When I was in college, all-nighters were easy. A diet cola, rock ‘n’ roll blaring through the headphones of my portable CD player, and a can of tuna fish with a jar of pickles (I had weird cravings even before I was pregnant), and I was good to go well into the early morn. Once I graduated college, very few situations in my adult life warranted the all-nighter. There was the occasional deadline, but staying up ’round the clock pretty much became a thing of the past.
As a first-time mom in her mid-thirties, I have seen every hour on the clock for more consecutive days than I ever did as a college student. A secret of parenthood, carefully guarded by moms and dads who a) don’t want to scare new parents and/or b) love company in their misery, is that no matter how lucky you might get when it comes to your child’s sleep habits, at some point, usually between 3 and 6 months, our sleeping angels turn into gremlins.
The cause can be different for every baby — maybe he’s teething, or he’s going through a growth spurt, or it’s a full moon. Suddenly, the nights are just as endless as when your baby was a newborn, only now you probably don’t have family staying with you to lend a helping hand. Maybe, like me, you are back to work full time, and all you can think about is where you can take a catnap during your lunch break the following day. But before you begin to worry about how you’re going to do X, Y and Z as a zombie, you first have to make it to morning.
Here are a few tricks that have helped me get through my share of long, lonely nights:
Don’t obsess about the clock.
This is probably the hardest one to do, but it’s also the one that has the potential to make the most difference.
When my son’s 4-month-old sleep regression began, I found myself obsessed with the clock. Every time I was woken up, the first thing I’d do — even before checking the sleep monitor — was look at the clock and calculate how long (or, more accurately, short) it had been since I had put my baby down and gone back to bed. Similarly, before placing my head on the pillow, I’d look at the clock and calculate how long that last period of being awake had been.
This did absolutely nothing except contribute to my frustration and make me anxious about the rest of the night and the coming day. I won’t go so far as to say that ignoring the clock has made it easier for me to get out of bed, but it’s certainly made it less stressful.
Make sure electronics are fully charged.
A smartphone, tablet, and/or e-reader can help make those nighttime hours go faster. IF the devices are fully charged, that is. There’s nothing worse than desperately clinging to the little glowing square on your lap only to have it go black. Plug those lifelines in during the day so that they don’t let you down at night.
Give yourself something enjoyable to anticipate.
Be honest: You have a guilty Internet pleasure. We all do. From giggling at memes to reading numbered lists to catching up on celebrity gossip, most everyone can identify at least one site that is an enjoyable time suck. Instead of visiting this site while you’re in the bathroom, save it for that late-night hour. As you put your head down at 2 o’clock in the morning, dreading that you’ll most likely be up again within the hour, you can say, “But at least I’ll get to read/watch/look at [insert guilty pleasure].”
Okay, it may be a small consolation for your lack of sleep, but when you are dragging yourself out of bed for the third time in one hour, you take what you can get.
Invest in a Bluetooth or wireless headphones.
Some nights you find yourself wearing the carpet by walking up and down the room with your baby. A properly placed tablet and a set of bluetooth/wireless headphones can turn mind-numbing pacing into binge-watching of that ’90s-something TV show you missed when it first aired.
Identify friends who may also be awake in the middle of the night.
Thanks to that little green dot next to names of Facebook friends, I have found a few night owls with whom I can chat at odd hours. The stimulation helps me stay awake and definitely makes me feel less lonely. If no one else is awake, it can be helpful to read articles and blog posts by other moms who either are or have been where you are. Sometimes just knowing that there is someone else out there who understands what you’re going through can make all the difference.
Remember that this too shall pass.
Or at least that’s what other moms tell me. Those nights when I’ve been trying to put my child down for three hours or I’m up for the sixth time and I have to take a calming breath to avoid turning into momzilla, I try to remember how thankful I am to have this little human in my life, even if he is a sleepless one. How I’d much prefer sleepless nights with him than well-rested nights without him. I breathe him in, knowing (somewhere deep – deep! – down inside) that this phase really will pass, as will his need and desire to be held in my arms, and I stifle my yawn and hold him a little tighter.
How do you survive sleepless nights? Share in the comments.