We make plenty of decisions when we become parents. Daycare or stay-at-home parenting. Crib or bassinet. Stroller or baby carrier. Breastfeed or formula. Or both. But there’s one thing that’s inevitable no matter how you finesse your decisions. At some point, you will be sleep deprived.
Dun dun dun!!
Few parents say, “I get more than enough sleep!” in their child’s first year (or two) of life. It’s simply something we have to go through at one point or another, a sort of rite of passage. There’s no real simple fix, there’s no elixir of life here (though wine does help), but here’s what helped me when the going got tough:
- Revert to the newborn phase
Sleep when your baby sleeps! We imagine infant sleep gets progressively better as they get older, but it’s more like a roller coaster. They sleep fine for months, and then out of the blue, will wake up at god-forsaken hours. There may be difficult times when your baby doesn’t sleep well. You’ll deserve naps when you can get them. And if you’re still in the newborn phase, why are you awake right now?
- Get some fresh air
Nothing does a body (and spirit) good like being outside. Something about breathing fresh air and soaking in vitamin D helps with everything, be it physical, emotional, or mental. Take your baby (and older kids) to the park. Go for long walks. The sun wakes us up beautifully. Even if you’re in the middle of winter, getting out to a 3rd place (coffee shop, mall park, or McDonald’s PlayPlace) is better than nothing. During the long Minnesota winters, my favorite place to take my kids is the library, especially for story time. And along those same lines …
- Stay active
It’s much easier to endure a tired day when you’re moving around. It’s when you’re stationary that your eyelids start to get irresistibly heavy. Keep moving, and the hours will move you faster towards bedtime (the kids’ and yours!).
- Spread out your caffeine
Let’s be honest. We want need caffeine. I have liberated myself from the caffeine debate. It’s a guilty pleasure, and coffee is my bread and butter. In phases of fatigue, I like to spread out my caffeine in the form of iced coffee. With hot coffee, you have to make a whole cup via Keurig or drip coffee maker. But iced coffee is more flexible, and you can drink as much or as little as you want at a time. I’ll drink half a cup in the morning and half in the afternoon, which doesn’t surpass my caffeine limits as a nursing mom. I keep a bottle of Starbucks Iced Coffee in my fridge for emergencies.
- Focus on high energy foods
We exacerbate our fatigue when we eat poorly, though it’s tempting to shove handfuls of candy into your mouth. You’d be justified, but you’ll do yourself a favor if you eat mindfully. Your body will be fueled to handle the day more gracefully than otherwise. Nutritionists recommend focusing on foods high in magnesium and vitamin B, which help you metabolize and convert your food into energy:
- Almonds and other nuts
- Peanut butter
- Sweet potatoes
When I see this list, I think trail mix, smoothies, porridge with fruit and nuts, green salads, and my favorite snack: apples with peanut butter.
- Ask for help
Your husband or partner is an obvious go-to, but he may be working late, traveling, deployed or just as tired as you are. It’s a minor imposition for a friend, auntie or grandparent to come over for a couple hours to mind your kids. But two hours of rest when you’re sleep deprived makes a world of difference and can be the springboard you need to get back on track. If you don’t have family support, try trading off with another mom and promise to have her back when it’s her turn to lose sleep.
- Keep it simple!
If there’s a week that you’re dragging your feet more than usual, simplify. This seems contrary to my advice to stay active (see #3 above) but moving your body slowly and peacefully (an afternoon walk) is different than the stress of a frantic life (toting your kids around to activities). Saying no to extraneous events and obligations can preserve your energy for the rest of your waking hours. Also, turn off your TV and go to bed early. My indicator for my own bedtime is: if I can’t read my book properly and keep glazing over, I know I’m too tired to function and it’s time for night-night.
Even if it’s 7:32. #noshame
So, here’s to the hope that your sleep deprivation is minimal and your coping methods are wholesome and effective.