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Tips for sleep-deprived parents

I’ll bet you $100 that, at some point in the nine months of your pregnancy, someone said: “Make the most of your sleep now, you won’t get any more for 18 years LOL LOL LOL!” (or some variation on that theme)

Somehow the experience of sleep deprivation – something that is actually used as torture in other circumstances – is seen as a rite of parental passage. Like you aren’t actually a parent until you’ve existed on two hours sleep for a week and laughed about it at a wine bar with your perfectly make-upped coffee group.

I’ve now been a member of the up-all-night crowd for four years. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned that might help you through.

Hide your clocks

Ignorance isn’t exactly bliss but it definitely does help in the middle of the night.

If you open your eyes to the latest baby cry only to see a bedside clock chirpily telling you it’s 13 minutes since you last got out of bed, it’s *not great* for your state of mind. But when you don’t actually know how much sleep you’re missing out on, it’s harder to get as stressed and upset.

That should, in turn, make it less likely that you’ll get stuck in that awful sleep-killing anxious cycle of desperately trying to get back to sleep as soon as possible after each wake-up.

Try not to think about how tired you are

When you’ve had little sleep, it’s tempting to mope around all day feeling sorry for yourself. But the more you think about it, the worse you’ll feel.

If you focus on when you can get back to bed for a nap or how you can get the kids occupied so you can lie on the floor,what little energy you have will evaporate. Kids also tend to sense a bad mood and become much more difficult to manage.

Focus on as many little positive things as you can through the day (sorry! this is the only rah rah suggestion I’ll make).

Book a sleep-in

I found it so helpful to know that a little more sleep was coming at some stage. We used to take turns at the weekend so one of us would get a sleep-in on Saturday and the other on Sunday. When I was feeling revolting mid-week, that sleep-in would shimmer on the horizon. Can you book in a time when you can sleep-in or nap? Ask a friend or family member to take your kid/s for a loooooong walk, or get your partner to play with the baby for a couple of hours last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

Eat well and drink lots of water

When you’re super tired it’s easy to lose your appetite but good meals – preferably cooked by someone else – help. Supposedly you’re not meant to rely on sugar because it creates energy peaks and crashes. I ignored this advice.

Supplements

Whether it’s Juice Plus or 1Above or Powerade or basic multivitamins, try out a few options to work out what seems to fill the nutrition gaps. I found one I thought was magic, until I discovered it was probably its stealthy caffeine component that was making me feel better, not the vitamin hit.

Coffee

Self-explanatory. Bonus points if you buy a machine that keeps it warm.

Co-sleeping

Giving up on the idea of kids sleeping alone in their own beds has been the one thing that has given us a lot more sleep.

Instead of going through the rigmarole of carting our son back to bed and staying til he sleeps, then sneaking out, my husband just climbs in and goes to sleep with him if he wakes in the night. My daughter usually spends half the night tucked up under my arm. It means I only half wake when she stirs – much less painful than trudging around in the dark to her room.  If you’re thinking about doing this, there are ways to do it safely. 

Find a friend

Some of your friends will have annoying kids who allegedly magically and spontaneously started to sleep through from six weeks. Others will actually be honest and tell you that they are struggling through, too. Stay close to them and complain away. Knowing you’re not the only one up at 2.30am with a grumpy child can make a big difference.

Know it won’t last forever

I’m reliably informed that at some stage all kids will sleep by themselves. They’ll hop into bed by themselves, nod off to sleep by themselves, stay there all night by themselves and you’ll have trouble getting them out in the morning. All we have to do to get there is wait. It’s as easy (and hard!) as that.