Posted by: Ingrid | February 5, 2014

Sleep SOS

Please help me brain storm about sleep.  Please.  Please.

new-mom-nosleep-Quotes (1)

For those who want the Reader’s Digest version:I have not gotten chunks of sleep longer than 2.5 hours in weeks.  I am going to fall apart or harm someone if this continues.  Please help me find a solution to get my baby to sleep longer than 2.5 hour stretches.  Thank you.

And now for the stream of consciousness version:

So recently, as in the past two months, I have noticed a few things.  Let’s call them symptoms, shall we?  They include: exhaustion, weight gain  (I am 3 pounds higher than I was one month postpartum), inability to control eating in general, constant irritability with circumstances, life, and children, bursting into tears, never feeling rested, finding almost nothing enjoyable about life

On Monday, after one of those trips to the library that end with zero books checked out, one librarian carrying out a screaming baby, me with a screaming two year old (bootless) slung over my shoulder, followed by a four year old yelling “Dang it!  Shut up!”  I thought I was going to lose it completely.  After shutting the boys in their rooms, sobbing hysterically on the floor, and scrolling through my phone to find someone I could call (Here is the problem with being an emotional introvert – I am no good when I am in the middle of strong emotions and then, when I am able to talk about them I down play like crazy and appear to be overreacting.  “So I had kind of a hard day yesterday.  A little bit difficult.  I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to keep going.”).

But it stuck with me all day, that horrible feeling that my kids deserve better.  That I can’t just fall apart like that.  That I feel like every day holds interminable regrets.  That I look at my daughter these days, as she smiles and coos and interacts and I have to prod myself through the fog of tiredness: Talk to her.  Smile at her.  And most of the time I just want to tell her that I have absolutely nothing left.  All of these symptoms, of course, could be chalked up to postpartum depression, or just regular dear-God-I-live-in-Michigan-in-the-middle-of-winter depression.  But before I self-diagnose with a condition that I would refuse to treat with meds anyway (having taken Pharmacology and read far to many memoirs) I thought perhaps I should look at sleep, one of those very basic needs.

And it doesn’t look good, folks, despite the fact that I am exhausted, have no trouble falling asleep once awakened, and (very intentionally) give myself between 8-10 hours in bed.  Most nights some combination of people is up during the night.  Last night I had the chance to see who is really messing me up though (as Husband, Jonathan, and Isaac stayed quiet and asleep all night), and why I keep waking up exhausted, even after hours in bed.

8:00: put baby to bed

8:30: I go to bed and she immediately hears me and fully wakes up.  Not a problem since I’d planned on dream feeding her.  We both are out a little after 9.

11:40: Baby wakes up and eats.  Back to sleep at midnight.

12-1:45: She tosses and turns and makes snuffly noises and I am woken up constantly (despite ear plugs).  Maybe I tried to feed her – I honestly don’t remember.

1:45: Baby wakes up and eats.  We get to bed a little after 2.

4:30:  Baby wakes up and eats.  Has a hard time settling and I basically lay there with my eyes closed until

5:30: alarm goes off

So this is a typical night.  I allotted myself 9 hours in bed.  I got two 2.5 hour stretches and one 2 hour quasi sleep stretch.  I feel absolutely wasted.  I wake up with a horrible headache and dreading the day that hasn’t even begun.  When it comes to quality sleep and sleep cycles and regenerative sleep I am pretty sure none of that is happening in these small segments of sleep.  And weeks of this piled together are taking their toll.

What to do?  Neither of the boys have been this bad and were at least doing longer stretches far earlier.  Here are the factors that I have to consider that are rattling around in my head like a pin ball machine.

1.  We have three bedrooms but the boys cannot share yet as this would lead to even more sleep deprivation (at least short term).  All bedrooms are next to each other.

2.  Husband gets home from work later than I go to bed multiple days of the week and is often up very early, making it difficult to either put Liliana in the living room in her pack n play (she is very sensitive to light and noise) or for me to sleep on the couch so that I can’t hear Liliana until she is really crying.

3.  Preschool pick up is during nap time, which is the only (usually) kid free quiet time.  After I get Isaac he (and various circumstances) will usually cooperate so that I can get in a short nap maybe 1-2 times per week.  But I really think that the solution is not getting more naps.  I need longer chunks of sleep so that my body can function.

4.  We cannot pay a babysitter to come while I sleep for four hours.  Unfeasible on many levels.

So with this as the typical sleep schedule and the above factors taken into consideration, how do I get sleep in more than 2.5 hour increments?  The best I can come up with is sleeping on the couch with her in the bedroom.  Can anyone else come up with anything better?


Best suggestion wins a sleepover with the world’s most adorable baby!




  1. I have little doubt that the biggest reason for my postpartum depression was sleep deprivation, especially since it was brutal and ongoing for months. Something I want to (gently, though this might not come across very gently) say is that I eventually found it didn’t really matter how I got to the PPD point, the fact of the matter was that I had gotten there. The way you are describing things sounds familiar to me and I would really like to encourage you to talk to a midwife/doctor/medical person about what you are dealing with. Maybe it’s just straight sleep deprivation, but maybe it’s not. What if you could feel better during these months you are waiting for the sleep drama to subside? What if some talk therapy was enough to get your brain chemistry back to a happier place?

    Can you speak more directly to what the pharmacology books and memoirs told you about meds? Not saying that meds are at all necessary (I avoided it for a long time), but they really helped me in the months that I took them. It was the lowest dose (and compatible with nursing) and then I weaned off them without a problem. It was so very, very helpful. Here is that post I wrote about it:

    But I will stop talking about PPD now and address what you did ask for.

    Treating sleep troubles is really hard and I’ve had two challenging sleep kids. It takes time and it takes the energy to even do it (that often was just not there for me, although I have done various sleep training things at various times). Sleep easy solution is a good book if or when you want to look at some more concrete sleep help – like Ferber but dumbed down a bit for an exhausted person.

    One solid night of rest might give you some restoration. Can your husband give you Saturday night as your night to sleep? You pump some bottles for the baby and you get the bedroom and he goes elsewhere and you blast some white noise and just get that space? I’m sure you’ll still wake up a bunch (gah, I always do as I’m emerging from sleep deprivation hell) but it might help.

    Maybe you can also decide that your only goal for yourself right now is more sleep, however that comes. Maybe your husband does the first feeding of the night at 11:40 pm for a couple weeks. Maybe you get weekend mornings to snooze for a bit for the rest of Feb.

    I’ll be thinking about you and wishing you some quality rest very soon!

    • I am definitely trying to make the “night of quality sleep” happen soon! It will take a little planning, but I think I can make something work. I think my first goal is simply to get Liliana to drop the midnight feeding that she does not need! Working on self soothing and popping in a pacifier has helped bi-pass that feeding the past three nights. I will look for “Sleep Easy”. Dumbed down ideas sound good right now!

      The med thing… I think taking pharmacology really helped me see that if one drug helped with one thing it often shut down or messed up some other function of the body. Which is why I crack up at the commercials for sleep aids with the happy lullaby music that tell you how wonderful it will be to sleep through the night and then add: While on this medication you may have a stroke, poop your pants, gain 50 pounds, and break out in purple spots, etc. So I am just not sure I am at a place where I am desperate enough to risk possible side effects. I don’t like the idea of being a human guinea pig in general, but some things (potential weight gain being one) are just not things I want to deal with right now.

      If nothing else, this is making me take sleep way more seriously (not like I wasn’t before). I know I hit the point with the boys too (though not as dramatically) where I realized that I was no longer dealing with a helpless newborn who needed to control the sleep schedule as much as I was letting them.

  2. Our youngest was very similar. I realized that it had become such a habit for him to wake up and nurse, that it didn’t matter if he was hungry or not. I had to start waking Bryan up during some of the feelings. Q learned that Daddy wasn’t going to feed him. It took a few nights of many tears from all of us, but finally Q figured it out and would sleep through a few feelings. Ingrid, I’ll be praying for you. I remember feeling so wiped out I wanted to cry… But I was almost too tired to. Luckily our little ones love us through it.

  3. I agree with a lot of things navigatingthemothership said – I think lack of sleep definitely contributed to my PPD, and antidepressants really, REALLY helped me. My first was the worlds WORST sleepers. He had severe reflux and my ped refused to put him on the right medication, so he woke up screaming every 45 minutes to 1.5 hours for 6 months. By 6 months, I thought I was going to die of sleep deprivation, and I am not kidding. So I’ve been there, and I know just how terribly hard it is 😦 And I only had one!

    I know that when faced with sleep deprivation and what seems like an insurmountable problem that it’s really easy to say “this won’t work,” or “that won’t work” and not even give it a try, but I kind of feel like its good to try everything and see if anything works! So here are some suggestions.

    – can your pre-schooler stay at school longer for naps/afternoon playtime? My son stays at preschool until 3:30pm one day a week, and it’s only an extra $35 a month. It works out to like $2 an hour. The extra time he spends at school that one day is so helpful.

    – Do you have a serious, real white noise machine? That really helps me a lot. I bought a professional machine (I have a Marpac DOHM) and it is SO awesome. Could you put it right next to you guys so you can’t hear her settling down at night? Earplugs are fine and dandy, but sometimes you need more.

    – If you can’t put your boys together, can you move the baby to one of their rooms? Yes, you will have to get up to go feed her, but a) you would be up anyway, and b) at least you will be able to fall back asleep instead of listening to her settle for an hour ever time she wakes up. You could move the white noise machine into the kids’ room to help your other son sleep through her noise.

    – have you tried taking melatonin? I LOVE MELATONIN. I have a sleep disorder, and it’s really hard for me to fall asleep. Melatonin can really, really help, and its natural and non-habit forming. It will at least help you stay more sleepy during and after feeding her, and fall back asleep more quickly. 1mg is probably enough for you, but you can take up to 5mg.

    – can your husband get up with her for one of her wakings? Yes, yes, he works hard all day. SO DO YOU. Newsflash! You job is probably WAY harder than his is. Your job, raising and nurturing the eternal souls of your children, is JUST as important as his is. Repeat that to yourself 10x. Yes, only you can feed the baby, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t or doesn’t have to get up in the night with the baby too. YOU NEED HELP. He needs to help you. He should be doing the midnight feeding so you can get at least a 5 hour chunk of sleep. You said he’s up anyway – enlist his help!

    – If nothing else works, sleep on the couch. You’re already going to sleep early anyway, what does it matter where it is? And also, your husband should still be giving her a feeding in the night. If you can’t pump, give formula. And I’m saying this is a mom who is 100% ebf my baby. If would do it. I did it with my first baby. Sleep is that important.

    – your husband needs to watch the kids for a couple of hours on the weekend so you can get some extra sleep. If he has to take all three of them out of the house for 5 hours, HE NEEDS TO DO IT! You do it all the time. They are his children. He can handle it.

    – show your husband this post. YOU ARE TIRED. If you have a problem minimizing your feelings, he might not see or hear just how exhausted you are. Please let him know. It’s his job to help you, but he can’t help you if he doesn’t know you need to be helped.

    Also, why are you hiring someone to watch your baby while you shovel snow?? A) your husband should be doing ALL the snow shoveling, and b) if you’re going to hire someone, hire a teenage boy to shovel the snow while YOU sit in your nice warm house 🙂

    I really hope those suggestions help, and that SOMETHING sticks. Stand up for yourself. You need to take care of yourself to take care of those kids!

    • Love the suggestions – thank you! First, lest you think that Husband is a bum, he will be the first to acknowledge that my job is harder in many ways than his own. Unfortunately, he is an adjunct and is teaching 9 classes for 4 colleges/universities on 5 different campuses. On some days he teaches 10 hours and then has a 1.5 hour drive that gets him home close to midnight. With the winter roads being so bad, compromising his sleep may mean becoming a widow with three kids which is not what I am going for here! 🙂 Also, he would have shoveled the snow except for the fact that we got the snow dump while he was gone on one of his long days and I had to get Isaac from preschool, hence me shoveling the driveway. I actually don’t mind shoveling, just not if I lose nap time doing it!
      Okay, I am switching to bullet points!
      -Clint and I have definitely had the “OMG so tired talk” and now are trying to make changes.
      -later preschool pickup isn’t an option, since it is free and goes until 2:45 and is part of an elementary school. The teachers must leave by 3 to get their own kids.
      -Clint takes the kids out on his one day off, but with the cold this winter that usually still leaves Liliana at home and I have not been good about using the time to rest. He can absolutely handle all three kids, but the wind chill has been in the -20’s some days – it has just been a brutal winter. Not baby friendly or even kid friendly!
      -We do have a white noise machine but it’s not heavy duty (nor have I had it on the highest setting)
      -I think I need better ear plugs
      -One of my first goals, I think, is doing away with the unnecessary midnight feeding, which will help a lot.
      -The person I have to hire is a college student to sit at home while two of the kids nap and I get Isaac from preschool. Lame!

  4. I have three boys and the last was a sleep nightmare. I remember the 2.5hr stretches and the waking with a hangover. And the constant irritability that threatened my relationship with everyone that is did actually like when I was adequately rested.
    I do think that lack of sleep is probably the primary cause of PPD, but I also agree with you that medicating is not the only solution.
    What worked for me – I built up a small supply of EBM in the fridge/freezer and when I got to the point that I just couldn’t cope I took myself off to a different place to sleep and my husband stepped in. I fould that once a month was enough but it was usually for two nights in a row. One night was not enough to catch up fully and the baby would wake less (or my husband did, either way, all survived and I slept.)
    Can you do this for a Fri and Sat this weekend? You’ll be better able during the days so can give your husband time to nap himself, he will get a better understanding of the struggle you are facing. I would carry the baby a lot on the days after such a night and feed on demand, my supply was never affected.
    And it is but a phase and will pass. The baby is a chubby active 2 yr old who sleeps beautifully in his own bed all night long.

    • Trying to figure out how to implement this very soon! I love the idea. Unfortunately, with husband’s teaching and travel schedule (especially on the winter roads) compromising his sleep is not a good plan. He is very aware of the difficulty with her sleeping (and the energy it takes to stay with our three kids!). We will figure this out!

  5. Oh my goodness, I understand the “this will never end” feeling all too well. Two things that helped me:

    1. A $20 homedics white noise machine has been priceless in our small, 3-bedroom house with bedrooms very close to each other and the kitchen. We actually have one for our boys’ room AND our baby girl’s room. The waterfall setting kind of works like a fan, without the dust collection. Two of my 3 are light sleepers, and it really helps to drown out the noise of siblings or someone getting up to go to the bathroom.

    2. Magnesium and vitamin D. If you’re not into supplements, I’d try preparing/juicing lots of swiss chard (when juicing, adding carrot/apple/lemon helps). I wanted to avoid PPD drugs after number 3, and magnesium was HUGE for me. I get it by drinking Natural Calm: . . . but swiss chard has lots of magnesium, too.

    • We have a homedics white noise machine too and we love it! I have actually been horrible taking any type of vitamin since before having Liliana (got tired of throwing up the regular ones and we ran out of Disney gummy vitamins). But I just picked up vitamins and I know I have magnesium somewhere in a closet. :-p

  6. i think the others have covered it so i’ll be brief but one other thought – go to a friend’s house for one night, take a sleeping pill, use ear plugs, go to bed at 8 pm… it will do you a world of good. repeat as necessary. also, i know your running is important to you and your sanity but you should not be getting up at 5.30 am if you have only slept sparingly. the sleep is far more important than the run. i understand that you need to get up at 5.30 occasionally if you want to do any reasonable volume but cut back, just for awhile to 3-4 days of exercise per week. In addition to the extra sleep, I bet you lose more weight sleeping more and running less in all seriousness.
    I hope things turn around for you somehow,someway, I know it is so so hard. Big hug.

    • I am absolutely trying to brainstorm how to make this work in some capacity. The thought of that much sleep all at once sounds heavenly!

  7. Great ideas from the moms above (white noise, dad taking a feeding, one night off, etc.), so all I’ll add is that I am praying for you daily! I remember that grey haze of fatigue so well, so I’m praying with empathy. love to you – Betsy

    • Thank you, Betsy! I appreciate the prayers.

  8. Everyone else has sound advice, not sure I can add anything other than a HUGE hug and that the idea of a night off (in a hotel if you have to….) plus a babysitter or some sort of alternative childcare the next day might really really help you….

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