What To Do When Sleep Is Not an Option

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Ahh, sleep. For a new working mom, it is that elusive mystical unicorn.

As much as we hope, pray and cross our fingers for a baby that "sleeps like a baby", the truth is, most of us are not so lucky.

Even if you are lucky to have a sleeping baby, sleep still may not come so easily anymore.

There is something about motherhood that flips a switch and transforms us into a wake-at-the-sound-of-a-pin-drop sleeper. Or there are all the things that have to get done, often at the expense of sleep. There is work to catch up on, chores to get done, time that we want to spend with our partner or better yet, by ourselves!

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When you can't do it all, something has to go. And that something is often sleep. 

While I would argue that there are stages of life when you should do all that you can to prioritize sleep, to get as much as possible, even if it's broken; I know from first-hand experience that it's not always realistic.

Existing on Caffeine, Chocolate, and Adrenaline

I know, because I have had two babies who loved partying in the middle of the night. Babies who went through stages of only sleeping while being held, only sleeping for 30 minutes at a time, only sleeping with meditation music or pacifiers or a hand on their back. You name it and we have done it. It's what drove me to enlist the help of a pediatric sleep consultant (a story for a whole other day).

I tell you this to say that I get it.

I have existed on caffeine, chocolate and sheer adrenaline for longer than I ever thought was humanly possible.

I have hit the afternoon wall so hard, so many times, that it took every ounce of restraint to not curl up under my desk for a cat nap. Speaking of cat naps, I have slept in my car on my lunch break, in the pump room, and during conference calls. Sleep deprivation of a new parent is R-E-A-L, Real!

But I figured something out the second time around that, while it didn't magically add uninterrupted sleep to my days, did help to slightly offset the continual deficit I was running.

How to Offset the Deficit

I figured out that when sleep is not an option, everything else that contributes to your health HAS to be an option.

Because your sleep is dependent on another little being, one who doesn't understand that lights out means sleep, there's not a whole lot you can do to get more. I get that.

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Instead, think about the things that you can control. Things like...

  • What you eat and what you drink,
  • How much you move your body,
  • How you quiet your mind and reduce stress,
  • How much you smile and have fun, 
  • How productive you are, and 
  • What you do to supplement your diet.

When you're running a sleep deficit, you need to have a surplus in the other areas of your well-being to make up the difference.


Here is my short list: the "surplus" areas that I focus on when I start to feel that overwhelming, body and mind-numbing sleep deprivation set in.

The key here is to know yourself well enough that you can decide which combination of these ideas is going to have the biggest impact in offsetting your sleep deficit. 

Food & Drink

The first think that I always want to grab when I'm tired is chocolate candy. I love some peanut m&ms and Oreos. But what I also know is that I always feel worse in the hour following eating those things than I did before.

So I summon every ounce of willpower and opt for fruit, vegetables or protein. (Better yet, I just don't buy those things so I'm not tempted, because who has willpower when you're tired?)

I also know that when I drink TONS of water, I feel refreshed. I consciously drink glass after glass on the days when I'm feeling particularly tired. It really does start to wake me up.

Movement

They say that exercise actually increases your energy levels, even though the thought of it probably leaves you feeling tired and exhausted.

Maybe you just start with something small like a walk around the block on a work break or up and down a flight of steps. I also love starting small with simple stretches or a sun salutation to wake myself up. I've even done this in a conference room when I'm feeling that urge to nap under my desk.

Quiet Your Mind / Reduce Stress

I have never found meditation as meaningful as I have when I'm tired. Because when I am tired, I am emotional; I am quick to anger; I succumb easily to stress; and I just feel, in general, like the sky is falling.

Meditation is like a nap on steroids. It helps to calm my mind and my emotions and leaves me feeling a bit like I've gotten some sleep.

It looks different for everyone. Do what works for you, whether that is counting your breaths in cycles of 10, starting at a candle, doing yoga nidra or using an app like Headspace or Calm. Give it a try.

Supplements

I always make sure that I’m taking my daily vitamin and whatever else I’m into at the moment. At different stages that has been Vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, Vitamin B complex, digestive enzymes, protein shakes, etc.

When you’re tired and easily forget about eating balanced meals, getting a little extra boost from vitamins and supplements is never a bad idea. (Of course, I’m not a medical professional so consult with your healthcare provider before trying all the things.)

Lagniappe

...also known as a little something extra. Everyone has their thing that helps them feel their best. Whether it’s doing a little journaling, having a glass of wine, taking a bath, you name it. Try to add it in when you can. For me, it’s diffusing some essential oils that immediately relax me or help build up my immune system because when I get tired, I catch everything!

You know what your own lagniappe is. Don’t forget about it. Add it in when you can for a little extra boost.


Let’s be honest. Nothing truly beats sleep when it comes to feeling your best.

But it’s time that we accept whatever stage we are in and do what we can to offset that deficit.