Dealing with Sleep Deprivation

Running on little to no sleep can be a gruelling experience for anyone, parent or not. Even children need at least 8 hours of sleep for them to function effectively the next day. If you do not get an adequate amount of sleep you are bound to experience one or more of the following symptoms:
1)  Fatigue or extreme exhaustion
2)  Clumsiness and/or disorientation
3)  Decreased concentration span
4)  Difficulty making decisions
5)  Increased or decreased appetite
6)  Communication challenges, that is you just can’t remember the right words to use
7)  Forgetfulness, for example you can’t seem to recall where you put your cup of tea or that you even poured yourself a cup of tea

There is usually 2 types of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) which is the point when you dream and non-REM. Both types are important for a healthy body and mind. During non-REM which happens first your body enters a relaxed state where restoration occurs. After around 90 minutes of non-REM your body enters into the REM phase which lasts for about 10 minutes and this is where your mind sorts out your different memories and processes the events of the day which leads to dreams. Most people don’t realise the importance of REM sleep as it helps to prevent memory lapses and promotes cognitive functioning such as reasoning, language skills, attention span and memory which determine how well you attain information.

This switch from non-REM to REM will happen 4 – 6 times a night. It is important to note that if you wake up in the middle of the night the cycle starts over which means your body and mind does not get the complete rejuvenation it requires.

Unlike adults babies non-REM phase lasts for about 50 minutes with an approximate 50-50 split between the amounts of time spent in the REM period and the non-REM period. One reason for this is because babies are learning a lot on a daily basis and hence need more time to process all of the information. Therefore, they go through each sleep cycle more frequently than an adult would. It’s important to note that each time the cycle begins we wake up a bit but are able to go right back to sleep unlike babies who are not yet sleep trained. It is this difference in sleep pattern and your baby’s smaller stomach capacity which play a hand in the frequent sleep interruptions.

To cope with your new sleeping schedule, here are a few tips you might want to try out:

1) You snooze you lose: As hard as it might be not to press the snooze button, don’t. If your alarm rings sit up and recollect your thoughts for a moment then get out of bed. A little star jumps or jogging on the spot can get your blood pumping and jumpstart your brain for the day. Afterwards take a nice warm shower to leave you feeling energized for the morning. It is important to try as much as possible to not hit the snooze button as waking up late could leave you disoriented for the day.

2) Drink a warm beverage: A cup of warm water, or lemon tea or coffee should be able to get you going for the day. Try to avoid too much caffeine though as it could cause sleeping problems. One cup a day (or as recommended by your nutritionist) should be enough to get you moving. Though if you are still breastfeeding it is important to cross check this with your nutritionist first.

3) Listening to some music: If you still feel drowsy on your way to the

office listen to some upbeat music and sing along (if you are in a matatu you could sing along in your head so as not to ‘traumatize’ the other passengers 😉 . If you are not the one driving a fun game on your phone can also help you stay alert on your way to work.

4) Organize and Prioritize: Once you get to the office (or before you leave the office the day before) outline your tasks for the day with the most urgent at the top. Alternatively you could also use your Mondays to plan your tasks for the week. Follow your to do list as best as you can, one task at a time, to help avoid mistakes and to ensure you maximize on your busy but limited work schedule. To avoid burn out try as much as possible not to skip your lunch break so as to relax your mind and build up some energy for the afternoon. This could also be a good time to socialize with your colleagues or even read a good joke online.

5) Accept that things have changed: You might have been able to get things done within a minute or work long hours before you had your baby but things have since changed. You have to rush home after work and your lack of sufficient sleep might be causing your brain to function a little slower than it used to. This is fine, and typically normal. Just set realistic expectations with yourself and your co-workers, organize and prioritize.

6) Day Time Naps: During your lunch break you could also spare a few minutes for a quick nap. Ensure you set your alarm so as not to overdo it and don’t make it too long so as not to wake up feeling disoriented. Once I was back from my maternity leave, if I began to feel fatigued I used to lock myself up in the ladies for a few minutes, and sit on the toilet lid and lay on my lap for a quick nap. These small doses of sleep helped me cope with the many tasks of the day, though it might not work if you have a shared bathroom in your office building. Alternatively, a quick walk up and down the stairs should also help get your blood flowing.

7) Sleep when baby sleeps: If you are at home with your baby try to sleep when s/he sleeps. It might be hard to ignore the pile of dishes in the sink but try. You could also schedule a time over the weekend say one hour every Sunday to catch up on lost sleep. A nice nap should help rejuvenate you for the rest of the day and it also makes it easier to cope with your child’s tantrums, if any. It is important to note that little or no sleep can make you less patient and/or tolerant which is a much needed skill when dealing with children who can be very difficult.

8) Superwoman is just a fairy-tale: It is important to note that no one can do it all, especially on limited sleep. So don’t feel embarrassed to ask for a little extra help where possible. Close friends and relatives are often happy to help with a few tasks here and there. You could also express some milk and have your nanny, mother (in-law) or spouse help feed the baby while you catch up on some sleep. Alternating night feeds between you and your spouse could also help ensure that you both get a few nights of full sleep.
More and more Kenyan women are also opting for day care rather than having a live in nanny/house girl. If you fall in this category you could get a day housekeeper to help with the laundry and house chores over the weekend to give you some time to relax and bond with your baby.

9) Driving or Operating Heavy Machinery: It is important to remember that driving or operating heavy machinery when you are fatigued is not much different than doing so while drunk. Therefore, it’s advisable to avoid doing so as much as possible. If not, ask for assistance to minimize the chances of an accident.

10) Plan for the week: Like your to-do list for the office it is also important to get a head start on your to-do list for the house. For example, set out your attire for the week, iron and place each attire on a hanger for the week. This should be inclusive of shoes and jewellery (because we all know choosing these also takes a while 😉 ). Also boil the different food items you plan to cook during the week and freeze them. Even make some chapaties for the week and freeze them as well. I know someone who cooks her different meals for the week freezes these in small portions enough for a plate of food. Though given how “reliable” or electric provider is, you might also want to fill some zip-lock bags with water and freeze them so that should there be a black out the frozen ice packs should help keep your food chilled. Lastly, ensure you have done all your grocery shopping so that when you leave the office the only place you have to go next is straight home.

11) Sleep training: This applies to both you and your baby. There are various sleep training methods you could use for your baby so talk this over with your paediatrician to find one that works best for you and your family. Set a strict sleep schedule for both you and your baby and try as much as possible to stick to it. Avoid late night movies which could keep you up past your bedtime and change your baby’s diaper before s/he goes to bed to keep them comfortable throughout the night.

12) Horizontal (side-lying) breastfeeding position: The safest place for your baby to sleep is often on his/her own crib/bed. However, if you are able to sleep safely with your baby then when s/he wakes up at night try feeding her/him while laying down on your bed. This way you can go back to sleep and your baby will usually de-latch once s/he falls asleep. However, there are some risks to this as your baby may become used to sleeping on your bed and hence refuse his/her crib/bed. There is also a possibility of you or your spouse lying on your baby. Therefore, talk over this option with your pediatrician first before implementing it.

It is important to remember that each baby and situation is different therefore, what might have worked for your friend or one of your other children might not work for your current baby. It is important to talk over your options with your paediatrician first to ensure that you find the best solution for you and your family.

We asked different Mama Mzazi Moms how they went about sleep training their baby and here are some of their responses:

“After lunch we would sing different lullaby songs and in a few minutes he was asleep”

“Since at three-four months (ie. when they started sleep training their baby). Baby should be well feed, because an empty stomach makes the baby not sleep well. Not that you should over feed the baby cause it will bring more complications to the stomach and also to the breathing. A comfortable environment, comfortable clothes, clean diapers and nice temperature. And we had specific hours which I would wake up and breastfeed. During the day she slept in the morning and afternoon I get to do my house chores and we sometimes sleep together. This technique really helped me. It took time for the baby to cope but up until now she is almost turning 2 years and she is still into that system except that she stopped breast feeding so no waking up at night at all. She started sleeping throughout the night until morning at the age of 1 year. Unless she is sick thats when we keep waking up at night which rarely happens.”

What useful tricks did/do you use to cope with the frequent sleep interruptions? Share your story with us by leaving a comment below. <3

Want more articles like this one?

Subscribe and get similar articles from MamaMzazi that make the journey of motherhood a little easier straight to your email