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Tips (and reminders for myself) for coping with sleep deprivation

Newborn baby relaxing on mothers chestI am just weeks away from meeting my teeny weeny daughter for the first time and I must admit that the anticipation is not always sweet, especially as she is my second child.

While I am getting excited, particularly when I am sorting her clothes and preparing her bassinet, with the ‘help’ of her big brother, there is a healthy dose of realism and yes a fair amount of dread.

From what I have experienced over the last 21 months, each phase does bring its own set of challenges. However, looking back there isn’t a period that is more physically demanding for parents than the first couple of months with a new baby. From the delivery, to coping with the hormones and your body recovering to the torturous lack of sleep I know I am not alone when I say that this is a period of feeling like you are barely surviving.

For me the heart of the challenges in this period is the sleep deprivation. Everything seems SO much harder when you are exhausted. It feel as though your ability to function normally has been sucked out of you and you are left physically and emotionally fragile.

I can remember crying because I dropped my sushi on floor at the shops while trying to learn how to juggle shopping, a nappy bag and a baby and yelling at someone who parked in a pram park as they bounded of their car pram and childless. These situations would have been much easier to cope with if I hadn’t been so tired – and I am sure I would have responded to them far more calmly.

Although toddlers and older children can come with their own sleep challenges, which I am perhaps still yet to experience, newborns are consistently labour intensive.

So, my husband and I are preparing ourselves and our nest as we count down the weeks to the delivery. Together we are looking back and reminding ourselves of what did and didn’t work in those early weeks so we can make those first couple of months as manageable as possible for us all.

Having been through it once and tried and research so many products and techniques to help the baby go and stay asleep we have just come to accept that we won’t be sleeping much for a while and the best approach for coping is to acknowledge this reality.

We have come up with a couple of simple things that we are going to print out and put on the fridge as reminders on how to help us both cope.

1. Fuel your body

When you are tired it is so easy to eat high sugar and high fat food, not get any fresh air, forget your vitamins and not bother with a simple self-care regime. But a little self-care each day can actually help fuel you physically and emotionally and offset some of the effects of sleep deprivation.

My daily checklist:

  • Drink 2 litres of water a day and no caffeine (it will only end up zapping you of energy and stop you from resting when you want to)
  • Eat only high-nutrient foods
  • Do something physical every day, stretching, dancing in the lounge room, walking to the park, anything to get some fresh air and oxygen into your system.
  • Have a simple beauty regime that makes you feel good (brushing teeth, shower, brushing hair etc. for some reason putting mascara on makes me feel so much better and when I see myself in the mirror I feel better about myself throughout the day).

2. Make use of your natural rhythm

My husband and I are naturally morning people. We find that our energy and moods are both best first thing in the morning. So even if we have had a hard night and wake a bit fuzzy eyed it is far better for us to get things done in these first few hours than leave them to later in the day when we are overstretched and snappy. So we exercise, prepare meals, put out the washing and then where possible we can switch to auto pilot and conserve energy through the rest of the day.

I have friends who are the complete opposite and get their surge of energy once the kids have gone to bed. So that is your time to get this stuff done. Whatever your natural rhythm is use it to your advantage.

3. Focus on relaxing not sleeping

There is nothing more stressful than being forced to nap on someone else’s schedule and the pressure to “sleep when the baby sleeps” always worked against me. So the important thing to remember is to plan relaxing and rejuvenating activities when the baby is sleeping to avoid spending time rushing around doing energy zapping chores.

If it’s before midday I know that I am not going to be able to nap so watching a 30-minute TV show saved on our DVR or drawing a picture will relax me and leave me more refreshed than laying in bed trying to sleep so that is what I am planning to do.

4. Work as a team

I can’t remember how many times I have joked with other mothers about how we wake at the slightest sigh from our newborn and lie waiting in anticipation of the baby’s next feed while our husbands can snooze through the loudest of cries and mumble “that was a quick feed” when you return to bed after nursing the baby for 2 hours and they have slept through the whole thing!

But instead of resenting your partner for getting more sleep than you (which I admit to) and accepting that your night time parenting responsibilities are different can help a great deal. Work as a team and figure out a system that works for both of you and plan it before you go to bed each night.


Image credit: subbotina/123RF Stock Photo

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