Nobody can prepare you for the exhaustion of parenting, nor for the revelation that your fatigue doesn't necessarily end when your youngest child finally start sleeping through the night. As a Circle of Moms member named Cathy wryly states, "There's a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture."
When we don't sleep, our brains simply don't work the way they should. According to WebMD, "We don't seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need, while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired."
It's easy to lose sight of the risks this kind of sleep deprivation creates for you and your children while you're slogging through it. Here are some cautionary tales shared by our members, plus tips on dealing with your fatigue — so that you can take care until you next catch some zzz's!
Sleeping When You Shouldn't
In the first weeks and months of being a mother, moms often report that sleep deprivation causes them to doze off while their infant is in their arms, typically during feeding. A Circle of Moms member who goes by the name "Vegemite C." feared this happening when her kids were babies: "I was so afraid of falling asleep while sitting in a chair to feed and dropping them. I thought that getting in their cot was the safest way." Another member, Jascinta M., also has nights where she breastfeeds in a sleep-walking state: "I do wake up breastfeeding in the middle of the night quite often and not remember getting up and getting Rylan out of his cot. it really scares me, and happens way to often!"
The reality is that at some point your body will demand sleep, and it can be very dangerous if this happens with young children in your care. Teresa learned this lesson with her two-year-olds:
"One day I was so tired I fell asleep when the girls were two. I woke up to the sound of running water. Got up, went into the bathroom, and both girls were naked, covered in soap, and 'washing' in the sink! Yeah, that was fun. Don't worry, we didn't have a tub, so no risk of drowning."
Forgetting Your Child
Circle of Moms member Katherine C. relays the story of a sleep deprived mom in Australia named Sue who left the house to pick up her older son and forgot her baby, who was asleep in his crib: "She was too far to turn around so she dialed the emergency number for the police, all of her neighbors, anyone she could think of, to go and check on her baby son, who was found still sleeping in his crib."
The best part about this story, aside from the fact that the baby was fine, is that the mom didn't get in trouble– everyone understood that it was an accident, the result of her mega lack of sleep. But add all the dangers of a locked or moving vehicle to that kind of forgetfulness and the potential for an accident really increases. Trish H. shares the story of a mom who forgot her baby in the car: "Worked all day and only until someone screamed that there was a baby in the car she ran and remembered it was her baby. The baby died of the heat." And many moms, including Nikki S., confess that they have forgotten to buckle their babies into their car seats: "I am so glad there are there mums that have forgotten to buckle their babies in, I swear I still feel like the worst mum in the world because I forgot to buckle her in. I am normally so anal with car safety!"
When tragic accidents like this happen, Heather M. reminds us not to judge: "We all like to say that we would never do that, but truth is, we hope that we never do that. Who are any of us to judge these parents who truly made a mistake, that cost them their child's lives? Instead of judging, why not find a solution to this problem, so that no other child will have to suffer like this?"
Preventing Sleep Deprivation
Putting the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator might be funny, but dropping your child or leaving her somewhere is no joke. To counteract the inevitable loss of sleep that happens in the early months and years, our members suggest the following four strategies.
Anna W. recommends co-sleeping as a way to get more sleep at night, especially while nursing on demand: "We found that bedsharing helped immensely with the sleep deprivation. With both our youngsters we had (have) them in bed with us. This helped [with] night nurslings because they would wake up and root around, I would semi wake up to help them latch on and then we would both fall asleep."
2. Wait on the Chores
Maria E. says you have to accept that when you are that tired, some things just have to wait: "Take it easy though, if you need to postpone some chores for one day just so you get some sleep, it will be worth it. You want to remain sane." Jaime Y agrees: "Try not to sweat the small stuff around the house. It will get done sooner or later."
3. Grab Every Opportunity to Nap
Renee B. has been through years of sleep deprivation as a single mom, and in her experience every little bit of sleep helps: "Try to catch even a 15-minute nap if you can, you would be suprised how much more refreshed you feel even if you haven't had a full and proper sleep."
4. Take Nap Precautions
It's always best to sleep when your kids sleep, but if you do take a nap with young children awake, it's important to be as safe as possible. Erin M. is a grad school student who works full-time and is a single mom, and has made her toddler's room into a safe place for her to nap:
"Ensure that all electrical outlets are covered, there are no hazards of objects falling on heads, the bathroom is closed, closets are closed, and the environment has been made safe. I lay on the floor with a pillow and blanket and let her play with her toys. I set my alarm on my cell phone for 30 minutes so I'm not asleep or absent from play for any longer than that."
Lindsey has also set up a room, her living room, as a safe place for her 18-month-old son to be when she dozes off: "We have gates up so that he can't get out of the living room, and the room is babyproofed from floor to ceiling, so occasionally I'll lay on the couch and take a cat nap."
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.