A few months ago I came across an article discussing how researchers determined that sleep loss can result in emotional disturbances. My first thought was, really? They had to do a study to come to this conclusion? All they needed to do was put 20 sleep-deprived mothers in a room, make them watch “Marley and Me,” and then see what happens. I don’t know if anything could be done to stop that amount of hysterical crying.
My first child did not sleep through night until he was 20 months old. Sure, he was physically capable of sleeping through the night, but he simply wouldn’t if he was gassy or sick or teething or it was a day of the week that ended in “y.” I envied the mothers whose kids would cry it out and fall asleep. For my child, crying just made him more awake. I felt like I was in a special club of mothers on Facebook, posting statuses at 3 a.m. like, “Why, God, why won’t this child go to sleep?!” or, “I hate teething so much that… flames, flames, on the side of my face.”
I do not function well without sleep. Try as I might, I become moody, short tempered, and just plain dumb. Worst of all, I am more prone to panic attacks. I once had a graphic vision of falling down the stairs with my infant in my arms, and I was shaken to my core. This fear became so constant and vivid that I thought I might have postpartum depression. I cried as I shared this vision with my husband, and he promptly sent me to bed; I got four hours of sleep, and, thankfully, the paranoia disappeared. Normally, I am an incredibly perky, high-energy person, but without sleep, I become someone else entirely.
Now that I have come out on the other side of sleep deprivation, here are a few things I’ve learned that will help you get through this season of parenthood:
Sleep when the baby sleeps
Yes, it’s cliche, but it’s true. You can do just about anything while the baby is awake — eating, chores, paying bills. Heck, with a little creativity, you can even take a shower while the baby is awake. The only thing you cannot do is get quality sleep. So, if your baby is asleep, go lay down. Everything can wait. Dishes, laundry, lunch… even reading this blog post! If you are reading this when you could be napping, put down your phone or computer and go to bed. I will completely understand!
Rely on your partner — and anyone else you can
My husband is a saint. He works two physically demanding jobs, and he is out the door by 5 a.m. at the latest. Some nights he only gets 4-5 hours of sleep — and yet when I tell him I need sleep because our infant was up every hour of the night, he makes sure I get a nap. One time, both our children were up all night with the stomach flu, and I got maybe an hour’s worth of sleep. My in-laws offered to come over to give us a break, and I did not hesitate to accept! I am not quick to ask for help, but over the years I have learned my limits. I also know that I am better mother when I am well rested, so when I have the opportunity to get a nap, I take it.
Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel
Several of my friends, as well as our pediatrician, told me they weren’t able to get their children to sleep through the night until they were 18 months old. When my child wasn’t sleeping, I continued to focus on 18 months. If I could just make it through those last few months, then I would survive parenthood and sleep again. Well, 18 months arrived, and my son caught hand, foot, and mouth virus. Still no sleep. At 19 months, I started a new job with a new schedule, which, in turn, threw off my son’s schedule. Still no sleep. Even though it looked as though I would never reach the end of the tunnel, with each new month I created a new focal point to keep myself sane. Finally, FINALLY, at 20 months, he slept. And I slept. And I returned to my old self.
Sleep deprivation is by far my least favorite part of parenthood. But there is an end in sight. Above all, remember you are not a failure as a mother just because your child is not sleeping. Eventually, your child will sleep, or he will at least get to a point where you don’t have to entertain him at 3 a.m. In the meantime, lean on your support system — and grab a cup of coffee!