In the past 386 days, I have been able to get six consecutive hours of sleep on just two occasions. Every other night, I’m lucky to get three hours in a row before my blissful sleep is interrupted by a crying child (or two). This mommy thing is no joke. I hear about these women who have babies who sleep through the night at two weeks old and never look back. I have yet to meet one of those mommies. And I kind of hope I never do, because I might clock her in the face. I know that sounds harsh, but until you are in the midst of never-ending sleepless nights, you just don’t understand. And once you make it through the never-ending sleepless nights, by God’s grace you forget what it’s like and, you just don’t understand.
So, while I’m still in the midst of these never-ending sleepless nights, I thought I’d throw out some tips. Sadly, there isn’t anything earth-shattering here. I do not hold the secret to operating on zero sleep nor do I know the secret to making every baby sleep peacefully and uninterrupted (Hint: This secret does not exist. There is no answer. All babies are different. All families are different. What worked for you will not work for me because my baby is not your baby and your life is not mine.)
I am a full time working mom and this is my second go-round with a child who doesn’t believe in sleep. I have fully embraced that babies suck at sleep and the first year (and more) of your child’s life will be hard and exhausting and you will doubt your ability to keep going on more than one occasion. This too shall pass, here are some ideas for what to do in the meantime if you are currently a sleep deprived mom:
1. Determine your priorities and let the rest go.
This is common advice. You’ve probably heard something along the lines of “lower your expectations”. If you haven’t already or if you haven’t done this enough, you will constantly feel like you are failing. You are not failing. You are doing hard work. Amazing things. Every day. You can NOT do all of the things all of the time.
It is very important for my family that I keep my job, my income is what puts food on the table and clothes on our backs. I have to be on my game during the 9 hours that I’m at work each day. This is really hard when my sleep tank is empty. But I’ve made my performance at work a priority. This means that at the end of the day, I’m exhausted and shutting down sometimes. If the dishes stay on the table all night, the sun will still rise in the morning. If I snuggle on the couch with the kids and watch Netflix all night, they will know that they are loved and cared for and praise God, they even teach colors and letters on kid’s shows these days!
During the week, my focus is on doing a good job at work and then spending time with my husband and kids at night. I don’t worry about dishes, laundry, friends, exercise, or my to do lists unless I find a hidden store of energy or time. Someday our nights will be filled with busy things, but for this season of our life, I’m totally ok with the fact that we just relax on the couch every night of the week and don’t get much accomplished. We are together, that is enough.
2. Get organized with a calendar and one solitary to do list.
In the past year, I have forgotten so many important things. I nearly showed up to a kid’s birthday party without a gift because my brain was not working at the level necessary to remember that the entire purpose of a kid’s birthday party is to bring a gift! I’ve forgotten to pay more bills then I can count, forgotten to eat, forgotten to feed my daughter (Praise Jesus she can talk and remind me!), forgotten to pack special items for events at the kid’s daycare, forgotten to wash the ballet clothes even though it was written on three different to do lists and so many other things!
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your brain is not going to remember anything. You will also become very disorganized, even if organization is usually one of your best qualities. Find a calendar system that works for you and use it! I’ve tried many calendars over the years and I’m still trying to settle on my favorite, but the important thing is to have something and actually use it. Find an app that you love on your phone, a paper calendar hanging in your kitchen, a daily planner that you keep in your purse, it doesn’t matter what, just find something and put every last event, activity, or time-crunched to do list item on your calendar. And then look at it every single day, throughout the day.
I’m a huge to do list person. The problem is that I have a to do list on my fridge, in my office, on my phone, in my purse, and one in my coat pocket. Nothing ever gets done and I always feel like I’m failing but don’t know where to start. I’ve learned that one to do list is the only way to keep myself sane. For a while, that meant that I had a notebook that I carried around with me everywhere (I really love paper to do lists still, even in this super tech-y world). Lately, I’ve tried to embrace to do list technology and I’m using an app called any.do. So far, I’m loving it more than any other app I’ve tried. And it even calls me gorgeous first thing in the morning! The important thing is not what you use, but that you have one list, you keep it on or near you at all time and you actually look at it, complete some of the items, and add new ones as needed.
(Update: I now use a Bullet Journal for all of my to do list needs and it is my favorite thing ever. Read more about my bullet journal and how to set up your own in this post.)
3. Ain’t no shame in hiring it out…And it might be more affordable than you think.
I have a house cleaner. My house cleaner has saved both my sanity and my marriage. I never, ever thought I could afford a house cleaner. My house cleaner charges amazingly good rates, she does a great job. I have used my vacuum once since March and that is because I shattered a light bulb and didn’t want the baby to eat the glass before the house cleaner came next. If you don’t have a house cleaner, you like to have a clean house, and you don’t have the energy (or time) to clean it yourself, then go find thyself a house cleaner. Search high and low, ask around to all of your friends, just keep looking till you find someone you can afford. It’s amazing. My girl only comes every other week which is just enough to keep the house in decent shape without costing a small fortune.
There are many other things you can hire out. Get your groceries delivered. Hire a landscaping company (or a neighborhood kid is more my budget style) to take care of your lawn and garden. On the nights when you can’t possibly stand in front of the stove and cook, just give yourself the grace to order a pizza. Need some new work clothes? They have personal shoppers for that, or just find a friend who loves to shop and beg her to shop for you in exchange for a few extra bucks. When you have a million errands to run to buy gifts, specialty products, etc, just search the internet in your pajamas, shopping online can be the busy, tired mom’s savior. If you haven’t discovered the power of Amazon, you are missing out on some serious sanity saving.
My budget is limited, as I’m sure yours is, but I know that in this season of life, I have to find ways to make things easier on myself. There is no need to feel guilty that you can’t do everything. There is no need to feel guilty that you aren’t pinching every single penny. Figure out what’s important to you. Figure out your limitations. Figure out what works for your family and don’t worry about keeping up with the expectations that you can or should do everything just because you are the mom and you are all powerful.
4. Find a sleeping arrangement that works for your family…adjust as necessary.
Some people say that everyone should cosleep. Some people believe in cry it out. Some people think that all babies should sleep in their own rooms in their own beds without tears from anyone from day one (these people also smoke crack).
Everyone has a different opinion. Every mother has different needs, wants, abilities, desires, goals, and priorities. This is your baby and your life. Figure out what works for you and just do it. If there is too much anxiety in your choice, pick a different one. If you aren’t getting enough sleep with your choice, try something else. If your baby doesn’t seem to be thriving with the decision you’ve made, go back to square one. This is your baby. You are the expert on your baby. No other mother, no expert, no book can tell you what you should do to raise your child.
The only advice I can give you is to trust your instincts. Seriously, shut out all the other noise and advice from well-meaning people and do what feels right in your momma heart. If that means cosleep then cosleep, if that means bedshare then bedshare, if that means sleep train then sleep train, if that means get up all night long and rock the baby then get up all night long and rock the baby, if that means pass the torch to your husband then, by all means, stick that man on baby duty and get some rest.
5. Move yourself. I know, but for real, just do it.
I think I’ve exercised more in the last year than in the last two years combined. And I’m so, so thankful that I have. It’s been hard, it’s been exhausting, I’ve felt like I was crazy, but once I’m done I have never regretted it. I always feel better after working out. Now, let me make sure I’m clear. I’m not attempting to set a new record, complete an Insanity workout, or train for a marathon. But, I’m consistently working out several times a week at a level that is challenging, but not overwhelming. This means I run 3 miles or less about 2-3 times a week and throughout the rest of the week I throw in some random bursts of exercise during my days just to get the juices flowing (a minute of jumping jacks as an afternoon pick me up, for example). I might do a 20-minute exercise video to change things up and when the weather is nice, I take the kids for a stroll around the block on a regular basis.
It is so easy to tell ourselves that we are too tired to exercise. It is so hard to pick your butt off the couch and place it on the treadmill when you’re fighting to keep your eyes open, but do it anyways. I promise, regular, moderately challenging activity will make you feel a million times better. You will have un-explainable energy even after the worst of sleepless nights. Figure out what works for you, determine what level of exercise you can do at your stage of fitness, and then just do it. You won’t regret it.
6. What goes into your mouth really does matter, but don’t be crazy.
I don’t do diets. I’m not interested in legalistic rules for eating. If I want a cheeseburger, I eat a cheeseburger. If I want to pig out, I do. Please here me, do not set unrealistic, legalistic rules for yourself when it comes to food. Let yourself enjoy food as a blessing. However, it is important to know that how you feel is a direct result of what you eat. Let that be your motivation.
I know that when I eat a green smoothie for breakfast, I have amazing energy the rest of the morning. I know that when I eat a giant, fresh salad for lunch, I don’t feel nearly as lethargic as I would if I eat a Big Mac. I realize that if I sneak a handful of my daughter’s Halloween candy for my afternoon snack, I’ll be ready to snooze in an hour.
When you know that you didn’t get much sleep last night, make careful choices about the food that you eat today. Fruits, veggies, and lean protein won’t give you the energy slumps like you will get from pasta dishes and greasy sandwiches. Also, remember that water energizes. Sodas and sugary coffee drinks will make you crash. Drink 1/2 – 1 full gallon of water on a daily basis when you’re sleep deprived and I promise you’ll start feeling better. Making healthier choices on the super hard, super sleep-deprived days will be a huge help to keep you going.
7. Go to freaking bed. Yes, you. Go to bed.
I think I’m a rare breed, but I have no problem going to bed at the same time as my kids. I constantly hear about moms who stay up until midnight or later trying to knock things off their to do list or enjoy some “me” time or who knows what they do. I think this is insane. Your kids are sleeping, you know the baby will be up 25 times tonight, go to sleep now!
When it’s time for your children to get ready for bed, put your jammies on with them, brush your teeth and wash your face, you will be leading your kids in their bedtime routine by example. Then read the stories, tuck them in, turn out the lights, and rest. Sweet, beautiful rest. It doesn’t matter if it is only 8:00 pm. Sleep is sleep, get it when you can. The other stuff you stay up until all hours of the night trying to complete will be there in the morning. But, in the morning, you’ll actually have some new-found energy to tackle these things. Go to bed.
8. Learn to say no.
For this season of life, your energy is limited. Know this. Accept this. And learn the power of “No”. Say it to your husband, your friends, your extended family, your kids, anyone who is asking for more than you have to give right now. Someday when your kids are amazing sleepers you can say “yes” to all of the things, but right now, say no and go back to bed.
9. Take breaks.
This one is for work. I have a very sedentary job, I sit and talk on the phone (or by email) all day long. I never have to get up from my desk, everything I could possibly need is right at my fingertips. I work remotely, so I don’t even have the option of walking to a coworkers desk when I have a question. I have to take breaks to re-energize or I will move through my day in a complete fog, or worse, fall asleep at my desk.
Fortunately, since I drink a lot of water, I also have to get up and use the restroom a lot. When I do, I don’t just use the restroom and get back to work. I take the stairs and sprint up and down them, I might grab a healthy snack. I’ll do a few push-ups, drink a cold glass of water, or take a five-minute break outside soaking in the sun and taking a few deep breaths. It’s important to give your mind a break from the monotony of your work day and do something different. If your job is sedentary then make sure to include some movement every hour. If the sun is shining, get outside and absorb some vitamin D.
These are short breaks, not hour-long absences from your work. The point is to make you more productive when you return. Take a few minutes when you need them and you’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.
10. Remember that it will get better.
Know that this is a season. It feels like it will last forever, but every baby eventually learns to sleep. The sleepless nights feel like they will endure for all time, but the years are short. Snuggle that baby, kiss his little head, and hold him while he’s little. Stay up with him all night when he’s sick. Pace the entire house with him when he’s ready to play at 2am. Nurse him at 9, 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, then get up and go to work. Do your best. Give it your all, but leave room for grace.
You will fail sometimes. You’ll forget stuff. You won’t make sense when you try to talk to your boss. You might catch a few sideways glances for your poorly make-up’d face. You might even fall asleep in your car on your lunch hour. You will not be the first mom who did these things. You won’t be the last. And you won’t’ even be the only mom who did any of these things today. Women all over the world are exhausted and feel like they are failing. When you see one, smile at her, tell her she’s beautiful and amazing. If someday one of your friends is in the same boat, don’t you dare let her think that she is alone. Tell her it’s hard. Tell her we have all been there. And give her a hand (and a nap).
What other advice do you have for sleep-deprived moms? How do you make it through the hard days?
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