How to Cope as a Sleep Deprived Parent
I’ve just had 3 nights of unbroken sleep so forgive me if you can detect a jaunty spring in my voice. It’s a cause for celebration because over the last 18 months, a full nights sleep has teased and flirted with me – but has rarely asked me out. I’m hoping that we’ll see each other again – hey, I’d go so far as to say I’d love this to be a long-term thing.
When you become a parent you find yourself Googling all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The one topic that has always been top of my search favourites is “sleep”. There was abundant advice about ‘how much should a 4-month old sleep’ and ‘how to get my baby to sleep through the night’ (a half mashed banana before bed is the current hot tip apparently).
How to cope as a sleep-deprived parent – especially one that was going back to work.
I have two little boys. My eldest boy was a great sleeper – until his little brother was born. Between the two of them, on a good night, we’d be up 3 times a night, on a bad night it could be around six times a night.
When you’re on maternity (or paternity) leave, you can usually get through the day. You feel tired, but it’s okay. You can sleep when they sleep (sometimes). You can have a day in your PJs. When it’s time to go back to work that’s not an option. You’ve got decisions to make, stuff to do. A boss or clients to impress. If you’re working shorter hours, or need to leave on time, you may find that every second of your day counts. Plus you’ll no doubt want to show that you’re on top of your game for fear of being put on the ‘Mammy-track’
Latest research has shown that routinely getting by on less than 5 hours sleep has the same effect on your performance as if you’re drunk.
Then there’s a whole host of depressing effects of lack of sleep. We really don’t need to be reminded that not getting enough sleep makes you age faster, or that it can have a negative impact on your sex life, memory and even your ability to lose weight. So let’s not go there.
Whilst I’ve become better at coping with less sleep, I’m definitely a better person when I have a good few hours under my belt. Rather than soldiering on, I made it my mission to think more strategically about what I could do to cope with the lack of sleep. I work for myself and clients expect me to be on top form.
After all – that’s what they’re paying me for. So following some research (some scientific, some done in my own sleep laboratory), here’s some things that I found work:
Quick Fix Solutions
- Go to be earlier. Sounds obvious, but how often do you mean to have an early night then suddenly you find its 11pm. If you know your little ones wake up early – count back 7 or 8 hours and do the maths. An early night is the new going out.
- Have a pre-bed routine that signals to your mind and body that it’s time to switch off, have a bath, lay out your clothes for the next day or read a few pages of a book to help you unwind.
- Avoid using your tablet or phone immediately before going to bed. Research has found that the bright light emitted from these devises can interfere with melatonin – the hormone that helps control our sleep cycles. If you’re using it to read with then dim the brightness on it to avoid the light disturbing your sleep.
- Set up camp in the spare room. Every now and then my husband or I sleep in the spare room. We shut the door, put the ear plugs in and have a full night’s sleep. Even if you don’t have a spare room you could make up a bed downstairs or sleep at a friend’s house if the going gets really tough.
- Fuel your body. When we’re tired, it’s often crap that we want to eat. Whilst an extra-shot cappuccino and a chocolate croissant might be just the ticket, it’s going to make you feel worse later on. Try eating energy-rich foods like nuts, porridge, oatcakes, bananas and drinking lots of water. Even if it’s a pint of water to wash your cake down with.
- Listen to music. Pick a favourite track that will lift your spirits and help you forget how tired you are.
- Get out in the fresh air. A quick walk around the block will make you feel more awake.
- Spritz yourself with your favourite scent. Aroma-therapists suggest that smelling rosemary, eucalyptus, peppermint or coffee can also make you feel more awake.
- Power nap. There is no shame in having a snooze on the Dart. Just don’t miss your stop. Or drool (never attractive).
- Try to avoid the ‘who is tiredest’ competition. Snapping at your partner isn’t going to make either of you feel better.
Longer Term Tips
- Try and get to the root cause of your baby or toddler waking up. Have you created a habit of letting them fall asleep on you or rocking them to sleep? Are they cold during the night? Are they hungry? Have you let them get into bed with you and now it’s become a habit?
- When you’re so exhausted it can be easy to keep going for the quick fix, ‘I’ll just do it tonight… one last time’. Agree with your partner that you’re going to break the habit and when you’re going to make the changes. Most experts suggest it takes just 3 nights to break a bad habit and form a new one. Once you’ve made the commitment – keep going.
And if all else fails!
Sometimes babies and toddlers just go through phases of not sleeping well. Remember ‘this too shall pass’. Console yourself with the fact that when they’re teenagers you’ll no doubt get your own back by standing over their beds nagging them to get up!
At Mumager our aim is to support moms returning to work after maternity leave.