How to Deal with Sleep Deprivation Without Sleep Training

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How to Feel Less Zombie

And More Human Without Sleep Training

Sleep deprivation is pretty much a given in the early days of motherhood. If you don’t want to sleep train and you haven’t been blessed with a unicorn baby, you’re going to have to learn to deal with potentially years of broken sleep. 


Even if your baby is generally a good sleeper, there’ll be times when they’re teething, sick or going through a growth spurt, where they’ll wake in the night. Often multiple times.


I’ve found that my body eventually gets used to the lack of sleep, but it never really becomes easy. After three years of broken sleep, I certainly don’t jump out of bed like I used to. Which is why it’s so important to figure out ways to deal with the sleep deprivation.


When you’ve no idea when you’ll sleep longer than two hours in a row, and especially in the early months with a newborn, all you can do is simplify and focus on taking care of your self (as best as you can).


In the first few months (and longer if needed), start small. It’s normal for your baby to wake up every couple of hours to feed. The best thing you can do at this stage is go to bed early. Yes, staying up to get some time on your own is nice, but trying to add a couple of hours to your sleep tally should come first.


Even if it’s not every night, get to bed as early as you can. And if this is your first baby, go back to sleep when you put your baby back down after their early morning feed. Enjoy the sleep in, because you likely won’t get it with future babies. 


And I know everyone says it, but nap when they do. Even if it’s just one nap, every few days, you’ll feel better for it.


Once you get past the newborn phase your little one will hopefully start to sleep better. I’ve got an 8 month old and I’m happy if he wakes twice a night, but there’s certainly periods where he wakes a lot more frequently.


Over the years of broken sleep I’ve experimented with ways to deal with the exhaustion.


When I want to feel less like a zombie and more like a functional human being, here’s what helps:

  • Going to bed early. I can’t get those extra hours in the morning, so I’ve got to fit them in at night. Maybe 8pm is early for you, or maybe it’s 10pm (which is what I usually aim for).

  • Reading before bed and putting down my phone. It helps with falling asleep quicker, so I’m not wasting precious sleeping time laying awake in bed.

  • Eating as healthy as possible. Sugar and caffeine will perk you up momentarily but the crash will leave you feeling worse. I have my one coffee a day and squeeze in as many fruits and veggies as I can to my meals.

  • Laying on the floor to play. I can’t guarantee that you won’t be jumped on or that your crawler won’t smack you in the face, but it’s nice to take a little break while they can play around you.

  • Drinking lots of water. Ice cold water can be an easy way to feel refreshed and rejuvenated without the caffeine. And if you’re breastfeeding there’s no such thing as too much water!

  • Slowing down. It's ok to have days where you don't do much. Some afternoons we turn on the TV and watch a movie together. As much as I try and limit screen time, there’s no shame to watching something with your kids.

  • Outsourcing what you can. If funds allow you can hire a cleaner, you can get your partner to cook dinners, and/or make bigger dinners so you have lunch prepared ahead of time. You can also ask visitors if they can bring lunch with them.

  • Getting outside and enjoying the sun. Who doesn’t feel better after spending some time outside? It’s also good to help your newborn learn the difference between day and night.

  • Putting on music and dancing away the afternoon slump. It’s silly but fun, and much loved by my toddler.

  • Simplifying your routine where needed. Order groceries online, automate bill payments, do less structured activities, say “no” to things you don’t need to do.  


In terms of getting more sleep, co-sleeping works well for many families. It's something my eldest loves and he always sleeps well when he's in bed with us, so it's an option that's well worth trying. (Just be sure to do it safely).

While it's normal for babies to wake through the night, and it's normal for this to continue well into toddlerhood, there are certainly instances where things can fall outside the realms of what is considered normal. If the lack of sleep is affecting your mental wellbeing or your ability to function throughout the day, or if you feel like your child is not growing as they should be, then you may need to look at other methods to help everyone get more sleep. Speak to your GP or your childhood nurse and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.