Sleep in heavenly peace (please, for the love of God)
January 5, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

We have a five-month-old daughter. How do we deal with chronic sleep deprivation and get through our days?

(I wrote this post this morning, then forgot to post it. Because I was sleep deprived.)

Our daughter is awesome and has been known to sleep through the night on multiple occasions. However, she's currently in a high-need period in which she's practically waking up every 90 minutes. (I won't go into the methods of everything here, since that's at least three separate questions, but suffice it to say that I pump exclusively, she is teething, she has been waking up SUPER HAPPY AND READY FOR FUN and we are also not running in at every little peep.) We trade off and we never argue about it, but we get no sleep. When we do, it's often not high-quality (in a recliner, for example).

Even when she's only waking up once (3 AM or so), I find myself staying up until 1 just to have some peace and get other things done. My husband tends to go to bed at 9ish so he can get at least some sleep before getting up.

We both work office jobs during a normal 40-hour week, while she goes to daycare. We've taken a few day-off opportunities to just stay home and sleep while she's at daycare; obviously, that's not a normal option, and we haven't been able to catch up. Neither of us drink coffee, but my husband drinks an occasional Diet Dr. Pepper while I usually start my day with an iced tea and a proteiny smoothie.

We sleep as late/as much as we can on the weekends, but I feel like a hostage to sleep schedules and it doesn't seem to help us catch up then, either.

tl;dr we have a kid, she's going to keep us up, yada yada. How do I not fall asleep at my desk? Especially during winter, and especially during THIS winter, when we've all been sick for most of the time.
posted by Madamina to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can you outsource some of the stuff you're staying up to do? Laundry service, cleaning service, food delivery.
posted by k8t at 5:34 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

I know you're not asking for baby advice but I know some babies that did this and didn't just snap back to sleeping through the night. Some call it sleep regression. Action was required. Ferberizing worked just fine on them and they're sleeping through the night again. Just be sure you're not fooling yourselves that this is a phase!

On to the sleep deprivation advice: Stay very hydrated and take regular showers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:49 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Trade off with your husband. My breaking point was night 3. After 3 nights of no sleep I was a sobbing, broken, mess. My marriage had fallen apart and I was on my own so I used my mother for help. Every 4th night, she took my baby home with her so that I could have one full night of sleep. You could do this with your husband, just alternate weeks or something. Figure out your different breaking points and work out a schedule. You can also look into getting a night nanny. This will pass and, because of the sleep deprivation, you won't remember much of it, but, for now, pay for help if you can.
posted by myselfasme at 5:54 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

I would go out to my car at lunchtime and nap. Your kiddo will grow and with it their stomach and ability to sleep longer, have confidence you will all come through better
posted by nickggully at 6:07 PM on January 5, 2015

You sound more or less like we did two months ago. Had you told me then that our daughter, at age seven months, would sleep through the night and have a predictable routine of naps in the day that would allow us to get shit done, well, I wouldn't have believed you. But it's true.

I still take the early shift, so I'm generally up at 5:00 or 5:30 every morning, but it's so much better than it was when our little one was your daughter's age.

As for how to make it through? Start to drink coffee and stop staying up late to do stuff. Go to bed as early as possible, prep as much as you can for daycare the night before, and drink coffee. Sweet tasty coffee.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:26 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Any Grandparents, Aunts or Uncles that could take her for a night every week or so, so you can at least get one full nights sleep? Also let all but the basic stuff slide to the absolute bare minimum if you can't afford or ask for some outside help, your house will be a crazy dirty mess for a while, then she'll start sleeping through & you can clean, wash sheets etc then. Sleep tops everything.
posted by wwax at 6:54 PM on January 5, 2015

Right now you are in survival mode, our culture makes light of sleep deprivation but it is serious business. Stop staying up til 1 a.m., prioritize your sleep, go to sleep when the baby goes to sleep as long as you need to. Your latest bedtime should be 10 p.m. until your baby is consistently sleeping through the night. If you're not getting enough help around the house to do all the things try to outsource instead of trying to pick up the slack. Sleep deprivation is cumulative and takes so much good self care to recover from, you need to let your body catch up and keep catching up, it's more important than the laundry or whatever.

More than 2-3 wake-ups a night is torture, don't feel bad if you have to take work off to sleep once in a while if you don't have other options. Can you alternate so that you cover that early stretch of the night and he covers the second half? Remember, survival mode. Normal routines do not apply. When my son was in the really rough sleep phases it was absolutely necessary to trade-off so that I didn't drop him or freak out, every few hours is still hard but do-able but less than that is genuinely crazy-making.

If you end up paying more for takeout or cleaning or laundry or a night nurse it'll be worth it, if you burn out now you're in for a long slog, trust me on this (my dear child did not full sleep through the night consistently until he was 2.5 years old). I'm on the other side now but I remember how horrible it is to be consistently sleep deprived, and I learned the hard way the toll the lack of sleep and self care takes over time. Once my son started to sleep well it took a few solid months of sleeping all night and napping on weekends until I felt somewhat caught up. Now I'm just regular working parent tired and I still wouldn't dare to stay up til 1 a.m. regularly. It sucks and less than you want gets done and you don't see friends enough but it does get better.

Also pumping full time is hard work (don't be too worried that a cup of coffee/tea will affect your baby fwiw if that's what's keeping you away from the caffeine), and maybe in a few months you can taper that back (the pumping and the caffeine) and you might find you can have some peace during the day on your lunch at work or in the evening while baby is awake.
posted by lafemma at 7:08 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Absolutely Nthing that you need to stop voluntarily staying up to 1 am. You are in triage mode, and while I know how addicting it can be to finally get a moment of peace and quiet, you need to spend those sleeping right now. It won't last long, though it feels that way now, but your body NEEDS you to do this. If you are reading this right now and the baby is not up GO TO SLEEP. Sleep hygiene, as much as you can help it, is important right now, and you want your body used to sleeping at night whenever you can get it.

My husband and I staggered our sleep schedules so that I would go to bed early in the evening and he would stay up with the baby and do one bottle feeding (I was nursing exclusively otherwise) plus whatever rocking/sushing/etc needed to happen, going to bed at midnight himself. After that point I was on with the baby, but before that I was guaranteed a 4-6 hour block of time (depending on how early I wanted to turn in) of being "clocked out." I would put my ear plugs in, pull up the covers and pass out - it was wonderful to be able to relax and know that my husband had it and he would not wake me up for anything short of an actual emergency. I found this preferable to going every-other-one on wakeups or other unpredictable arrangements for sleep. Similarly, my husband could plan on a period of uninterrupted sleep.

Weekends, alternate days for who sleeps in and who gets up with baby, and ideally takes the baby out of the house for a walk (or drive, if it's cold) for at least 45-60 minutes.

Other than that, drink a lot of water and try to get some physical movement in each day, even a slow walk around your building at work.
posted by handful of rain at 8:27 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

In my experience:
1. You need to divide and conquer. Teamwork is key. Taking turns with nights is hard, so we always took shifts. Agree in advance not to get upset when you get reminded that it's your shift.
2. Get to bed early. There's no leisure that is going to be more valuable to you than sleep if you are in survival mode. Nothing is as entertaining as getting more rest feels the next morning.
3. Fill your DVR so you have a silver lining when it's your turn. When my oldest was a baby, I had nothing to keep me occupied but informercials and the third run of Larry King Live. It's so much better now. You can forebear watching a whole season of TV and then catch up when your baby keeps you awake.
4. Get your sleep when you can. I have a couch in my office now, but I used to take ugly man-naps on the floor of my office when I had to. The Pzizz app is actually pretty good for helping you get a 20-minute nap and waking you up on time.
5. Plan some away time with your spouse. Even if it's months away. Even if it's just a weekend at a local hotel alone. It will give you something to look forward to and make the hard nights more tolerable.
6. Remember: "It won't be like this for long." Maybe it's corny, but this is a time that you and your spouse are going to remember fondly someday. Man, it's tough. But it's really a blink of an eye. Good luck.
posted by Slap Factory at 8:52 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I had it to do over again, the pumping was the one big thing I'd change. The benefits of breastfeeding are real but minor, while the detriments of having dangerously sleep-deprived parents are major. 24 hours of sleep deprivation is enough to cause the beginnings of psychosis. Pumping and cleaning all the equipment takes hours every day that could be used for sleep. Frozen food, disposable diapers, and all the help you can recruit, take whatever "shortcuts" you can because it's not like in a week you'll suddenly be getting all the sleep you can handle.
posted by wnissen at 9:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]

We went through this with our kid when he was nine months old. I remember it got to the point that my wife was hysterical, but we did solve it in the span of three days and it carried over permanently into his toddler years.

The key was pretty simple: a consistent bedtime routine. In other words, something light playtime at 7 pm, bath at 8 pm, and in bed at 9 pm, all with the same predictable bedtime routine each night. Once we did that he started sleeping through the night. Before then, we just took the evenings as they came, e.g. put him to bed at 10 pm, do something different the next night, put him down early the next night, take him over to a friends house until 9 pm the next night, and so on.

I think our original source for this was a book called No Cry Sleep Solution but the important elements are right there in my paragraph above.
posted by crapmatic at 9:21 PM on January 5, 2015

Here's how I handled it.

1. Secure the living room. Make it a baby-friendly place. Gate off the entranceways, take stuff off low shelves, etc.

2. Put some stuff around that babies like to play with. Toys, measuring cups, that kind of thing.

3. Lay out a sleeping pad on the floor.

4. Basically doze while my baby crawled around and sometimes over me.

It wasn't great sleep, but it was better than nothing.
posted by Alaska Jack at 11:04 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

We have an awesome 4 year old daughter now. I can only say that it gets a lot better, but those first months were really too hard for us too. And now I realise I've had too little sleep for over 4 years in a row and wow, you get used to that too! Good luck and enjoy the good moments!
posted by hz37 at 12:11 AM on January 6, 2015

Have you considered sleep training? It may be slightly early since I believe 6 months is the recommended age to do it, but I'd suggest reading the books on it to see if you may want to try it. (We did Ferber and the book is helpful for all sorts of sleep information and I still refer to it for things like nightmares etc. - read the book, don't follow some random internet plan)

I was heavily against sleep training until I actually did it, and it has been basically miraculous. My baby still wakes up sometimes, but it's rare enough to be an event (15 months old now) and before sleep training it was several times a night and starting to be a big issue. Some of my peers who refused to sleep train are still dealing with multiple night wakings with their toddlers, so I believe the short term pain is worth the long term gain.
posted by rainydayfilms at 1:45 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

In a similar situation, I sleep trained my daughter (at 4 months) and it probably literally saved my life, so I echo that suggestion. You can't cheat sleep, the only way to get through sleep deprivation is to sleep more. Your cognition and mental/physical health are likely more impaired than you have the capacity to realize right now. You basically just need to get more sleep - it's not necessarily true that you have a baby who is going to keep you awake and you just have to deal with that - there are things you can do about it but it's just a question of what works for your family and you specifically.

I have the No Cry Sleep Solution - if you'd like it, Memail me and I'll send it to you. I found it preachy and judgmental but there are good ideas in it if you don't want to sleep train.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:44 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh I feel you. We had a hellish 4-month sleep regression and are now dealing with a really tough 9-month one, plus teething, plus me recovering from an illness, and aaaargh.

What has helped (for us, obviously YMMV):

- baby sleeps in our room, in a 3-sided cot attached to my side of the bed. When she needs even more closeness than that (tooth issues usually) we cosleep. Obviously this doesn't do much for the "YAY PLAYTIME!" wake ups but it really helps when a cuddle will settle her back to sleep. I just could not cope with getting up and out of bed every time she woke, let alone to a different room.

(We have had warnings from family and books etc about how this means she'll never learn to sleep alone and will be in our room until she's 25 etc etc, but, well, if the alternative is me walking out in front of a bus because of sleep deprivation tomorrow then I'm going to do what works best today.)

- We take shifts with her. Currently I do nights, but after whatever o'clock in the morning (exact time has changed depending on circumstances) it's her dad's turn and I get to sleep. I find I can sleep much better in the chunks I do get when I know for sure I am not on baby duty and won't be for a good few hours.

- Resisting the temptation to stay up late after she's in bed. And I know it is so tempting, to have that time and space and peace by yourself, but... no. Not sustainable when sleep is rough. Go to bed.

- Even when I feel like I can't sleep, just lying down in bed and closing my eyes for a while gets me more rest than trying to do awake things.

- Embracing naps. I have come home from work and napped for half an hour before now, just to get a bit more sleep in.

- When we're going through a tough phase of sleep, I find that the extra pressure I feel about it from people/books/websites/baby sleep industry in general can really get me down. There are all sorts of ill-founded assumptions out there linking baby sleep to parenting skills, telling you that all babies should be sleeping through the night by X weight or Y age and if yours isn't then either your baby is faulty or you're doing something wrong, other people with different babies wondering why on earth I don't do things that just would not work for my kid or my family, etc. I deal with this at such times by a) only reading actual published research on baby sleep and ignoring anything else and b) imagining my eyes have laser beams to zap people with. YMMV.
posted by Catseye at 5:31 AM on January 6, 2015

Our six year old son has had periods of sleep trouble since he was tiny. After a month of trying to have shifts each night, my husband and I alternated nights. So one parent would be on duty and the other got a whole night of sleeping. This worked well for when I returned to work. No matter what, each parent could count on a full night of sleep every other night. Now that I freelance, it's usually me that gets up for a kiddo nightmare. But, if I need a night or have a big project, we go back to the alternating nights system. Best of luck!
posted by banjonaut at 7:15 AM on January 6, 2015

During the worst of baby iminurmefi's sleep, we traded off chunks of the night and that was helpful, as everyone said above. One of the postpartum mental health talks I went to while pregnant said that a four-hour chunk of sleep twice a week is the bare minimum necessary to not lose your mind (paraphrased); I found that 4 hours in a row every night is, for me, the dividing line between "man I am tired" and putting my keys away in the fridge because I'm too zonked to think clearly. That made 2am the dividing line for splitting up the night for us, because we'd generally be in bed and asleep by 10pm, and one person got the 10pm-2am uninterrupted sleep chunk and the other person got the 2am-6am sleep chunk.

If you're finding the tiredness is much worse in the winter (which I totally do), it might be related to the lack of bright light in the morning. I recently bought a bright sun lamp off Amazon, mostly to treat some mood issues that have popped up this winter for me, but one really notable side effect is that sitting in front of it for 30 minutes every morning has dramatically cut down on the amount of caffeine I need even on low-sleep days. I'm not gonna lie to you, it's really difficult to get those 30 minutes in the morning with a baby and a spouse trying to get ready for work, but it's been pretty amazing in terms of my tiredness levels. As a stop-gap until sleep gets better, it may be worth trying.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know you say you pump exclusively but have you considered formula? Due to issues with my wife's feeding we were forced to switch to formula at maybe the 2 month point. Almost instantly our daughter started to sleep through the night. It was heartbreaking to make the change but ultimately served to have a better relationship as a family and more sane time to devote to other needs of said child.
posted by IzzeYum at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I expect there is a reason for pumping rather than breastfeeding, but just in case, I survived my high needs baby's early months by sleeping in the same bed with him topless and just letting him get on with it while I dozed...
posted by KateViolet at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2015

Co-sleeping and going to bed early were (are) what saved my sanity. Up until maybe 8 months I was going to bed at 7pm, because that was when the kid went to bed. That way I could still wake up to feed/change the baby throughout the night and be bright-eyed in the morning, even without coffee. The kid is only this little for so long. Believe me, I KNOW how much you just want to ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING ANYTHING when you feel like all you do is sit and care for the baby all day. But that's gotta wait until the baby is bigger. Because the baby does get bigger. And does sleep longer. But just not yet.

Good luck.
posted by jillithd at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2015

As you know, I've had my share of sleep troubles with my son (now 12.5 months). Chronic sleep deprivation is truly hellish. I remember wondering whether I'd ever recover - I felt worse than I ever have in my life. There were MONTHS at a time when I never slept more than an hour in a row, and never more than 5 hours overall, and I LITERALLY prayed to every god I could think of ("Um, just in case you're real, I don't think I can survive this any more, please help me"), even though I'm a lifelong athiest.... So yeah. I get you. It's bad.

To continue being at least modestly functional at my job, I went to bed no more than 1 hour after the baby, so sometime between 8:00 and 9:00. Yes, this means I had no personal time. I watched no movies or TV, neglected all my hobbies, neglected exercise, and ate the simplest food I could possibly make with minimal dishes. I vacuumed maybe once a week and there were piles of laundry. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT to get a bit more sleep.

I co-slept (with the baby next to me) during the horrible, horrible stretches when he was up every 45 minutes. Otherwise he was in a co-sleeper.

At least one night a week, hopefully twice, I would leave my husband with a pumped bottle and move from my bed to the couch (no guest room) at around 2:00 AM. He would take care of the baby until I woke up sometime around 6:30, which was when he had to leave for work. I found that getting 3.5 consecutive hours of sleep was pretty magical - it made me feel 1000% better the next day, even if my overall sleep was pretty bad.

I forced myself not to use my phone or look at bright lights when I was awake at night and unable to get back to sleep. Looking at bright things made it impossible to withstand the constant interruptions. If I couldn't sleep, I meditated or pretended to sleep.

This will pass. You will be OK. You will sleep again!
posted by Cygnet at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2015

I found that I needed 4 hours of continuous sleep to be a functional human and 6 hours to actually do anything well. Set up a schedule with you partner so that you each get at least 4 hours.

I also stopped pumping at 4 months and went to formula exclusively.

We did some sleep training but mainly what we do is wait as long as we can possibly stand to go into the baby's room when he's crying (usually 5 minutes, tops). Often he'll quiet himself and go back to sleep. We used to have a baby monitor on in our room all night so all noises were amplified and we'd wake up and automatically go in. For bad dream type cries we go in immediately but mainly we focus on giving him time to learn how to put himself back to sleep.

Also, as mentioned by others, stop doing anything that isn't strictly necessary. Buy prepared foods or eat the same easy meal every night, stop folding laundry, cut way back on cleaning, etc.

Oh, and we had my mom come a couple of times and take over the early morning wake ups so we could sleep in. Knowing what I know now, I would seriously hire a babysitter to come in for morning duty if no family member or friend is available.

Sleep deprivation is serious business.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:57 PM on January 6, 2015

tldr b/c I'm tired from staying up too late and my 5 month old waking me up more than normal b/c she's not feeling well, sooo.... this is in the vein of "I feel your pain" rather than "magic bullet"

The heart is go to bed earlier/get more sleep.

When I start getting sleep deprived, I sometimes, oddly, start finding myself resisting going to bed and having a harder time falling asleep. I don't really know why I do this. Maybe I start running on adrenaline so it's harder to relax into sleep even when I'm exhausted. Maybe I'm just missing free time so I do it out of stubborn "I want to". Maybe I'm doing it b/c, well, the chores need doing and I start thinking that sleep and doing the dishes are of equal urgency.

But when I do manage to get a little more sleep, I feel so much better, so I know that I should go to bed earlier. But for whatever reason it's still hard for me to do.

Things that help me some:
- A fixed amount of time that I'll do chores after getting the baby down (it's amazing what you can get done in 30 min)
- A bedtime routine of my own, currently: a warm bath, an almond croissant, a cup of sleepytime tea (both in the bath : )
- Try to put my phone away in bed

And during the day, one thing that helps and is easy for me to forget is to drink LOTS of water. LOTS.
posted by pennypiper at 12:45 PM on January 12, 2015

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