surviving sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation seems to be another part of motherhood that is not talked about enough beyond quiet conversations on benches at playgrounds and private Facebook groups. Really for most of us mothers, our ability to live without sleep is one of our superpowers right there with, growing a baby, giving birth, breastfeeding, and mothering around the clock.

While so much research shows us that good sleep is a basic requirement for good health and well being, I am convinced that mothers have some extra resiliency to get us through this phase of life.  The catch is that sleep deprivation can be excruciatingly hard.  It can lead to feeling irritable, weepy, forgetful, overwhelmed, and blue.  Over a long time lack of sleep can make us more susceptible to illness and worsen existing health issues.

Of course, our first reaction may be to try to fix the “sleep problem,” a worthy pursuit and a different blog post!   Children’s sleep, like adult sleep, can be mysterious and untamable.

My three and a half year old is not yet sleeping through the night and sleep deprivation is one of my biggest challenges.  I pretty much have three modes: 1) excited, full of energy, super productive and loving  2) functioning, less patient, longing to lay down  3) exhausted to the point that I must lay down now.  I try to really listen to where I am at, how I am feeling and honor this.

So let’s just stop and breathe into the feelings of being tired.  There is something to learn from our how bodies feel, and how are minds and hearts feel.  There is so much more than sleep affecting how we feel.  And there are different kinds of “tired.”

So here is my holistic approach to living with less than optimal sleep.

sleep when you can!

Go to bed early, nap when you can, and steal some mornings to sleep in.  While I usually choose to have some quiet at night after the kids go to sleep it can be a toss up whether the sanity I gain actually outweighs the sanity I loose with 1-2 hours less of sleep!

eat good food often, drink lots of water, and less caffeine!

Don’t let your blood sugar drop drastically. The resulting crash and make you tired for the rest of the day. Without water we can begin to droop just like a plant. And of course if you are breast-feeding this is all the more true.  Caffeine can give a wonderful pick up, but it can also lead to deeper exhaustion -and may get in your milk affecting your nursing baby or child.  I drink a moderately strong mate in the morning and reuse the leaves for a weak version in the afternoon.

find joy!

Weave little delights through your days, see beauty, laugh.  This can be flowers on the table, simple handcrafts, quick call to a friend, stopping to snuggle your kids.  When having time off from work and kids, make it joyful and relaxing.  Oxytocin, often called the love hormone, can help us through our days.

move your body!

Human bodies are meant to move.  As Beth Sutton (of Enki Education) says adults and children need “kinesthetic nourishment” -we need movement just as we need food.  It helps us think clearly, learn, and move through our feelings.  Walk, dance, exercise.

slow down!

Allow the tired feeling to slow you down.  Try to accomplish less, keep your house a bit messier than you would otherwise, lower your expectations.    Find ways to lower your stress, say “no” to things that aren’t essential.


Whether you are exploring sleep training or are  in the Wait it Out (WIO) camp, cosleeping, or not, stopping to notice how you can turn up your own self care dial can really help the whole situation.

If you are interested in reading more about sleep check out my pinterest board sleep: mamas and babies

And if what you need is a good laugh maybe you’d like to hear Samuel L. Jackson read Go the Fuck to Sleep.  (this is not for your children!)

2 replies
  1. kristin
    kristin says:

    hi dear kestrel and thank you for your insights and your incredible-ness. i have been finding that instead of thinking Cassan and i must nap in the afternoon (when my bio-rhythms drop and i have a tendency to become grumpy); i say to him, “let’s rest. we don’t have to sleep, let’s just rest for 10 minutes with eyes closed, no talking.” i find that even 10 minutes of rest without sleep is like magic! and sometimes, even better, 10 minutes becomes 20. and sometimes merges into a blessed nap. yay to closing one’s eyes to bring the spirit back to the body and Recharge. thank you for YOU. we miss you guys so. xooxx kristin

  2. Kestrel Gates
    Kestrel Gates says:

    Kristin, Thank you for your sweet words! I love this! Such a sweet example of intentionally caring for yourself with your child present and, in doing so, modeling rest and self care for him. What a gift! And we miss you all too! With love, Kestrel

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