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Dealing with sleep deprivation
March 7, 2012 3:00 am | by

How do you start a blog post about sleep deprivation, when you’re a little sleep deprived? Much like you start or don’t ever finish anything: poorly and slowly!

Are you reading this at 3am while someone very small is a) eating b) crying or c) pooping? Or is it nice and sunny outside but you’re a little disgruntled because you did not really get as much sleep as you’d wanted out of the nighttime hours?

I know how you feel! As a new mom, sleep deprivation is unavoidable. It’s probably one of the first pieces of advice you received when you revealed that you’d be adding a child to your family: “well, get your sleep now!”. Such a cheerful piece of advice, always coming from someone who probably just slept 8 hours straight.

For me, the sleep deprivation started in 2008. My body decided to get me ready for night wakings by waking me on its own multiple times a night starting at around the 7th month of pregnancy. Then, of course, came the newborn phase…which lasted until my son was 10 months old. By then I was 4 months pregnant with my daughter. My body went back to waking me up all night, right up until the day I gave birth the second time (on about 4 hours sleep over a 24 hour period). Then another newborn period, and a baby who is now one year old and still not “technically” sleeping through the night. And yet, I’d like to think that I have not yet fully lost my mind.

What can I say to encourage you other moms out there? One thing I will not say is: “Oh, it only lasts the first few weeks/months and then they start sleeping through the night”. Raise your hand if you’ve proven that one wrong? Thank you. At least I know I’m not alone.

Don’t overestimate how much you can get done when you’re sleep deprived.
A wise woman once explained to me when I was a brand-new mom that sometimes one or two planned outings per week is going to be all I can do, and that’s fine. For me, sometimes that outing is the grocery store and the park. What I’m saying is: don’t plan to go to the store, meet a friend for lunch, and then go to the park all in one day. Certainly do not plan every single day of your week with back-to-back activities. You’re going to run out of energy at some point and it’s all going to go south from there.

If you can avoid making major decisions until you get a handle on your sleep, postpone!
A group of friends advised us to put off buying a new house for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life. At first I was disappointed because the house we were in was small and I wanted more space, but it was great advice. There was no way I could have participated in intelligent negotiations and savvy renovations without a clear(er) head.

Now is not the time to diet. I’m not saying that you should over-indulge your every whim, but don’t start on your juice fast or your Master Cleanse until you’re getting at least 5 hours of consecutive sleep (and longer if you’re breastfeeding). What you want to do is get plenty of fruits, vegetables, water and grains. You might notice that your body craves carbs when sleep deprived. Or is that just me? Either way, if you can make them whole grains, that will help keep you from feeling bloated and uncomfortable. And, er, it will keep you more regular.

Get dressed, wear makeup!
Make it a priority to take a shower first thing in the morning. Occasionally even shave your legs and dry your hair. You will be amazed how much more awake and energetic you will feel for the rest of the day. I like to dump my children on my husband in the morning before he is fully awake while I shower. He’s a great sport about it! As for makeup, here is a tip that makes you look more awake: highlighter cream. I swear by it. Rub some in the corners of your eyes and across your cheekbones. I’ve had people remark that I look like my baby is sleeping through the night already. Oh, if only they knew…

Finally, sleep is not actually the goal. I’m told we’ll have plenty of time for sleep when our kids are older. I can’t vouch for that, but it sounds hopeful. My biggest revelation came when I realized that how much sleep I got last night (or last week, or last month) does not determine how I will live my life today. What my kids need is a mom who is present in the moment and loves them unconditionally. They don’t care if I have trouble finishing sentences, or if I sometimes fall asleep while reading stories! I take it one moment at a time, and try to keep it in perspective.

I’d love to share more tips but I predict one of my children waking up within the next few hours. Do you have any tips to share with other new moms?

About the Author

Jenny Bradford lives in the Dallas, TX area and blogs at Living (formerly Conscientious Confusion). This includes everything from green living, natural health, conscientious consumerism, cloth diapering, and living frugally. She is a wife to Christian and mom to Little Sir born Oct. 2009, and Little Lady, born Feb. 2011.



  • Dream Essentials LLC said...
    June 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Jenny, Have a look at our website for tons of sleeping aids that may help you and your fellow new moms out. Sleeping masks for those short daytime naps, neck & shoulder wraps for relaxation, and cooling gel masks (my personal favorite, and only $4.95!) to relieve headaches, sinus pressure, and puffy eyes. Best of luck to you and your readers!
    – Dream Essentials

  • ChickyDee said...
    March 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    I was really encouraged tonight just seeing that I’m not alone. My daughter is a preemie, born three months premature. I didnt sleep well while she was in the hospital because I spent as much time with her as possible and pumped breastmilk in the middle of the night. When she came home she was used to a 3 hour feeding schedule and woke me up every 2-3 hours for several months before settling into sleeping for a 7 hour stretch at night. She’s a happy and healthy nine month old now (six months developmentally) and back to waking up three times during the night. We just moved last weekend and I wasn’t getting much sleep because I packed and cleaned for several hours after I put her to bed. Many nights she would wake up just after I fell asleep. My husband is working the night shift so I try to stay up later with him when he’s not working. I reached my breaking point this week and I’m ashamed of the fact that I ended up getting angry with both my daughter and husband on a few occasions. I am working on taking better care of myself and getting more sleep. It’s hard to let things go undone especially with all the boxes that still need to be unpacked. It will get done eventually. But my daughter is now awake again so off I go!

  • LBCuyar said...
    March 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for this post! You are so kind to share your tips for dealing with sleepless nights. Every momma has them, for sure… and it does last longer for some than others! I do have one question though: I hear from a couple of commenters that they hate hearing “Oh, my baby slept through the night at (x age)!” and YES, I KNOW how painful that can be when you’re sleep deprived, especially when that momma doesn’t have anything useful to contribute as to WHY their child slept. What are they doing, rubbing it in?? But if they DO know something that helped or did something different than you, wouldn’t you want to know? Sleep for momma might not be the top goal, but it should be a goal at least, as should solid sleep for your baby. Just my thoughts.

  • Jessica G. said...
    March 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Love this post! As another commenter pointed out, the worst thing for someone to say is, “My baby has been sleeping thru the night since they were (insert some insanely young age here).” It makes me want to resort to violence toward them 🙂 As moms, we need to encourage one another, not tear one another apart. It isn’t a competition.

    The best advice I could give to a sleep deprived mom (myself included) is to shower and dress every morning. It helps so much. And get out of the house at least once a day. Even just sitting in the backyard helps. I’ve walked in whiteout conditions (snowing) with my baby just so I could get out of the house. Oh, and find a supportive moms group. Good mom friends make life so much easier!

  • Jenifer said...
    March 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    One thing I wish I would have known 20 years ago when my sone only slept 2 hours at a time: you don’t have to jump up and run to them everytime they make a sound. After about 6 months, if they are formula fed & 9 months if they are breast fed, they don’t REQUIRE night-time feeding. They might just be use to waking & getting fed. I’m raising my grandchildren & he slept all night after we figured out he was lactose intollerant, she however, is 2 years old & still wakes at night. Most times she is adjusting herself in the bed or changing her position. If I don’t go to her she will usually go back to sleep & it never wakes him up even though they share a room.

  • Laura said...
    March 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I was just starting to lose hope and then I read this. It’s nice to know that there are other moms out there going through the same thing. I’m sick and tired of hearing moms say “my baby slept through the night at 8 weeks!”! Maybe they did once but I’m sure it didn’t last long!

  • Amy said...
    March 7, 2012 at 9:03 am

    But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end:
    They are new every morning
    great is your faithfulness.
    “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
    Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      March 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Amen! One week my pastor did a message on being joyful in our circumstances, whatever they are, and that was super helpful for me at one of my hardest times of sleep deprivation.

  • Jessica (MomEinstein) said...
    March 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

    My daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was 15 months old. I was in a constant fog the entire time, with a few moments of clarity. I learned to live with it. My best advice to other new moms is to GO TO BED already and stop staying up late once the baby is finally asleep. It will make tomorrow a better day.

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      March 7, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Definitely! I tell my husband “I’m going to bed now, someone is going to be awake in an hour!”

  • Michelle Bachman said...
    March 7, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I’m with you Steph. 14 months and 3hrs is his biggest stretch. My first son did the same thing. I weaned him at 18 months and it was very gentle and loving. I don’t know if I have awesome nighttime parenting skills or if they’re lacking. I do know my kids are awesome and that helps in the groggy daylight. And when they’re not behaving so awesome I pack up and head out. Often not sure where we’re going once were all buckled in. When they become high needs (usually all at once while I try to prepare a meal) I picture them as little lion cubs roaring louder because they need me.

  • Five M&Ms said...
    March 7, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I am a mom of 3, 7 yrs, 5 yrs, and 14 months. None of my kids have been good sleepers. The baby started out good, but that didn’t last! I make it work. I’m still working 32 hours a week, and though baby stays in his bed a while, he always ends up in bed with Mommy and Daddy. You do what you have to in order to function sometimes. My older two did eventually sleep better, so there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  • steph b said...
    March 7, 2012 at 6:58 am

    17.5 months and counting with no more than 3 hours in a row. 🙁 i am not willing to wean just to get sleep, so i deal. and it seems my already poorly-sleeping boy’s sleep is affected every single time there is a tooth, a cold, etc. this week, the cold has kept us awake every 1-2 hours. someday i will sleep again.

  • azSAHM81 said...
    March 7, 2012 at 3:31 am

    Resist the urge to clean when the baby is sleeping, and take a nap instead. The house will still be there tomorrow, maybe a little messier, but still there, none the less. Your opportunity to catch a little shut eye might not be. Tomorrow, your slumbering newborn could decide they only need one nap a day and then you’re done for, so take advantage while it lasts!

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      March 7, 2012 at 9:44 am

      So true!! Should have included that one for sure – can’t count the number of times I want to do “one more thing” and before I know it, the chance to nap/rest has passed!