People often asked me how I did it. No, not excel at a high-powered career or manage quintuplets or maintain my Olympic-level physique. How I raised one toddler. Who woke up exceptionally early.
Over the last few years, I’ve become a reluctant expert on surviving sleep deprivation. For the first 15 months of his life, my son woke up for the day between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning. We tried several methods of sleep training — rocking him back to sleep, letting him cry until 6:00 a.m., making sure his room was completely dark, then alternately giving him a night light and toys, bringing him into bed with us — all to no avail. When our desperation set in, we even hired a sleep “expert” whose expertise was fleecing parents out of hundreds of dollars.
Now that he’s almost 6, he makes it to 6:00 a.m. most days, but 4:30 a.m. is still his sweet spot if he’s stressed or traveling. So, how did I handle the depression, anxiety, and constant mental and physical exhaustion? Here’s my survival guide if you have a challenging sleeper:
1. Naps take precedence over everything.
A shower? No contest. Cleaning? Cooking dinner? Nope. Finding a therapist? … Are you kidding? Looking for a fulfilling, creative, meaningful job that would have made me feel like a human being again instead of just a shell who spent her waking moments wishing she could sleep and her sleeping moments wondering when she has to wake up? Hahahaha — good one.
2. Make caffeine your new boyfriend.
If you broke up with coffee or soda while pregnant, it’s important to rekindle your love affair with them ASAP. Your body belongs to you again and chemicals will make you stronger.
3. If caffeine is your new boyfriend, sugar is your new BFF.
Nothing will help you out of your Neanderthal-postured zombie slump like a few cookies. Or pretzels. Or a Pop-tart. Or whatever combination of sugar and carbs that gives you the energy burst to keep pushing that stroller or chasing that toddler.
4. Stock up on frozen entrees.
If there’s one thing I didn’t want to spend time doing it was making myself lunch. And I especially didn’t want to spend time cleaning up after that lunch. Enter your savior: the frozen food aisle.
5. The DVR or a Netflix account is the non-sleepers’ key to sanity.
When you don’t sleep, you don’t want to move. Or think. Or do. Fortunately, modern technology has you covered. With a DVR you’ll be able to catch up on your favorite shows you can’t watch live. And since you’re chained to your house now, Netflix will provide you with all the movies that you couldn’t see in the theater.
Know them. Buy them. Use them. While you may want to spend your days mainlining Friends in a fetal position on the couch, the truth is that you’re going to have to leave the house sometime. And there will be days you just want to buy the milk or the diapers without talking to every cashier, barista, or grandmother who smiles at your baby. Now is the time to strategically employ headphones. Ear buds work, but the big, over-the-ear ones will say “Don’t Talk To Me” even louder.
7. See your doctor.
Actually, this is the one thing I would sincerely recommend. Every morning as I take my medication, I’m acutely grateful that anti-depressants have given me my life back. It’s not the right choice for everyone, but I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say that I don’t know if all three of us would have survived if I hadn’t gotten help. It’s been a long time since the days when I sat on the floor and cried uncontrollably. I am horrified about the awful, unspeakable thoughts I had during my depression. The mere act of survival doesn’t seem insurmountable.
Things are actually pretty good now, but it’s payback time when my son becomes a teenager. You better believe I’ll be waking him at 5 a.m.More On