One Mom’s Advice for Fellow Sleep-Deprived Moms
It’s been 21 years since I gave birth to my first child, a son. I can still clearly remember every detail of his miraculous birth and the joy of being a new mother. Leading up to my son’s birth, I read every book, magazine and article I could find on being a new mom. I attended every Lamaze class offered to me (even when my then-husband didn’t). Before the baby’s arrival, I decked out the nursery in teddy bear-themed decor, clothes and diapers, and a rocking chair carefully placed near the crib. I believed I was truly and fully prepared for the motherhood chapter of life – that was until I joined the ranks of sleep-deprived moms.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Being a Mom
I arrived home from the hospital, and the first 24 hours proved that I wasn’t fully prepared for motherhood. It was a cold slap of reality to the face. Every mothering experience was much harder than the child-rearing books told me it would be. From breastfeeding a baby who had difficulty latching, to bath time (which he absolutely hated) and exploding diapers that required loads of laundry, it was trial by fire.
But by far the hardest part was the sleep deprivation, which can affect the brain and body in profound ways. I had no idea how much the lack of sleep would impact my physical and mental health, cognitive ability, and overall daily functioning. My extreme tiredness made me feel as if I wasn’t in my own body. I was simply going through the motions of caring for my baby, with no regard to my own wellness.
If You Don’t Snooze, You’ll Lose
You know that announcement the flight attendants tell you on the airplane about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others, including children? That warning (with proper sleep as the oxygen mask) should have been in all the books I was reading.
Of course, I knew that the first few months were going to be tricky when it came to sleep because newborns are unpredictable in their own sleep patterns. Reading about this before giving birth, I still thought I was prepared for the task. I also read that “it will get easier” as the child gets older and I remember often telling myself, “It won’t be like this forever. I can do this.”
Then months went by. Then years. Like other sleep-deprived moms, my body just wasn’t getting enough precious rest. I stopped telling myself that it would get easier.
Though the toddler and preschool years were a little better than the first months of having a new baby, I was still struggling with sleep deprivation. Same lack of sleep, but different circumstances, like getting up to deal with a fever in the middle of the night, a child’s resistance from transiting from a crib to a toddler bed, and a kid climbing between my spouse and me in our bed.
No, It’s Not a Natural Part of Motherhood
When I shared my struggles with other new or seasoned mothers, they would often tell me that lack of sleep was just part of motherhood. Apparently I should just “suck it up” and live in this foggy, unhealthy state of zombie land.
I so wish I had the wisdom then that I have now to tell myself that this simply isn’t true. Moms deserve sleep and rest to care for themselves. They require it to properly care for their families and spouses/partners, too.
HOW MOMS CAN AVOID SLEEP DEPRIVATION
There’s a reason the Dalai Lama says “Sleep is the best meditation.” It refreshes the brain, not to mention the body and soul, so here are some tips for avoiding sleep deprivation. While some amount of sleep deprivation as a new parent is inevitable, there are things you can do about it.
Make Sleep a Top Priority
As mentioned above, lack of sleep can affect cognitive functions, mood, and physical and mental health. As moms we are caring for young children and must be entirely present and able to do so. Reducing your stress and working toward getting fully rested will help you feel more present to take on motherhood.
But that’s easier said (or written) than done. Before giving birth, I read books that instructed new moms to nap at the same time as their baby. Rarely did I heed this advice. Instead of napping I’d see that mountain of dirty laundry or how messy my house was. I would think about the missed calls I “needed” to return. Choosing those tasks over napping, I would later pay the price. I’d barely be able to keep my eyes open while driving, I’d (literally) cry over spilled milk, or have such a foggy head that I couldn’t think straight.
This is why you absolutely must make sleep a top priority.
Share Shifts with a Spouse or Partner
The topic of sharing child-rearing responsibilities is a big one and can be somewhat sensitive for many women in the role of caregiver to their children (and other loved ones). They feel like they are expected to do it all on their own, due to cultural reasons, family pressure, or non-supportive spouses or partners.
I felt immense pressure to do everything related to child-rearing (and I mean everything) by myself and when I would ask for help from my spouse, he’d give me resistance. So, I stopped asking, and it turned out to be incredibly damaging to my health, because I was so busy I didn’t sleep much.
I also didn’t know how to ask for help from those I knew would support me. I felt a sense of failure and shame that I couldn’t “handle it” all on my own. There is absolutely no shame in needing, better yet requiring, help with child-rearing. Those who truly love and support you will be willing to step forward. Maybe a friend or your parent or in-laws can come over and watch the baby for a couple of hours while you simply sleep. This is especially important in the case of single moms who lack a spouse or partner to help. It truly does take a village to raise a child, and again, there is no shame in asking your village to step in and help.
Establish Regular Sleep Schedules for Everyone
Of course, the first few weeks (or months) of regulating a sleep schedule for a new baby will be difficult and require fluidity, but attempting a solid sleep and nap schedule early on will help down the road.
Parents should be included in a regular sleep schedule as well. I know this is difficult when the baby or kids are finally asleep and “alone time” sets in, but finding an achievable balance of sleep time or alone time with your partner each night is important. So getting your sleep times in sync with your baby’s is highly recommended. You should also create a sleep ritual to help you fall asleep faster, and sleep the whole night. That includes treating yourself to come comfortable pajamas and nice bed sheets and blankets to help you sleep easier. If you need complete darkness, consider upgrading to blackout curtains to help you fall asleep more quickly.
The moral of the story: Mothers need sleep to survive. You just can’t allow yourself to be one of the countless sleep-deprived moms out there. I learned this the hard way, and I don’t want other moms and parents to go through what I did. Sleep can absolutely be sucessful for moms, even with a newborn, and you are more of a parenting hero if you make sleep a priority over being the one who attempts to “do it all.”