Surviving Sleep Deprivation: Practical Tips for Overwhelmed Parents to Cope and Thrive

Surviving Sleep Deprivation: Practical Tips for Overwhelmed Parents to Cope and Thrive

Sleep deprivation kills motivation, desire, and mood and is often the biggest challenge to enjoying your child as opposed to getting through the day (and night). The lens of sleeplessness colours our world very differently because sleep is the first step to coping. Running on empty makes us accident-prone and frazzled especially when our adrenalised bodies are in the naturally high-alert state of early parenthood. If you're responding with sensitivity to your baby's instinctive night-time needs here are some ideas to support you:

Love your mood, whatever it is

Something your child does one day is cute and funny, yet another day the same thing feels annoying and silly. The variable is your thinking about the situation based on thought in the moment. If you notice your thinking is creating a low mood, take a break from 'doing' anything. You don't even have to invite 'positive' thoughts (that would be doing something which is tiring!). Taking a break means recognising the mood and relaxing in the knowledge that decisions don't need to be made (all those decisions you made in a bad mood went well right?!). Then notice what thoughts you might have about being in a low mood? If any self-criticism bubbles up ('I shouldn't be in a low mood' being the most popular thought) then don't worry - you're normal! Parenting is exhausting - it's ok to be in a low mood. The journey between mood states is the nature of being human...think of an elevator travelling up and the basement our vision is far more restricted than when we're in the penthouse with a wider perspective. The temptation is to 'do' something to fix the downward travelling but the one thing we can trust is that our mood will change because our thinking does too.

Share the load, however uncomfortable

When you're a primary carer with a strong attachment then it's unlikely you'll hand over responsibilities for your precious baby and not have some thinking about it. Take opportunities to pass your baby to their secondary attachment figure. Normalise this for you, your baby and the other carer. Trust will grow and confidence will follow, for all of you. Notice what happens when you do that. It's normal to feel uncomfortable and anxious even when you hand your baby to their loving father. It's not personal (about their father) but it is instinctive. Notice what thoughts you have about yourself in those moments ('I should be comforting her' or 'she wouldn't be crying with me' or 'I'm abandoning my baby' are common). As a secondary attachment figure, usually the father, it can be hard to witness what looks like an apparent mistrust of your role - it's not about you personally so don't make it so. Stay loving and have faith in your ability to forge your own relationship with your child even when your baby cries in your arms. It's easy to believe that if we are the one who nurses or soothes most habitually that we should be the 'default' responder. However, this responsibility is not designed for one set of shoulders alone. Look at all options to accommodate at least a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. This becomes critical if you have a baby who wakes hourly, is teething or cluster-feeding.

Think outside the (bedroom) box

Here are some options to ensure your well-being, on which your baby depends:
  • Sleep in a different room while your partner feeds and soothes for the first few hours of the night. Musical beds is not a sign of a failing marriage or your 'wacky' parenting style - it's a sensible way to prioritise sleep.
  • If you wake frequently to get out of bed to feed or comfort then consider safe co-sleeping. Bedsharing makes breastfeeding easier and your milky hormones will ease sleep. Some families get inventive with family-sized mattress arrangements!
  • Clock-watching or wishing things were different is a recipe for suffering (ditch the clock if it helps). Noticing your expectations sometimes acknowledges your internal argument with reality. Acceptance of your child's sleep pattern (or lack of) might not get you more sleep but it will ease stressful thinking which is exhausting in itself.
  • Drop social etiquette when visitors come and take chances to nap! Similarly, it can be incredibly hard to relinquish precious 'sleeping baby' time especially if you feel compelled to do domestic jobs. When you are sleep-deprived sleep must be your priority - your visitors, partner and your children will appreciate a well-rested you far more than a tidy house or a conversation with a wrung out version of your convivial self.
One of the toughest things about sleep-deprivation is other people's obsession with your own exhaustion. It's a normal human strategy to identify problems and fix them, therefore ensuring unsolicited suggestions and commentary on what you need to change. You can create a loving and comfortable sleep environment for your child but you cannot manipulate your baby's physiology, so recruit the care of others and sleep when you can! For more support with child behaviour you can enrol on the APUK-accredited Positive Discipline Online Course.