Eleven months in to this second chapter of my motherhood journey and I can safely say that I have reached peak sleep deprivation. It’s not the disorientating fog of the newborn stage, but rather a cumulative longing to be able to close my eyes for more than three hours at a time, a near-constant heaviness in my forehead, a dull ache in my bones from which I can never quite find respite.
I’m not looking for ways to get more sleep. I know it is a phase that will pass, and even as I drag myself out of unconsciousness to tend to Orson’s needs as he cries out in the cot beside me I can still remember the emptiness I felt when Arthur began to prefer sleeping in his own bed, the pangs of separation anxiety in the middle of the night when I found myself tiptoeing into to my four year old’s room to watch him sleep. I know there will soon come a day when my nighttime parenting duties will be reduced again to almost nothing, so for now I am happy to embrace them.
But it is exhausting.
The nights themselves I don’t find too bad – I’ve always been fairly nocturnal anyway – but the days that follow can be mind-numbingly difficult. The juggle of continuing to meet the needs of my baby, who is wonderfully adventurous and curious and needs watching like a hawk. The juggle of home educating my five year old, who fortunately has developed a powerful independent streak but still needs me to nurture him too. The juggle of finding time to write, to keep this blog and my freelance commitments going and to push myself to edit and submit my novels. And all the other chores and admin too that go along with running a home as well as trying to stay on top of the commitments I’ve made as a volunteer in my community.
Just writing that all down has actually given me pause. It’s a lot to be doing on not very much sleep, and one of the things I know I need reminding of is the need to be kinder to myself, to cut myself some slack rather than always worrying that I’m not achieving enough.
I do like to be busy though, and there will come a time when it is easier to keep all those balls in the air. And in the meantime I have a few strategies up my sleeve to help stop everything from falling apart – to tackle the worst side effects of sleep deprivation and make our days fun rather than a constant struggle. They’re not rocket science, but they work for me…
Listen to music
This has to be the easiest and to be honest one of the most effective ways of getting though the funk of sleep deprivation. When tensions are simmering and it feels like the day is a write off before it has even got going I find that putting on some (ideally loud) music has the power to completely transform the mood. There are a couple of playlists I turn to when I need a lift: they make me smile, and dance, and then Arthur joins in, and Orson giggles and wiggles along too, and before long we’re all laughing and feeling considerably better about the world and ourselves.
Go on adventures
My definition of adventure here is a very forgiving one. When we can find the time to completely get away – whether it’s a weekend’s camping or a longer trip further afield – then it is enormously rejuvenating. But just a walk in the woods or a trip to the park is a fantastic way to return to the present and fill our lungs with oxygen. It’s the getting outside that’s key I think. Orson and I have developed a little morning routine of checking on the chickens and the vegetables, picking an apple on the way if we can find one that’s ripe, and however tired I am before it usually gives me the boost I need to get on with the day and begin to tackle my to do list.
Connect with people
Motherhood can be an extremely lonely journey sometimes – particularly when combined with working from home, and particularly when that work is as solitary an activity as writing. Add sleep deprivation into the mix and you’ve got some pretty perfect conditions for anxiety to fester which makes achieving anything exponentially more difficult. And this is why reaching out to other people – ideally people who understand what you’re going through – is so important. Social media has been a vital tool in this for me – it’s connected me with an awesome group of writers, directed me to my local Mothers who Make network, helped me begin to find my home schooling tribe. Those online connections have led to face to face meet-ups which are even more important – and on top of that I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to never turn down an opportunity to reconnect with old friends if I could possibly help it, and that has been wonderfully soul-enriching too.
It can be oh so tempting to reach for sugary snacks and fast food solutions to help power through the day after the (sleepless) night before, but the difference that healthier choices make to my wellbeing is impossible to ignore. I’ve finally found a decent nut-free muesli to set me up for the day, and the more tired I am the more I fill my belly with fruit and veg to help give myself a boost. Eating well has been a challenge since Orson came along – not only am I dealing with my allergy but I’ve had to cut out dairy, eggs and soya for him too. Interestingly though the lack of dairy in my diet seems to have been a really positive thing for my energy levels, with an oat milk flat white my perfect pick me up. Coffee is a daily essential, though only one or two cups and always before midday. And chocolate. As far as I’m concerned decent dark chocolate is pretty much a health food, and it has magical powers when it comes to motivating me to write.
Repay the sleep deficit
So I know I said I wasn’t looking for ways to get more sleep, but seizing opportunities to claw back a few zzzs whenever possible is definitely part of my coping strategy. I’m rubbish at making myself get an early night – after days spent in constant contact with one or both of my babies I relish the opportunity to have a couple of hours to myself in the evening. Occasional lie-ins on the other hand work wonders – and the rare chance for a nap is just delicious. Whatever works for you it’s well worth letting yourself catch up on some sleep whenever you possibly can.
Set achievable goals
A sense of achievement is incredibly energising for me, and it can be a hard thing to capture in the midst of the daily whirlwind of family life. On bad days I am plagued by unfinished tasks and (my own) unmet expectations, but when I start the morning by writing down a few small things that I am going to achieve and then snatching moments to make sure I stick to the plan it makes everything else much easier to deal with. I started using a productivity journal last year and find the structure really helps – I’m still adjusting to the reality of working around two kids rather than one so sometimes I’m a bit ambitious with what it’s possible to get done, but those frustrations aside I’m definitely getting there!
Cut yourself some slack
When all else fails I try to remind myself that ‘just’ growing tiny humans is a pretty epic job, and if all that gets done some days is keeping them happy and fed and nurtured then that’s an important enough achievement in itself. Round here that sometimes looks like keeping our pyjamas on till lunchtime and snuggling up to watch a movie, or lying on the grass whilst the little people giggle and climb all over me. The to do list might end up getting bumped till tomorrow, but more often than not there’s really nothing that won’t wait another day.