I clearly remember one morning (OK, it was almost noon) in my 7th month of pregnancy. I had just awakened from what can only be described as hibernation (read, 15 hours of uninterrupted sleep). I started stomping around looking for food (which was ALL I did back then when I was awake) and mourning over my pre-pregnancy body and energy levels.
When I think of my problems back then, I want to go back in time and slap my pregnant self in the face for acting like a prima-donna. What, you’ve just had a full night’s sleep, for God’s sake! You have no reason to complain – not even if you feel like Jumbo the Elephant!
Now that I have a toddler (and the nights I’ve spent sleeping for more than 5 hours at a time are way less than the number of times I washed my hair in the past two years), things are different. I mean sleep-deprived-wanting-to-kill-myself-drinking-4-coffees-a-day different. But I survived. I mean, I am still surviving but at least I know now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s called college (just kidding). I now have managed to cope with sleep deprivation and, boy, I have learned my lessons.
First, in case you need it, here’s a checklist to see if you could do with some more sleep. I know you will find yourself on every single line. Just for the record, here are 7 signs you are sleep-deprived as hell:
- Your concentration abilities majorly suck – You are clumsy and disoriented, and your hand-eye coordination is beyond control. Did you know that drowsiness behind the wheel can slow reaction time as much as driving drunk? Enough said.
- Your communication skills are pretty bad – As a rule of thumb, you don’t want people to speak to you. At all. Especially if they want to share unwanted parenting advice. In the rare cases, you become involved in a conversation, you have extremely slow response times, your sharp tongue makes an impressive appearance, and/or you end the conversation by ugly crying over every little thing.
- Your mood is, well, way below its best – you have turned into a grumpy easily irritable short-tempered restless bitch. You are cranky ALL. THE. TIME and your mood swings come and go faster than you can change the channel (bad hand-eye coordination, remember?). Your impulsive behavior is only surpassed by your impossible looks – much like the walking dead (but with messier hair).
- You are discovering new levels of tiredness – The extra stress and the new parental responsibilities make you tired as hell to the point that you cannot cope with even a simple task as boiling water for tea without spilling it all over yourself. And you are so tired that you count that as your daily shower.
- You are hungrier than a hostage – a regular dinner, a late dinner, and a midnight power snack at 3 a.m. seem to have never happened as the next morning you want to eat the whole fridge, shelves, antifreeze, and everything. If you eat enormous quantities of food and nothing seems to keep you satiated, you are really a hostage. A hostage of sleep deprivation.
- You look hungover without drinking alcohol – Your puffy, bloodshot eyes with huge black circles have a blank look and your dull complexion scares even the USPS guy away (and he’s seen a lot). They call it beauty sleep for a reason, you know.
Coffee simply cannot help you anymore – no matter how many cups of the magic liquid you’ve had, your energy levels are hitting their lowest lows. If you were a PC game hero, you would probably be dead by now.
Now that we are sure you are a sleep-deprived piece of… art, it’s time to help you catch on sleep. Here’s how I coped with sleep deprivation as a new mom. I really hope you will have the energy to keep your eyes open for the next few minutes. I promise it will be worth it!
5 tips that will help you survive sleep deprivation as a new parent:
- Stay off the screen before bedtime – that means no phones, tablets, TVs, or laptops. Reducing screen time (especially at least 30 minutes before sleep) is essential. We can even leave aside the devastating effect the bright light coming from the screen has on your ability to fall asleep. What’s even worse is that no matter what it is you are watching, it makes you alert – and that’s the last thing your sleep-deprived brain wants. It’s a good idea to define your sleep area – this is the place where no electronic devices are allowed. Your Facebook feed can wait, believe me. After I put a ban on screens in the bedroom, I got an entire extra hour of sleep. You can do that too!
- Get off your feet when the baby sleeps – that certainly doesn’t mean you should sleep when the baby sleeps. We all know you can’t do it even if you want – you are a grown-up person, after all. But crashing on the couch for 30 minutes of closed eyes can really help you keep your sanity and bring you back your faith in life. If you really can’t stand looking at the pile of dishes, don’t use the baby’s naptime to take care of it. Have some rest yourself and, when the baby is up, put him in a baby swing or buckle him to a kangaroo or a sling while you do the chores. It’s a win-win situation.
- Get help, I mean it – delegating chores is a great weapon that many sleep-deprived moms are not afraid to use. Ask your husband to work the night shifts for you or your mother-in-law to cook the meals and bring them over until you find the time and strength to do it yourself again. Invite only the right guests – the ones who are willing to stop by the supermarket and get what’s on your shopping list for you. You get the idea.
- Forget about the messiness – when you are so tired you can barely remember your own name, it is not the time to play the perfect housewife. This dark time of parenthood is all about surviving and performing only the bare minimum to get (somehow) through the next day. The dishes can wait. The laundry can wait. The mess in your house should not be given priority to the mess in your body and brain. It is your sanity and health you have to take care of first – everything else can wait. Now put the mop away and go to bed. Now.
- Pay back your sleep debt – remember, this phase is about survival, not about comfort. Come up with a shift system that lets both you and your husband get at least 2 full nights of sleep per week. You can even set a separate sleeping area for the one whose turn it is to get some proper rest. It’s not particularly enjoyable to sleep in the guest bedroom, away from your family and/or child(ren). But, hey, at least you get some uninterrupted shut-eye time. Taking turns at sleeping in at the weekend is another great opportunity to pay back your sleep debt. Believe me, it works!