10 Tips To Cope With Sleep Deprivation

Mother holding yawning baby in black and white.

I first wrote this article back in 2016, when I was in the midst of sleep deprivation with my first baby. While all the books recommended to me were trying to “fix” the sleep issue, I eventually decided to accept that my baby wasn’t going to “sleep through the night” anytime soon and to focus on improving my quality of life instead.

So here are 10 tips I wrote back in 2016 when my daughter was about 9 month-old. We’re now in 2024 and I have an 18-month-old and he doesn’t “sleep through the night” either and I’m not sleep-deprived. The difference is that we cosleep and so I haven’t had to use any of these tips. Bedsharing wasn’t something I wanted to do with my daughter, but I know now that life would have been very different if I had.

Anyway, you can only do your best with what you know, and in 2015, I didn’t have the same knowledge and I was a different person than I am now.

I hope this article can help someone, out there, going through sleep-deprivation and not looking for advice on how to make her baby sleep better.

If this is you, please take care of yourself. Sleep deprivation is really really awful and can lead to feeling very down. If that is the case, speak to your partner, a trusted friend, your mental health team or your GP.

Sleeping newborn cradled on parent's chest.

Let’s Start With 4 Things That Didn’t Help

Maybe you know someone who is going through sleep-deprivation and want to know how to help and what not to say. So here are a few things that didn’t help me when I was in this season of life:

  1. Unwanted advice on things to try to get my daughter to sleep better (when you’ve tried everything, you don’t have the energy to justify your choices or why you won’t try to let your baby cry it out)
  2. Hearing things like “I don’t know why you find it so difficult, I don’t remember it being so hard, and I had three of them.”
  3. Mothers saying “I wouldn’t have been able to last that long” which kind of meant “I would have found a solution where you didn’t”.
  4. Having to answer the question “Did she sleep last night?” “How did she sleep?” on a regular basis.
Sleeping baby in a knitted hat.

10 things that helped me Cope With sleep deprivation

Here are the little things that helped me get through the worst of it. Nothing magic. No advice. No solutions!

#1 I adjusted my expectations.

This meant that I told myself that in a year from now, my daughter wouldn’t be sleeping any better. That’s it. My mother thought I was crazy. But it was so liberating. And I was right in the end, so I saved myself a lot of heartache.

Edit from 2024: I now know that these expectations are the main issue, and babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night, but in 2015, having my first child, I was led to believe my daughter’s sleep patterns weren’t normal.

#2 I stopped reading books and articles.

Some of the advice from some of the books were great, but most of them contradict each other. So I stopped and it was hard but I tried to listen to myself, to my baby, and see what advice was right for us and which ones weren’t, even if they were written by “specialists”. I stopped feeling like I was doing something wrong by letting my baby use a soother or feed on demand. It was hard because I felt so low that I needed somebody to tell me what to do, but after all, I was the specialist of MY baby.

Edit from 2024: with my 2nd baby, I only read “Sweet Sleep – Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family” as I knew bedsharing was going to be the only way to “cope” this time around, and I wanted to do it safely. I highly recommend it as it talks about NORMAL baby sleep patterns. I also recommend following Lindsey Hookway on Instagram, for her realistic and educated baby sleep advice. But THAT’S IT. Ditch the rest!

#3 I stopped looking at the clock every time she woke up.

Well, it’s not entirely true but most mornings I don’t remember how many times I was up. And I definitely stopped reporting it to my mother.

Edit from 2024: while bedsharing and feeding my baby/toddler through the night, I NEVER look at the time and most mornings I do not remember how many times he woke up or if he fed at all. (Some nights I know he feeds a lot, usually because of teething, but not having to get out of bed makes things so much easier for me.) It’s just something that doesn’t bother me or feel my head/thoughts. Sleep became an obsession with my daughter.

#4 I chatted with other sleep-deprived mums.

This was so helpful! I went to a few breastfeeding groups, mum & baby groups and baby massage classes. I told the truth. They listened. They said “me too” or “you’re doing great” or “I went through it, it was so tough”. I felt so much better. No advice, no judgment.

#5 I bought a comfortable chair to nurse at night.

Yep. It took me 6 months. Because “There was no point buying a new chair when she was going to sleep through the night soon”. Best purchase ever. We bought the Poang chair from Ikea and we use it to read books at bedtime as well. It’s not comfortable enough that I fall asleep in it, but better than having no head support at all.

#6 I was getting ready for bed 3 hours before going to bed.

This tip is very silly but it made a big difference for me. You see, when I was going to bed at 10pm, after watching a series or something, I was so tired that changing into my PJs or brushing my teeth was like climbing a mountain. So I used to get all ready for bed after putting my LO to bed, then relax for the evening, and then later on, jump into bed with nothing else to do. Bliss!

Edit from 2024: This tip makes me laugh. I still do this, but it’s because I get ready for bed at 7.30 pm and then get into bed (my own) with my toddler. I nurse him to sleep and then use the evening time to read on my Kindle / watch a series in bed or work. I know some mothers want to have time to spend with their partners in the evenings, but it suits us.

#7 I got nice comfy PJ trousers.

Because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I made the sleep I was getting as comfortable as possible! Going to bed was like the highlight of my day :)

#8 Instead of focusing on the “getting up”, I focused on the “getting back into bed”.

This was probably the most important little trick for me. You see, when my daughter was waking up, the most difficult part was getting out of bed. It was like torture. But I made the conscious decision to be mindful for 30 seconds when I was getting back under the warm covers, resting my head on the pillow, closing my eyes, and letting sleep take over my head. Focusing on the good instead of the bad. Which means I was looking forward to this perfect moment when I was getting up and it made it that little bit easier. I stopped taking that beautiful feeling for granted.

Edit from 2024: I think that is the best thing about bedsharing and NOT having to get out of bed at all. Because it is the worst feeling of all. Funnily, it looks like my 2nd baby hates being woken up as well and will cry A LOT when it happens. I’m not sure if everyone experiences this, but it feels painful to me.

#9 I tried to enjoy the time spent with my daughter.

I was up anyway, so instead of resenting her for being up, why not enjoy this precious moment with her instead? It’s all a question of perception after all. This was difficult. It didn’t always work. But it helped to look at the big picture. Knowing that it wasn’t going to last forever and that I was lucky to be holding her right now.

Edit from 2024: this one stings a bit. My nearly 9-year-old daughter hardly hugs me anymore and her big long body doesn’t fit snuggly against mine. So yes, as much as I would have hated it if anyone told me to “enjoy the nighttime cuddles”, they do only last so long.

#10 I bought a nice shower gel with an uplifting smell.

Actually, someone offered it to me when I was pregnant but I hadn’t opened it yet. I did. And when it was hard (so hard) to get out of bed and into the shower, I needed something to look forward to. It could be something different for you: a cup of coffee, your favourite green tea, some food you really love, your favourite song. For me, it was a citrusy scent.

Bonus tip:  I bought and tried Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy and “Olive”.

I took Rescue a few times when anxiety would overcome me and it really helped. “Olive” is meant to be used when very tired but I never used it enough times to give it a review. I also took some of the pregnancy/breastfeeding vitamins and it might have helped a little. Some vitamins and minerals are known to have positive effects on the mood.

I was also very lucky to have a supportive husband who was understanding and told me that it was ok to feel that way, that it was ok to cry, that a lot had happened. He was sometimes telling me things I didn’t want to hear such as “There might not be a solution.” but he was right. It was just easier for him to say it.

And something I should have done was being more gentle with myself, but it seemed that I was already doing so little…

Photograph of Johanna King

That’s it for now, I hope you did find one of these tips useful. Feel free to comment with your own tips and experiences!


Comments

4 responses to “10 Tips To Cope With Sleep Deprivation”

  1. You are doing so well! It’s such a tough part of parenting.. I can really relate to what you are describing, we had a very bad sleeper too. It was torture. But went away with time (mostly), it got easier after 1.5yrs. My main coping mechanism was to surrender and to accept. Forget all the methods and tips etc, i just learnt to go with what my baby needs. But I do have to tell you, the second baby can be soooo different.. We can’t believe it ourselves. Yes, we are currently going through the 4 mths sleep regression but even now it’s easier than with my first. They are different little people, their little brains wired in different ways. I hope that a day will come (soon!) when you normalise and the thought of a second one won’t scare you (if bigger family is what you wish of course!!) Best of luck on your parenting journey and mind yourself!

    1. Johanna King

      Thank you Lucia for the kind comment! (Our daughter is named Lucia…)

  2. This was lovely to read, after a night of being up every two hours with a 7 week old and a sick 2.5year old. There is nothing easy about any of it. Our 2.5year old was sleeping thru the night by 8 weeks and still doesn’t (when she isnt sick) our second daughter is a little different tho ???? Like you said I’m not sleeping because she is restless I hear every move she makes (very noisy baby) .

    Of course my husband snores blissfully through the night.

    An exhausted Mam of 2 beautiful little girls.

    Thank you for your support and kind words!

    Aoife xx

    1. Johanna King

      Hi Aoife, I’d love to tell you that it will get better soon, but it might not. The Internet offers so many articles about how to get them to sleep better, but very little about how to cope with it, so I hope it helps a few mums!

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