If you have a baby who isn't a naturally amazing sleeper, you've probably read all of the available tips. There are countless sleep-training manifestos out there, professing to solve all of your baby's sleep woes in a single week (or less!). When my baby hit her 4-month sleep "regression" (which turned into a 4, 5 and 6 month regression), I know that I was desperate. I started with the 'no cry' solution, of course, and moved on to the 'please let this work' solution when that didn't take. Soon I had moved on to my own method of make-it-up-as-you-go-along sleep training that relied mostly on fervent prayer. Did it work? Who knows! Eventually, my baby figured out how to sleep, as they all seem to do eventually. If I had to do it over again, I like to think I would have been more zen about the whole process -- but that's a pretty easy thing to say a year in hindsight from my generally well-rested high horse. The fact is, I was TIRED. I could hardly think straight let alone trust that my baby, too, would eventually get through this phase and figure out how to get her recommended daily dose of sleep.
What I was missing -- and what I believe the litany of baby-sleep-training gurus are missing, are crucial sleep training tips that should apply to tired families. These can't-miss sleep training tips are for you, the parents of these sleepless babies and toddlers. This advice goes a bit deeper than the trite "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice that is doled out by well-intentioned seasoned parents (mine included). While this advice is probably sound, it is a reasonably natural reaction to think "Duh!" upon hearing it. The larger question is HOW to put that into practice when your mind is whirling with the anxiety of new parenthood, and your body is battered from labor and birth. Who wouldn't love it if the answer to your exhaustion was simply to lie down when you baby dozes off and drift off into a peaceful nap? The fact is, though, we aren't good at napping during random points of the day -- for many of us it's been years since we indulged in daily nap.
With this in mind, we propose five strategies for weathering the sleepless storm that is your new baby. We hope these sleep training tips for tired moms are helpful to at least a few of you, and allow you to bask in the joy of this amazing time in your life without the little voice in your head saying "yeah, I'd love it if I weren't so...very...tired."
1. Lay off or delay the caffeine
Yes, this one isn't very popular, but remember -- you just spent nine months either limiting your caffeine intake or cutting it out altogether. If you jump back into coffee in a big way to combat the exhaustion of new motherhood, it's going to hit you even harder because you're not used to it. The result will be an increased sensitivity to caffeine, and resulting inability to rest or nap effectively when the time is right. Even if you avoid caffeine right after your baby wakes in the "morning" (for many families this will still be an obnoxiously early hour that most would call "night"), you will give yourself a better chance of falling back to sleep when your baby begins her first nap. It's much better to indulge in a cup of coffee when you and the baby awake from your first nap.
2. Find your sleepytime
Just like babies, adults also have 'sleep windows.' For some people, their circadian rhythms are such that napping at a particular time of day is virtually impossible, while staying awake at other times of day is a real struggle. For me, if I'm woken at 5 or 6 AM, there is zero chance that I will fall back to sleep -- even if the baby is sound asleep and it's pitch black outside. But, come 7 or 7:30 AM, I can lie down and be out instantly. My husband is the opposite -- for him, his sleepy time of day is late afternoon, but sleeping at 7 AM is impossible. Conveniently, these sleepy times are not in sync, which allows us to tag team nap schedules (at least on the weekend) so we can each take advantage of our natural sleep windows.
3. Set the stage
Another reason napping can be so difficult is because the world is not asleep when we are trying to be -- the bright sun is hatching it's evil plot to keep us awake by shining in our window. The cars outside honk as if they aren't aware that a nap-attempt is in progress. Just as your baby is sensitive to light and sound at her naptime, so are you. Whereas we invest in white noise machines and blackout shades for the nursery, most of us don't consider making a similar investment in our own sleep. Why not!? Make your room a sleep oasis at any time of day. A sleep mask can replace black out shades, and your phone headphones and a simple white noise app will help set the stage for a successful nap attempt. Go one step further and use essential oils and aromatherapy to create a peaceful sleep environment. The November Ecocentric Mom and Ecocentric Mom and Baby box each contain a wonderful 100% natural product from the Essence of Vali, which contain essential oils of lavendar, majoram, ylang ylang, and cedarwood. Spray it on your pillow to help you relax, tune out the world, and get the rest you need. Whatever you use to set the stage for sleep, stay away from Tylenol PM! This will just leave you feeling groggy and hung over when you do have to get up from your nap or your night sleep.
4. Stop Counting Hours
Do any of these sound familiar?
"If I go to sleep now, I will get XX hours before the baby wakes up."
"If I could only fall sleep now, I would get XX hours before I have to get up for [blah, blah]."
"I have to feed the baby in one hour, so I might as well not even go to sleep until after I do that."
Every new mom is probably guilty of doing some version of this math in her head. We are often so busy counting hours of sleep that we didn't get, or want to get, or might get...that we aren't actually getting the sleep we could. This is not to say you should not be aware of your total sleep hours in a day -- but try to fixate on it less to give yourself a greater chance of actually achieving relaxation. Don't use the fact that you might have to get up 'soon' for a feeding, diaper change, appointment, or anything dissuade you from trying to get your sleep in. While uninterrupted sleep might be ideal, that's just not a practical goal for a new mommy. Just take it when you can get it!
5. Just go to bed.
You might say this is our version of "sleep when the baby sleeps" -- don't hate us! But, chances are that your baby does have one long(ish) stretch of sleep in the evening or night some time. This might not be your technical sleeping-through-the-night, which is defined as a (preposterous) 5-hour stretch of sleep, but she probably has a 3 hour sleep window somewhere in her day, oftentimes beginning around 8-10 PM. You should be sleeping then, too! Turn off the television and just crawl in bed at this time -- you can train your body to fall asleep this early, and you will wake up refreshed when morning rolls around -- even if you've been up 5-6 times throughout the night. Give it a try! It might take some getting used to, but your tired body will thank you.
What do you do to get enough sleep to function these days? Tell us in the comments!
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