Last May I wrote some lengthy sleep advice that never saw the light of day. That’s a problem, because I keep wanting to link people to it. So intermittently this month I’m going to post my instructions for sleeping like a baby.
I see a lot of sleep deprivation on baby discussion boards: “Help! My LO wakes up every two hours, and I’m beyond exhausted. What can I do to get her to sleep longer?” “Hey, my baby does that, too,” I think. The week I started writing this she was up every hour and a half or more. However, I’m well rested most of the time. That’s not because I don’t need sleep. Before I became a mother, I typically needed seven hours to feel rested, and I need several hours more than that when I’ve been doing heavy lifting physically or emotionally (as happened postpartum). I’m average that way.
What’s the difference between me and the crazy tired parents? I suspect part of it may be our sleep practices. Most parents who write about being tired focus on their babies’ sleep habits without saying anything about their own. You can’t tell from the posts if they’re taking some other part of their situation for granted, like not mentioning that they also go to bed at midnight to finish chores and then get up at six AM to get their older kids ready for school, or else maybe they’re really talking about how it sucks to schlep your tired body down the hall in the cold to the baby’s room. Maybe they have colicky kids who wake directly to wailing and skip squiggling around first. Maybe their babies take longer than the fifteen minutes mine usually needs to nurse and go back to sleep. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The real problem is that the mom is tired, not necessarily that the baby isn’t sleeping the night. The baby’s sleep patterns are obviously a contributing factor, but changing the baby’s behavior is not the only way to tackle the base problem. It may not even be the best way, because trying to get a baby to do what you want is frustrating for both of you, especially when you haven’t had enough sleep. You have more direct control over your own mind than over your baby’s, so why not start there? In other words, teaching yourself new sleep tricks is probably easier than changing your baby’s behavior.
I’ve spent the last decade chronically getting less rest than I need, and sleep deprivation pushed me to think about my sleep patterns and explore techniques to sleep more quickly and effectively, so that I could be as rested as possible on too little sleep. This approach paid off again when I became a parent. The advice I’m going to give here contains assumptions that mean it won’t work for everybody, but maybe some of it will work for you. Even if none of it fits your situation, maybe thinking differently about parental sleep deprivation will help you find your own solution.