Everyone knows that babies put their parents through the sleep wringer in the early days. Unsurprisingly, having spent nine months sleeping much of the time their mum is active (ie. the daytime) and partying when she rests (ie. night time), they have very little respect for our generally accepted waking and sleeping behaviours.
But what if the sleepless nights last longer? What if you’ve barely slept for two, three or four years? How do you manage? Well, here’s a practical guide on how to cope with sleep deprivation for parents of toddlers.
Toddlers Who Don’t Sleep
We all know parents who thought they had it bad because their babies were up twice a night when they were four-weeks-old. Those parents returned to full nights of glorious kip soon thereafter and don’t realise how lucky they are.
We still talk to those parents, but we quickly move on if they mention anything nocturnal.
The fact is that a lot of us have toddlers who can’t seem to put in a full night’s shift just yet, and it’s bloody difficult. I know full well that I’ve had it easy compared to some – my eldest starting sleeping through at about 20 months and my youngest is almost there just before he turns two. That’s still nearly four years of my life so far that have been blighted by broken slumber and early mornings, so I reckon I’m qualified to pass on some of the coping mechanisms that worked for me. And they are coping mechanisms, the only real way to deal with sleep deprivation is to sleep more and, unfortunately, that is not always in our hands.
Sleep Deprivation for Parents – Hints and Tips
1) Plenty of Caffeine
Look, I never said this would be a scientifically and medically approved list of ways to cope with sleep deprivation for parents of toddlers. I should probably add in some disclaimer about consulting medical professionals for the best theoretical advice, but I don’t live in a theoretical world.
My practical experience is that mainlining coffee and tea (Yorkshire Tea, obviously) has ensured I have yet to slump head first onto the desk whilst trying to work. That to me is a result.
I’m not even sure if the caffeine is really working its magic or if it is a placebo effect, but as long as I feel alert and I’ve had no complaints about the standard of my work so far, that’s the important stuff, right? All I know is that, with a steaming caffeinated mug in hand, I feel I can take on the world.
That’s the vaguely serious bit about this, sometimes what makes you feel more awake is just as valuable as any other advice, even if it makes no logical sense. This is not to be confused with those political arguments you have with your Nan who insists that her baseless beliefs about certain topics are more valuable than actual, real facts.
My caffeine product also has the added bonus that, over the last few years, I’ve come to know exactly where to find the very cheapest items to buy in Waitrose in order to claim the ‘free’ coffee.
Exercise is the last thing you want to do when you feel exhausted, but it’s worth persevering. Running is my fitness regime of choice and, although it can be tough whilst I’m out on the street, the buzz at the end is enough to see me through for a few hours.
The worst bit is the first five minutes, when it feels like I’m wading through sticky mud just trying to keep moving forward. However, there comes a certain point when the mud relents and I suddenly find myself moving forward freely. It’s almost worth it for that very moment.
3) Eat Better
I have now realised that all of these points require a deal of effort and are very easy to dismiss when you’re on your last legs. But stick with me. The rewards are worth it.
Yes, when you are dealing with sleep deprivation, you want all the sugar and carbs. The problem there is that they might make you feel good for a bit, but you are never far from a massive crash. Bear in mind that you’re already trying to juggle the peaks and troughs of the caffeine coursing through your veins, so this will not help.
This tip to help you cope with lack of sleep is actually less about eating well and more about not eating badly. If you can substitute the crisps and chocolate for nuts, fresh fruit and the like, it does take away an element of sluggishness.
4) Drink More Water
If you’re imbibing lots of caffeinated drinks, you are at risk of becoming dehydrated. Drinking water also takes the edge off your hunger and is good for your skin too, which has probably taken a pounding from the broken sleep. Basically, water is a flaming marvel. It’s so helpful, I’m thinking of having it piped directly into my house.
5) Get Out of the House
It’s often tempting to stay inside the house, counting down the hours until nap time when you might be able to catch a few Zs, but natural daylight is fantastic for waking you up. It tells your body that it’s daytime and that you need to be alert. Fresh air on your skin is another livener, but don’t take that to its extreme because law enforcement tends to look down on people browsing the local car boot sale in the buff.
More Ideas on How to Cope With Sleep Deprivation for Parents of Toddlers
Do you have any other coping mechanisms for sleep deprivation? They don’t have to make any sense, they just need to work for you. Share them in the Comments and hopefully they can help a fellow parent zombie out.