Let’s get one thing straight here: I love sleep. I need sleep. And yes, even more than the average person. Although, lest we forget, it’s been scientifically proven that women need more sleep than men. After all, we do run the world.
I am not one of those weird people who convince themselves that sleep is for the weak and stay up all night reading the Internet or binge-watching Netflix like my 21-year-old sister. My preference is always to be tucked away by 10 0’clock, and sleeping soundly. But, unfortunately, as much as I love sleep, I don’t always get enough of it.
Like most parents, sleep deprivation is a struggle that’s all too real. Within a six-year window, I had four children and worked night shifts as a nurse for a good chunk of that time. So when I became pregnant with my fourth baby, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was terrified. By that point, I was so exhausted that I simply couldn’t imagine getting up every few hours to breastfeed a newborn while still caring for my other three kids and working. Ironically, I lost sleep stressing over the impending sleep loss. I’m sure the fact that I was so huge carrying my fourth and could never get into a comfortable sleeping position didn’t help either.
Somewhere during those seemingly never-ending nine months, I came across a startling simple piece of advice that completely changed my relationship with sleep. It frankly helped me survive welcoming my fourth baby who, it turned out, would be a terrible sleeper.
The advice came from a mom who has eight children, so I trusted that she knew a thing or two about sleep deprivation. When I tell you this tip, you will probably laugh at me. But I promise, it’s worth giving it a try.
Here it is: Don’t look at the clock. Ever.
Yes, I’m serious, that’s it. It sounds so simple, but think about it — what do you do when you wake up with the baby? You check the time, groan a little inside, and watch the hands of the clock glide by while the baby is eating. You mentally calculate how much time you will have left to sleep when all is said and done, and then will probably stress a little (or a lot!) about how little time that is. It’s actually exhausting just thinking about how exhausting it all is.
I obsessed so much over my lack of sleep that it was, ironically, ruining what little sleep I could get. As my pregnancy came to an end, I decided to take this advice. I wasn’t going to look at the clock. Ever. If I got no sleep, well then, so be it. I couldn’t change that, so why worry. Worrying certainly wouldn’t help.
Following this rule was very freeing for me. OK, the baby is up crying? Don’t check the clock. In fact, if you have actual clocks in your rooms, just turn them around. You are nursing and scrolling through some feeds on your phone? Don’t look at the time. Just go with it. Don’t think about it. It will save you calculating how many hours you will have left if you go to sleep right this second. It will keep you from sinking into that dark, dark place.
For me, it worked 100%. I am blind as a bat and can barely see anything at night without my glasses, so I would just keep them off. I would just get up with the baby and then go back to sleep afterwards. I would collapse into bed and actually sleep for the 30 minutes that I would have otherwise spent stressing.
This new sleep system lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. The fears I had about being so tired were overshadowing the joy of our growing family. I was letting fear control my life. The solution was to simply let go of the fear of sleep deprivation and learn to lean into the short-lived reality of getting up more frequently during the night.
My fourth baby ended up being a terrible sleeper (at two years old, she still is), but welcoming her into our family was a true joy. I look back at that time in our lives and I was able to soak up every minute with her; happily rocking her for hours, binge-reading blogs and jotting down some truly fascinating moments in my phone during those late-night nursing sessions. I swear to you, babies can sense stress. When I became more relaxed, we were all happier because of it.
I will never downplay that sleep deprivation is a real health hazard and that some mothers may need outside help or medical intervention to protect their health. Every mom is different. But for me, someone who likes lists and structure, the hardest part about newborn life was the complete unpredictability of it all. Giving myself permission to just not look at the clock and literally live “in the moment” each night made all the difference in the world.
Oh, and coffee. But that goes without saying, right?