If there is one thing I've learned about parenthood, it's that kids have a second sense for when you've gotten a bit too comfortable in life. When my third son was born, I stated to anyone and everyone interested (ie: my husband) that he would be put on a strict routine immediately in the aims of getting him to sleep through the night quickly. My first two boys were not good sleepers and I just couldn't do it again.
I vividly remember lying in my hospital bed, recovering from the c-section, and pouring over an email from a good friend who had a baby nurse. She outlined the technique in detail and my plan was to follow it to the letter. If there is anything I'm good at, it's following a plan. This meant keeping the baby on a changing/feeding/sleeping schedule from the start -- forget those blissful random first nights the baby actually sleeps more than two hours. I enlisted my husband for help after hitting a wall about 3 weeks in of no more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, but after that -- it actually worked. Baby started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks. Once I saw it sticking, I got cocky and was pretty much convinced that I had cracked the sleep deprivation code.
Unfortunately, my little cherub had other plans. There were the usual sleepless nights due to teething, but for the most part he was a great sleeper. About a year ago (at just over 2 years old), he decided to start climbing out of his crib while my husband and I were on a trip out of the country. Yes, he knew. My poor mother woke terrified one night to him standing next to her bed proclaiming: I don't want that baby bed. After our return, we spent a summer desperately trying to get him back into the crib because we just weren't ready, and it worked. Until it didn't.
After it became clear he'd need a real bed pretty much the minute he hit 3 years old, it was game ON. Third kid -- we thought he'd just magically sleep through the night in his own bed without a gate blocking the door. We were wrong. After the first night of wandering the house, we installed a gate in his doorway. After a period of playing the dreaded "cry it out" game, he adjusted.
When he got too big for the gate, we happily removed it, figuring that the problem was long behind us. Not exactly. For the past several weeks (months?) he's been climbing into our bed, crying several times a night, climbing into other family members' beds including our dear babysitter who lives on the third floor. Needless to say...we are all a little tired.
Hopefully my next post on this topic will be to claim victory, because as of today I broke down and finally called a sleep consultant. In the meantime though, I thought I'd share some of my tried and true techniques to beat sleep deprivation, as clearly I've been through this now for several years. If you are suffering from this dreaded phase....I do hope at least one of these helps.
- Drink lots of water: I find that staying hydrated can really help keep depleted energy stores from going down further. I normally try to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, but when I'm sleep deprived I focus on it even more.
- Get fresh air: Even in the summer, when I'm exhausted I find my instinct is to just kind of be a blob..preferably an inside blob. Taking a quick walk outside, running an errand...really coming up with ANY excuse to change things up helps to keep fatigue at bay.
- Give yourself grace: Often I'll wake up after an unexpectedly brutal night, look at the ambitious "to do" list I made the night before and get very discouraged, very fast. When sleep deprived, just pick 1-2 of the highest priority items on your list and focus on that. All else can wait -- it really can.
- Work out: Yup, this one seems REALLY counterintuitive but stirring up those endorphins for me is often enough to carry me through several hours of exhaustion and ensures that I'll have a good night's sleep - something countless cups of coffee cannot do.
- AVOID sugar: This is another one that technically I should be doing every day but let's face it, some days I'm more successful than others. When I'm sleep deprived I really try hard to avoid temporary solutions to the fatigue - like the spikes I'll get from candy or anything with processed sugar. I tend to stick to fruits to quell my sugar craving on days like these and if I do have chocolate, I make sure it's dark and in small amounts.
- This too shall pass: Yes it shall. When in the midst of sleep deprivation, it can feel like that cloudy, lethargic, irritable state is just the new normal and always will be. The truth is, it will NOT last forever. Try to just be in the moment, laugh at it all when you can and recognize that some day you will in fact sleep more than 3 hours at a time.
Good luck, god speed and get some rest!