a.k.a. Help for Sleep-Deprived Parents

As I type this, the rest of my household has been in bed for well over an hour (the girls much longer than that). And that’s after I was first one up this morning, in part so I could sneak off to yoga class before the girls went to summer camp. So it’s pretty clear to me at this moment exactly why this mama needs more sleep.

But this is hardly the only time I’ve been a sleep-deprived mama. Nor is that the case for most of you reading this, if you have firsthand experience on sleep-deprived parenthood. So, in my current sleep-deprived state, I’m going to ponder some of the most common reasons I’ve encountered for being a sleep-deprived mama, and see what solutions I (we) can come up with.

So if any of you recognize yourself in this list, here’s hoping you find these tips useful! Maybe sleep on them?

Are you a sleep-deprived mama? Here are my top 10 reasons why mama needs more sleep - and more importantly, what you can do about it! (Or maybe not...)

Why Mama Needs More Sleep (and What To Do About It)

1. There’s a baby in the house

Specifically, one with its own sleep issues. Yes, there’s the usual newborn stuff about eating every 2 hours all night long. But then there are also those little monsters angels who somehow insist on sleeping several hours LESS per 24-hour-period than all the books and resources say they’re supposed to. (That would be both of my little Energizer Bunnies, especially during the first year of their life; I kid you not, Kimmie averaged 9.5 hours with NO naps from Month 2 to Month 4.5.)

SOLUTION: Grin and bear it, and try not to snap the head off of anyone who tells you to “enjoy this time, they won’t be this little forever.” I promise you, you WILL sleep again someday…after their first birthday, maybe. (At least that’s when *I* started to get back onto a more regular sleep schedule.)

Oh, and in the meantime, nap whenever you can. Even if you have to lock the kids in their play yard while you catnap on the couch 2 feet away from them. Or sleep while you nurse the younger one to sleep at nap time, hoping and praying that the toddler in the next room doesn’t get into trouble, and cries loud enough to wake you if she’s about to. (Not that I would know anything about these scenarios from firsthand experience…)

2. You’ve got a kid who’s (sick/teething/bedwetting/having nightmares)

The good news is, this is most likely a phase that will pass!

RELATED POST: How To Keep Your Child Healthy During Winter

SOLUTION: Hang in there. Make sure your co-parent, if you have one, does their fair share of nighttime duty! More than their fair share, even, if you’re the one who’s losing more sleep because of this. Oh, and if you’ve arranged for a morning to sleep in (say, a Saturday when your spouse will be on hand to watch the kids), be sure that you clearly communicate to spouse AND CHILDREN that Mama is not to be disturbed in the AM because Mama is sleeping in. In fact, I’d mention this several times: over the dinner table and at bedtime, for starters.

Oh, and if it drags on and medical intervention might help, for goodness sake get the poor kid to the doctor’s, so you can ALL start getting more sleep!

3. You’re trying to meet a work deadline

The good news is, in theory at least, this sleep deprivation should also be a temporary thing. (Unless it’s a constant part of your job, in which case see the next one.)

SOLUTION: Get the coparent to pull extra duty. Get the neighbors to help out with carpools and related kid-schlepping/kid-minding, if you can. Lock yourself in your home office, if you have such a thing. And DON’T answer the phone. (Unless it’s your spouse or your own Mama – just answer those promptly, please! Trust me, better for all if you do.)

And if it’s a problem of, say, being a work-at-home parent whose kids are home for the summer from school – well, don’t send them to camp ALL day, EVERY day, They need time to be kids, too. So yes, you may have some late nights and/or early mornings getting in your work hours, in and around schlepping to camp and taking to the pool and all those other fun summer activities (or at least the ones you haven’t gotten to yet).

RELATED POST: Your Summer Mobile Office Must-Haves

Just remind yourself that September is coming; you can sleep then. (She says to herself.) And until then, take little naps when you can. But only if it’s safe to do so. Not, for example, hiding under your floppy hat, behind those sunglasses, while standing up in the public pool while your kids splash around under the lifeguards’ watchful eye. Not that I’ve ever dozed off like this, mind you.

Also see the solution to #1 – specifically the part about not snapping my head off for telling you to enjoy it while you can. (Thanks in advance!)

4. You’re a teacher

OK, to be fair, I was never a classroom teacher AND a parent. I just couldn’t pull them both off together. So this is what I did:

SOLUTION: Quit your job. (Or quit your family, if you dare. I’m betting you don’t. Just don’t quit both – your kiddos need you, and you need to figure out which kiddos need you more! Hopefully it’s your family. Just sayin’.)

Seriously. I know there are lots of parents out there who manage to still hold down their teaching jobs as well. Parents of small children, even. I’m married to one of them. We decided early on that there was no way we could both keep up our teaching schedules if we were also going to have kids, and he already had tenure, so it was sensible for me to be the one to quit. I still miss it, but in retrospect I wouldn’t have it any other way,

So yes, I DO miss teaching – but not the late nights of lesson prep and weekends spent grading! (To all of you reading this who are both classroom teachers AND parents of small children, my hat is off to you – thank you, to you AND to your family, for all the hard work and sacrifice this involves!)

5. You’re sick

Nothing like being a sick parent. Ugh. Those head colds are the worst, especially when they mess with your sleep.

SOLUTION: Take your (over the counter and legal, of course!) drugs of choice. GO TO THE DOCTOR if you need to. You can’t do your part Mama-ing (or Daddy-ing) if you’re sick, And there’s nothing worse than trying to care for sick offspring when you yourself want to curl up in a ball and die, or tear your cold-filled head off.

Just figure it out already. And nap, and get your fluids, and consume your honey/lemon/chicken soup/garlic/onions (though not necessarily all at once, unless you really want to). Go get yourself better before you get everyone else sick. (Although if you’re a parent, chances are good that your little germ magnets brought whatever-it-is home to YOU. Sharing is caring, but not always – am I right?)

RELATED POST: How To NOT Get Sick This Winter

6. Your environment needs adjusting

You’ve gotten this far in your life solving your sleep problems just fine, right? You don’t really need a primer on how to get better sleep – or do you?

SOLUTION: As someone who’s struggled with both getting enough sleep for herself AND trying to get her little insomniacs to sleep more, I’ve actually done a fair bit of research on this subject. I won’t bore you with the details here. But if you want to read them in the hopes that they bore you to sleep (and/or give you new ideas to try), you can


7. You’re stressed

Um, yeah. What parent ISN’T stressed at times? Maybe it’s over a work-related deadline (see #3). Or a constant, nearly-endless stream of them (see the solution to #4). Or maybe it’s a major life crisis that has thrown you for a loop.

SOLUTION: This depends on the source of the stress.

  • If it’s work-related, seriously consider quitting your job. And/or taking a vacation, if you can. Believe me (been there, done that), life’s too short to work in a hostile workplace, whether because your coworkers are insane or your boss is a bully or the pay is too low for the amount of daily $#!+ you have to put up with. Just trust me on this one.
  • If it’s a short-term overload of to-do’s, and you’re still lying awake after 20 minutes, get up and do something about it. Lying in bed and stressing instead of sleeping is going to make your body think “oh, goody, it’s time to stress!” when next you lie down, not “oh, goody, it’s time to sleep!” Sometimes I will make to-do lists in the middle of the night, so it’s no longer cluttering my head. Sometimes I’ll do a few hours of low-key work, stuff that requires little brainpower and will make me feel as if I’m making forward progress.
  • If you’re trying to work through a problem, I often find journaling helpful for clearing my head. Or, er, writing blog posts. Not that I’m doing that right now or anything, mind you; I “dreamed” up the title of this post during a wakeful moment a week-plus ago. (More on that in #10 below.)
  • If a crisis has wound its way into your life, see if you can do something to actively address the crisis (or, if you prefer, escape from it completely – read a good book, do a jigsaw puzzle, whatever). Then try to get back to the basics, either with these hacks on kiddo stress relief (which also work for adults!) or these tips that I wrote specifically for us “adult” types.

RELATED POST: 10 Stress Relief Tips For Your Children

RELATED POST: What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop

8. You have a loved one in the hospital

Closely related to #2 and #7, Not a whole lot you can do about it, when you’re being there for that loved one. And let’s face it, while many (for example) pediatric hospitals have a Ronald McDonald House or similar home-away-from-home nearby where you can get a hot meal and a soft bed, not all do.

SOLUTION: Again, call in the reinforcements – other relatives (nearby or not), the neighbors, the congregation of your church/synagogue/other religious institution, whatever. Now is not the time to be proud. (Our church’s “new moms support” group, which mainly delivers home-cooked meals to parents of newborns, has been known to supply meals for months at a time when a family had a critically ill child, and help out with other household tasks in times of crisis. Like, say, when a parent breaks a bone.)

And for goodness’ sake, stay at the Ronald McDonald House if you can! (Or at least head over there for a few hours, so you can get a decent meal and a hot shower along with a tiny break.) You WILL sleep better, especially if your kiddo’s hospital isn’t one of the modern ones with a parent bed in every child’s room. Sleeping in hospital recliners, on hospital floors, and on saggy hospital cots is just NOT comfortable, and WILL NOT give you a good night’s rest.

9. Your teenager isn’t home yet (and/or has friends over)

Can’t say I speak from personal experience on this one as the parent, but I remember these days as the teenager well.

SOLUTION: Don’t have teenagers. OK, have teenagers with curfews. And rules. And keep tabs on them. Move the curfew earlier, if need be. Ground them, if need be. And especially make sure their curfew is earlier than that of all their friends. (How on earth did my parents manage this before the age of cellphones?)

Make sure that their friends have a curfew for when they have to LEAVE your house, too. So you don’t hear their cheap, muffler-needs-fixing beat-up cars driving away from your house (and waking you the parents up, not to mention all the neighbors) any later than necessary.

Not that any of MY high school friends drove cars like that, she says with a wink. Just sayin’.

10. Your lack of planning does NOT constitute an emergency on my part

Except when it does. Namely, in situations involving family members – those we love most dearly. Then, it always constitutes an emergency.

SOLUTION: Teach your child to plan ahead. In my teaching days, we used to call this “scaffolding.” For example: Don’t assign a single big research paper. Instead, break the project down into tiny little chunks, each with its own hard deadlines.

Your child’s teacher SHOULD be doing this for them, at least when they’re younger. Otherwise, you’ll need to help your child with this skill. Have a designated homework space with all the appropriate supplies, make sure they’ve got distraction-free time to work on the project, and follow up with them as needed. Hold their feet to the fire if needed. (Figuratively, of course!). And DON’T do it for them, or bail them out, or stay up all night with them finishing it. (OK, if half their challenge is a learning difference, you may have to stay up a little late to help them get it done.)

But what if the “child” is a spouse? Alas, spouses (being older than our kids) are generally harder to train. (That FROZEN anthem “Let it go!” is floating through my head right now…let that be your refrain, unless having that song stuck in your head will make you batty.)

I can pretty much promise you that complaining loudly WON’T work. (Hard not to do if you’re sleep-deprived already, I know.) Better to do what you can to get through the moment. Even if it means a lot of sleep deprivation in the short term. Like, for example, trying to get ready for you first family music festival, when you (aka NOT the person who thought this sounded like fun and signed the family up for it) finally realize a few nights before you leave that this trip is not at all what you were expecting. Because, say, a lot of things about your reservation for this family adventure are not “car camping as usual.” (Like the fact that your tiny reserved patch of open field in the hot sun is smaller than your family-sized tent. I kid you not.)

Better to adjust as well as you can in the preparation process, sleep on the entire ride there while the other grownup drives (even if that 4 hours doesn’t make up for missing a whole night’s sleep), and do your best to grin and bear it. Trust me, you’ll be able to have a much calmer conversation about how to do things differently next time around if you save it for AFTER the trip, AFTER you’ve caught up on ZZZs.

And no worries. Yes you’ll still be able to hear the bands at the music festival when you collapse onto your mattress, right after the kiddos, at 9:15. Even if your section is far away from the stage. But you’ll be so exhausted that you’ll fall asleep soon anyway. Ditto for when the carefree childless 20-somethings a few feet away start their own jam session at 12:09 am, as soon as the night’s official performances have ended and they’ve returned to their campsite that’s only inches from your own. Again, you will be so exhausted from staying up all night to pack, that you’ll fall right back to sleep after you roll over. I promise.

(Not that I speak from experience or anything.)

What about you, Mamas (and dads)? What’s the most common reason that Mama needs more sleep in YOUR household? Let us know in the comments, especially if you’ve figured out a workable solution!

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