I am at Next Level Sleep Deprivation.
You will have experienced this if you are a) suffering with insomnia, or b) you have a baby that just won’t sleep.
I’m not talking getting up once or twice in the night. Or even three or four times. I’m talking about those babies that just don’t know how to sleep. At all.
If you are a parent to one of those babies, then friend – I feel your pain. I understand what it’s like to feel sick from tiredness. To get ill again and again because your body just doesn’t have time to recharge and repair. To be in a state of constant brain fog, not knowing whether you’re coming or going, forgetting to reply to emails and getting appointment days wrong and always missing items from the food shop and generally being a bit rubbish at life.
I understand, that always-on-the-edge-of-tears tiredness. And to be serious for a moment: it’s draining. It has genuinely aged me.
I don’t need to go any further in describing this, because if you are at Next Level Sleep Deprivation, you know it. You get it already. There’s no point in lamenting, because you already do that: all day, every day, you lament either to your partner or your friends or just in your head. The perpetual theme of your life is I’m tired.
My husband and I are in the midst of this right now and, five and a half months in, it’s not getting any easier. We are, as I like to say to people, in ‘survival mode’. With that in mind, here are some practical tips for pushing through this stage of life:
1. Lower your expectations
I have wasted a lot of time over these past few months staring at my mounting washing pile with an expression of horror. Or going to the toilet and not knowing when I’ll ever get a chance to clean the shower again. Or wondering when my eyebrows got so huge. Listen:
You cannot do the same things you used to do because, currently, you are not the same person that you used to be.
You are running on limited capacity right now. Therefore, you have to let things go. Remember: you’re in survival mode. House-wise, focus on the bare minimum to keep everyone safe and sane: this will probably be sorting the food shopping, doing the washing up, and putting some washing in the machine.
You will not look the way you used to, because you won’t have time. Your children won’t mind.
Anyone that expects any more of you at this point can, frankly, take the baby for an hour so you can sleep, or keep their comments to themselves.
2. Stop counting the hours
When you don’t have much sleep, you become obsessed with it. Life becomes a game of numbers. ‘I had three hours sleep in a row!’ on a good day, vs ‘I got four hours sleep in half an hour chunks’ on a bad one. As tempting as it is to try and keep score – just don’t. In the long run it’s not good for you. You start to become obsessed with gaining more hours of sleep. You start bickering with your partner about who got more rest the night before.
Just deal with each day as it comes. No good can come from knowing precisely how much sleep you’ve missed. Only hysteria can come from that.
3. Refuel your body
I am a tired-eater. On my very worst days, I eat to live. If I don’t have snacks, I may well pass out. I need food often in order to give me the physical energy I need to get to the next thing.
I know I should say something inspiring but gently scolding about healthy snacks, but frankly, I can’t be bothered. Eat what you want to eat, I won’t judge you. Next Level Sleep Deprivation is, hopefully, a temporary state. A little cake here and there won’t kill you.
Do take a multivitamin, you know, to keep scurvy at bay.
4. Celebrate the little achievements
Some days, you might manage to do something you haven’t done in ages, things that you used to enjoy doing. Like painting your nails. Or baking. Or reading a few pages of a book. Congratulations! Your old self still exists, somewhere, giving you tiny glimpses of hope for the future. These are the things that keep you going when you’re having a hard day.
Despite all this horrific tiredness, you will have some moments where you absolutely nail this parenting thing, where you manage to do all the things you need to do and be the person everyone needs you to be. Congratulations again! You deserve to feel pleased with yourself because it is a scientific fact that everyday life is at least ten times harder when you’re running on no sleep*.
(*alright, that might not be an actual fact but it must be kind of true, right?)
5. Call for backup
When a lovely person asks you how you are and if you need any help, for the love of all that is good, accept that help!
If you’re anything like me, you will have a stubborn streak, a part of you that refuses to acknowledge your own weaknesses. So when people say ‘how can I make this easier for you?’ and you find yourself saying ‘no no, I’m fine, honestly, I’m doing alright’ when you’re actually dying a little bit on the inside, please: just stop yourself. Change your answer.
‘Yes, please, I could do with some help.’
If you’re finding it hard to comprehend how anyone could help you (unless they have a magic wand that makes babies sleep properly at night) then here’s some pointers: ask people to do some ironing for you. Or washing. Maybe your friend could come and hold the baby for you while you have a bath and read a book. Or maybe your Mum could take the baby for a walk while you try and sleep. Or maybe your sister can take your pre-schooler to the park for you. Or maybe someone could cook you a meal every now and then so you don’t have to do it. Or maybe your friends can come round with snacks (remember point number three) and a sympathetic ear.
Parenting can feel isolating, particularly in the early years as a stay at home parent, but you know what? You don’t have to face this alone. If you feel bad, just remember you can pay it forward the next time one of your friends has a new baby.
Above all else, remember the ever-helpful phrase:
‘This too shall pass.’
Good luck, Mama. You can do this!
Hi! I’m Meg – wife to Chris, mother to our three year old daughter and five month old son. I am a writer, bookworm, Christian, feminist, and sleep enthusiast!