What to do when your kids wake up at night

A.k.a.– how to stay half-asleep when you must be awake for the sake of your children.
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This week, I’ve found myself in the foggy condition of sleep deprivation.  Pregnancy fatigue and insomnia notwithstanding (how is that combination fair, btw?!)  my preschooler has been up half the night with a hacking cough that resembles the voice of a harbor seal.

Waking up every few hours with a barking, miserable 4 year-old is quite a bit different than nighttime feeds with an infant (or two, as will be my situation) but there are a few survival techniques that need noting in order to retain some portion of one’s sanity and health:

  • Nap whenever possible—kind of a no-brainer, but when you’re left with little brain, you still need to go about it strategically.  Get comfy quickly, keep a sleeping mask handy and a noise machine or fan nearby (because if the slightest baby gurgle wakes you, your nap won’t be very effective) and turn off the phone.  Apparently NASA found during extensive research, and from my own experience of crazy job shifts and motherhood, as little as 26 minutes worth of nap can still give restful benefits when a full night’s sleep is not an option.
  • Keep the lights off—A nice little blue glowing nightlight that can be turned on as needed is a good idea, but as much as possible, don’t subject your eyes to bright light.  You need to operate as a vampire, a creature of the shadows, if you want to slide right back into sleep once the task at hand is completed.  One obvious exception to no-lights is enough light to make sure the type and dosage of medicine is given correctly—this is a moment to be almost completely awake, then return to sleepwalking mode.
  • Don’t talk if it can be helped— The idea here is to stay as calm and as quiet as possible—for everyone’s sake.  A hysterical mother is no good to anyone, least of all herself.  And when changing and feeding a baby, the middle of the night is no time for blazing lights and a nice chat.  As my mother said of nighttime feeds—‘This is not a tea party.’
  • Know your lullabies—Now it’s time to break a rule.  Lullabies are an exception to the ‘no talking’ dictum.  A voice like Adele’s or a croon like Billie Holiday are not prerequisites to sing and soothe a child—the important thing is that it’s the constant, comforting voice of Mommy.  I suggest rounding out your repertoire with your favorite ballads, because quite frankly, ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ and those Mother Goose-type ditties are just plain strange.  My daughter’s favorites are Elvis tunes and Cowboy Junkies renditions of folk tunes.  And in the middle of the night, when she is teary and feverish, we sing old hymns and spirituals, because if there is ever a time to send up prayers, it is when your child is ill and you are exhausted.
  • Be prepared—Go forth, Mother Scout, and know thy kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.  Everything in its place, so you can find it in the dark, and water, snacks, clean diapers, medicines, spare jammies, etc. are all in a constant and obvious location.  Set yourself up for easy sleepwalking while you’re actually awake (does that ever happen?) and you’ll be able to ease back into some semblance of sleep much faster.

I realize that I will be stumbling through my days, regardless of my technique and planning, but I’m hoping with a bit of calm and reason during the night, I may end up with a bit leftover for the daylight hours.  I’ll need it—I’m going to have 3 children under the age of 5.

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