Have you seen that meme? The one that says “I’m not an early bird or a night owl but some sort of perpetually exhausted pigeon.” Welcome to the life of a mom.
Now, I’m not saying that’s a goal, but more of a reality. Have you ever met people without kids who talked about how neatly those children would fit into their schedule? Hahaha. Babies don’t work like that. Sure, the books might say “Newborns sleep 18-20 hours a day” and “Babies eat every 3 hours.” Uh huh. What they don’t say is newborns like to be held 22-24 hours a day and some babies are snackers and some are guzzlers. I remember feeling like I would nurse a baby for 30 minutes, the baby might sleep for an hour and then the whole process would start over. And they eat in the middle of the night, too!
Seriously – I did not sleep through the night for some 30 years after my first was born. Now, I am a morning person and I get up quite early (between 4 and 5 a.m.), but I also have become a really good power napper: 15 minutes, I hit REM sleep, and wake up refreshed. My husband, on the other hand, naps for 2 hours and wakes up groggy.
Here’s my caveat before some mom talk: I am not a physician or a therapist. There can be physiological, mental and/or emotional causes to exhaustion that are beyond the normal adjustments to new babies (or other stages of mothering). Even something like a very low iron count, maybe even due to very heavy periods, can have an impact. If you need additional support, please get it.
So – some mom talk for feeling exhausted. A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Research shows that poor sleep has immediate negative effects on your hormones, exercise performance, and brain function but it has long-term effects too. It can also cause weight gain and increase disease risk in both adults and children.
First, sleep when the baby sleeps. 🥰 I realize that works with the first one, but less well with subsequent kids. However, toddlers nap too. As my children started getting older and didn’t want to nap but mama did, they’d have quiet time so I could take a quick nap. You can also doze when feeding the baby. If you’re breastfeeding, hormones will make you sleepy. It’s designed to work that way.
Move your body. If you’re falling asleep and can’t catch a nap, do some jumping jacks, or some yoga, or run around the yard with your kiddos. Have a spontaneous dance party. Get your heart pumping.
Make sure your self-care practices get practiced. It’s great to have a goal to journal, to meditate, to practice gratitude, but it doesn’t help us unless we actually take action. Just like exercise. Sigh.
Have a circle of sisterhood. Is there another mom who can trade babysitting for a couple of hours? Great! How about a group of friends to go to the park with, or video chat with, or go to dinner with? Reach out. We all need human connection but that looks different for each of us.
If you’re an extrovert, be deliberate in being with other people. If you’re an introvert, be deliberate in getting alone time. Just like a lack of sleep becomes cumulative, lack of ability to recharge also becomes cumulative.
Do as much as you can to make sure the sleep you do get is good sleep. Keep the blue light in your room as low as possible. Decrease ambient noise. Keep your room on the cool side. Taking a hot bath or shower 90 minutes before bed can help improve the quality of your sleep. Get off your phone/tablet/laptop at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. Add in a deliberate night-time routine to wind down, rather than falling into bed absolutely exhausted. Cut your caffeine consumption later in the day. For some people, that’s noon. For others, it’s 6 pm. For some, caffeine doesn’t seem to impact sleep at all and for some, it can actually have the opposite effect.
“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws,” said Barbara Kingsolver. Functioning for years in an exhausted state of chronic sleep deprivation is proof of that. Now go take a nap. I’m pretty sure you need it.