In its worst state, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture – so if you’ve got a baby who won’t sleep and you’re feeling a bit rubbish (to say the least) don’t give yourself a hard time. While babies don’t intentionally do this in order to inflict torture, and it’s unlikely that your sleep deprived state will be quite that extreme, sleep is a basic biological necessity and a lack of it definitely has physical effects.
You may feel irritable, generally fatigued, or have difficulty concentrating. Maybe you’re clumsy, forgetful, or your appetite has altered. Whatever symptoms you’re experiencing, there’s no doubt that too many sleepless nights can leave you feeling rotten. It’s especially difficult when you have other children to look after so you can’t nap when baby does, or when you’ve gone beyond the newborn phase and you’re still not getting more than a few undisturbed hours a night – especially if you’re back at work or particularly busy in the day.
Is it morning?
When baby’s been up and down all night you often wake feeling disorientated. Is it morning? Or another night feed? Where are you? Where’s the crying coming from? Your brain and body aren’t getting the rest they need so when you’re woken suddenly – again – it can take a little while to come round. Just take a minute to compose yourself and get your bearings before leaping out of bed. Even if baby’s crying they can wait for a minute while your brain gets into gear; jumping up too quickly and stumbling around in a daze could be bad for both of you.
If possible, share the load with your partner. If you’re breastfeeding then they obviously can’t help with that bit, but maybe they could do the nappy change after so that you’re not up for quite as long? Or, they could get up with baby or any other children in the morning so that you can have a precious extra hour or so in bed.
Once morning’s come around and you’re up, you have to get moving. Although it’s tempting to rely on caffeine to keep you going this will only provide a short-term buzz. Hop in the shower, rub on some body cream to get your circulation going and, despite it being the absolute last thing you feel like doing, try a few star jumps or jog on the spot for a minute. Exercising will get your blood pumping and energise your body, helping you get ready to face the day.
A long day…
Our hectic lives rarely allow time for a nap during the day but, if the opportunity presents itself then grab it with both hands! Don’t feel guilty for napping while baby does if you’re able to. We automatically feel that sleeping in the day is lazy but if you’re not getting your full quota at night then there’s nothing at all wrong with topping up during the day – in fact, it’s a necessity to ensure you stay healthy, alert and happy. The jobs can wait. You’ll probably find that you’re much more efficient after you’ve caught up on some sleep anyway.
If you’re too busy to sleep in the day then evaluate what you’re doing – do you really need to go to that toddler group or baby swimming class today? Could you do the food shop online rather than traipsing round the supermarket? If you’d benefit more from an hour in bed then make the right choice and don’t give yourself a hard time.
If your baby has gone past the newborn stage and their sleep patterns still haven’t settled, or if they’ve suddenly started waking again due to teething or some other reason, you may find yourself having a bad night’s sleep before a long day at work. If this is the case, then getting your head down for a few minutes’ kip on the desk is clearly not an option. However, there are things you can do to help – perhaps you could grab a ‘power nap’ in the car during your lunch break? It’s been proven that a nap as short as just 20 minutes really can improve your alertness (just don’t forget to set your alarm!). Go for a brisk walk to energise yourself or try boosting your energy throughout the day with healthy snacks such as a handful of raisins, a banana or high-protein nibbles. Avoid too many sugary snacks which cause a short-term high then an energy slump, and will leave you feeling worse. Whatever strategies you employ, it’s worth doing something to keep your tiredness at bay so that you’re on the ball at work. It’s especially important if you’ve got a long commute. Don’t drive if you’re excessively tired; make sure you pull over or stop for a drink and a walk round.
When you’re not getting much sleep, the whole day becomes a build up to bedtime. Will baby sleep tonight? How soon will they go down? How quickly can you follow? How many hours will they put together tonight? Sleep becomes an obsession and, although it’s easy to get anxious about it, it’s important for both you and baby that you don’t get too worked up. It can be a bit of a vicious circle as they pick up on your anxiety and take even longer to settle. Stick to a nice, regular routine – bath, milk, story etc. – keeping the curtains drawn, lights down, and the atmosphere as calm as possible.
Important things to remember…
When your mind feels like fog, you’ve put the coffee in the fridge, the milk in the cupboard, and you can’t find your car keys, you can feel like you’re losing your mind. But don’t worry – it’s perfectly normal. All new parents go through this stage! Speak to others with babies of a similar age and share your woes or top tips. You may still be tired but you’ll feel uplifted to know you’re not the only one!
If getting baby to sleep is becoming a problem then ask for help or advice. Millions of new parents experience the same problems and there are loads of ideas and strategies that may help. Take a look at the NCT website for helpful advice on sleeping patterns: https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/your-baby%E2%80%99s-sleeping-pattern
If you find that baby’s sleeplessness is particularly prolonged, or reappears suddenly, make sure you speak to a health visitor or doctor to rule out any underlying issues.
Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind is, as difficult as this period is, it won’t last forever (mercifully)! One day, you will once again enjoy glorious unbroken sleep, night after night, and this exhausting phase will be just a distant memory! Zzzzzzzzz…..
Do you have any tips for getting through this difficult phase? Were you offered some advice that helped you to get baby settled? Or do you have a funny story from your sleep-deprived state that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear your comments!
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