"Be prepared to never sleep again once that baby gets here!"
"Brace yourself for lots of sleepless nights."
These are things you begin to hear as soon as people find out you are pregnant. There is a sense of light hearted joking to them, but it also can create some anxiety and fear in expecting parents. Most babies wake up a lot in the beginning and slowly but surely start to sleep longer stretches but not all babies do this. Mine definitely didn't. My son woke up multiple times a night for over a year. We tried almost everything we could think of to get him to sleep but nothing worked. When I say we tried almost everything, I mean we covered the spectrum from attempting bedspring all the way to paying $300 for a sleep consultant. The only thing I wasn't willing to do was the cry-it-out approach because a personal decision we made for our family.
I kept hearing, "Oh, he will sleep when he can crawl; he will sleep when he starts solids; he will sleep when he can walk." I anxiously awaited each of these milestones hoping and praying they would be the one that would be the magic fix to our sleep problems, but you know what, none of them were. People mean well, and they are just trying to give you hope based on their experiences and other stories they have heard. However, every baby is different and sleep happened to be the thing my baby struggled with the most. I also have always been a light sleeper. I had a hard time falling asleep so many times when my son was actually sleeping his 2-3 hour stretch before he would wake up again. I would lay in bed struggling to sleep which definitely made things worse.
The first time he slept through the night on his own was 16 months (he is almost 18 months now, so this was recently.) Even now he doesn't sleep through the night every night, but it is so much better than it use to be,
I titled this blog, "The Seriousness of Sleep Deprivation" and that is because it really is more serious than people typically talk about. I think people just shrug the fact that being continuously tired is something we sign up for when we decide to be parents. Sleep deprivation is different. Here are a few things I think are overlooked with sleep deprivation.
- Perinatal Mood Disorders- I truly believe my severe sleep deprivation was the number one factor in my postpartum depression and anxiety, and why I suffered with them for as long as I did. It is a huge playing card in perinatal mood disorders for many moms. It is recognized as the most important factor in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders by healthcare professionals specializing in postpartum mental health.
- Anger- Another thing, lack of sleep made mesh an angry person. I would find myself screaming at my baby for not sleeping. It pains me to admit that because these were some really low moments for me. I felt ashamed that I was so frustrated that I would scream instead of "soaking in the night time snuggles" like people would recommend that I do.
- Sensory Issues- There were times I would just soar through stop signs (it happened more than once). Not on purpose, but because I was so tired that I was honestly driving barely functioning on autopilot. I didn't realize at the time the physical toll the lack of sleep was taking on my body. I should not have been driving. My senses were seriously lowered.
- Weight loss/gain- I was dropping weight crazy fast and effortlessly. I know this doesn't sound like a bad thing, and I'll be honest I don't mind having lost the weight, BUT the problem is the fact that I lost it in an extremely unhealthy way. My body was depleting all its stores and I was just melting away. For other people, their body may hold on tight to the extra weight and they may not be able to lose it no matter how hard they try.
- Diet Changes- My diet suffered because I barely had any energy to cook to be able to eat the way my body needed. (I have a really specific diet due to my autoimmune condition.) This factor continued to play into the diminishing of my overall health.
- Mental/Emotional Turmoil- I could not be the mom my son needed or the wife my husband deserved because I couldn't even find the energy to take care of myself since I lived in such a state of exhaustion. This can create a mental and emotional battle that is hard to overcome.
This is a picture of my family when my son was 12 months old. If you look at my eyes, you can see how heavy they are and how tired I was. Actually, my whole family looks tired. We were worn down.
Now, this is a picture of my family when my son was 17 months. You can easily see how much more well rest I am and how much happier I look. We got our joy back.
Now that we have brought awareness to how serious extreme sleep deprivation can truly be, "let's take time to talk about a few things you can do to potentially do to help yourself or someone you know be able to get the sleep they need.
HOW TO HELP
- Someone else handing nights- Have your partner, friend, or family member take all night wakings for a while. You should put some earplugs in and a white noise machine on if you choose to do this so you aren't waking up if your little one is crying. Once your child is night weaned, even if they are crying but are with someone who cares about them, they are going to be okay. It's a mothers heart and nature to want to comfort their crying baby, but sometimes getting sleep is more important to your family dynamic overall than comforting your baby every time they cry
- Medication or Supplements- Talk to your midwife or doctor about medications, natural supplements, or relaxation techniques for sleep. Some of these options might not be your preference and that's okay, but if it is something you want to consider then talk to your provider and they will be able to give you more insight into the risks and benefits of these things.
- Exercise- Exercise. Sounds ironic, right? When you are THAT tired! However, it can actually help you sleep better at night.
- Chores can wait- Put aside the laundry, dishes, sweeping, mopping (insert any household tasks you can think of), and nap when you can. Once again, I know as mothers keeping our house up is important to us, but you being well rested is important to everyone. It will in turn actually help you keep up with the chores more easily in the future.
- Give Grace- Give yourself some grace. Realize it's okay not to look perfect or to even change out of your pajamas some days. You deserve some relaxation time too. Also, a frozen pizza for dinner every now and then will be okay (your husband and kids may even be really excited about it!)
- Accept food/help- Let friends and family bring you meals or help you around the house. Let them take your baby for a little while so you can sleep. I think this is easier to accept in the newborn days, but accept it anytime. Offer it to people anytime. I had a point where I was really struggling (around 8 or 9 months postpartum) and my friend cooked me a meal and it meant the world to me. It reminded me I wasn't allow and forgotten in my struggle.
- Find your tribe- Lastly, this one was probably the biggest thing to me. Find other moms who are going through the same struggles with sleep as you are. I have 3 mom friends who have kids very similar to mine. Sleepless nights, refusal to nap, fighting naps in the car, and many many tears. All of us had our times where we truly thought we might fall over from exhaustion and not make it another day. We have shared highs and lows. We share tips, encouragement, and pray for one another. Motherhood is not meant to be lived alone. Having those 3 moms who shared this with me made the challenge feel not as big some days.