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Tips for Sleep-Deprived Mothers

What can a sleep-deprived mother do? Here's some advice.

  • Be prepared. When you've got small kids, getting woken up in the middle of the night can be more the rule than the exception. Don't routinely go to bed at midnight, gambling on your two-year-old sleeping soundly. You're going to lose. In the long-run, you'll just keep piling on to your sleep debt.

    "Moms should really expect that they will be woken up every night and plan accordingly," says Mindell. "They need to get to bed early enough to accommodate it." If you're not woken up on a given night, you got some bonus sleep. And if you were, at least you were prepared.

  • Take naps. Although sleep experts advise against naps for most people with insomnia, they say sleep-deprived mothers should ignore that advice. 

    "It definitely doesn't apply to parents who were woken up six times in the night by their kids and today are falling asleep in their soup," says Roth. "For people like that, 'Don't take a nap' is stupid advice."

    If your kids are still young enough to nap themselves, follow the advice you got on the maternity ward: Nap when your baby naps.

  • Catch up on sleep during the weekend. Many sleep-deprived mothers -- stuck between their responsibilities as worker, parent, and home-runner -- feel like there's simply no way to get enough sleep during the week. If so, you have to use the weekends to atone, Roth says.

    He recommends that you swap time with their spouse on weekends so that you can both sleep in one day. Or try to make a standing appointment with a relative or sitter to get a couple of hours of nap time during the weekend.

  • Help your child sleep more soundly. Obviously, there's nothing abnormal about a newborn who wakes you up six times a night. It takes at least three to six months before babies adopt a sleep schedule that's even remotely civilized, says Kramer.

    But if your older children have a consistent problem sleeping through the night, you might want to talk to your pediatrician. Occasionally, children can develop sleep disorders themselves. More often, making little changes -- like adopting a more consistent bedtime or putting up room-darkening shades -- can make a big difference. "If you can solve your child's sleep problem, you could also be solving your own," Mindell tells WebMD.

  • Relax before bed. You might have elaborate bedtime rituals for your kids: a bath, story time, songs, hugs, a sip of water, one more song, a pat on the back, one more sip of water, and one last song. But you might have nothing for yourself, the sleep-deprived mother. That's a mistake, says Mindell.

    "Bedtime rituals are important for everybody, not just toddlers," says Mindell. So don't try to go straight from washing dishes or checking email to bed. Instead, dim the lights and read for a while.  Building in a little time to unwind before getting into bed will help you sleep more soundly.

Take Sleep Seriously

Of course, even if you are a sleep-deprived mother, it's hard to follow any of this advice in the moment. At 11:15 p.m. on a Tuesday, staying up for that last load of laundry to finish can seem much more important than the abstract benefits of an extra 45 minutes of sleep.

And there's the more general problem: many sleep-deprived mothers just don't feel like they have the eight hours to spare each day. If you don't stay up late washing the dishes and packing the lunches and sorting through the stacks of school artwork, how will it ever get done?

Think hard about what your sleep loss is costing you. Sure, you could spend more hours awake by shaving time off your sleep. But if you're a chronically sleep-deprived mother, just how enjoyable and productive will your time awake be?  What's the benefit of reducing your sleep just so you can drift through the next day feeling like a zombie?

"What mothers need to remember is that if they want to be productive for those 16 hours a day, they need to sleep the other eight," says Kramer. "That's just how it is."

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