegetables and healthier food options for more sustainable energy. Also try to eat regularly throughout the day – organise easy healthy snacks so you don’t have to think too much about food preparation.
- Drink PLENTY of water. This is the fall back suggestion to pretty much all things that might effect you physically, but staying hydrated can be really helpful with maintaining your overall health and well being.
- Phone a friend. If you’re feeling down, isolated, overwhelmed, or even just to help stay awake, it can be helpful to talk to a friend, or invite someone over to chat. If you’re not “up to” talking out loud or face to face, text, or social media are good way to reach out for connection without requiring too much concentration.
- Be honest. With yourself about how you’re feeling. If you’re totally exhausted and overwhelmed, try taking some things off your to-do list, let things slide. It’s totally okay to not be an unstoppable machine all the time.
- Ask for help. Tell your partner, family, or close friends what you need to be supported. Do you need a sleep in, or someone to hold the baby so you can shower. There’s no shame in asking.
- Outsource help. If you can, hire a baby sitter for a few hours or a mothers help, cleaner, gardener to help you, even just as a once off. Otherwise look at your options with regards to childcare, or occasional care to give you a bit of time to breath (and possibly sleep).
- Keep occupied. Not to be confused with “keeping busy”, busy-ness when extremely tired turns to chaos pretty quickly, but keeping your mind and body occupied, either by going out, or making plans, or reading a book or watching a movie. I find knitting really relaxing because it’s just enough activity and focus that I won’t fall asleep but it’s not physically or mentally draining.
- Clear your mind. Mediation, play relaxing music, turn off the TV if it’s just on as “background noise”, have a bath or shower, get a massage. Whatever is going to help relax you.
- Get pumping! Put on loud, energetic music, select songs that might have an emotional anchor or memory for you, like songs you may have danced to on a night out or sung into your hairbrush growing up and DANCE and SING! This is great if you have toddlers and small children because they’ll think it’s for their benefit. Or join a gym – one with crèche facilities if you have babies or young children.
- Go the 50s. These suggestions are ONLY if they make YOU feel better – some days these things help me – dress up, put on make up, do your hair, clean the house, make beds, clean out cupboards, de-clutter your home. Sometimes these activities make me feel more in control and gain a sense of satisfaction for accomplishing something.
- Reduce your expectations. Firstly of yourself, cut yourself some slack if you’ve been having a difficult time with sleep, if you can and need to even reduce your work commitments, social commitments, whatever it may be, try to take some things off your plate. Also, it may be helpful to reduce your expectations of your baby or child, and accept that sleep may not get better for a long while, in my own experience obsessing about sleep is exhausting and setting aside the expectation that “tonight might be the night” that my baby or toddler sleeps through, helped me a lot
- Room/bed-sharing. This might not work for everyone, but cosleeping can help improve the amount and quality of sleep you get each night. If you’re planning on sleeping with an infant in your bed please read Sids and Kids Information Statement on Sleeping with a baby.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. (I’m mostly joking, I can’t do this and I know many parents simply can’t sleep when the baby sleeps. But if you can – go for it!)
What do you do to get through after a rough night, or survive long-term sleep deprivation? & What advice would you give other parents?