If you’re a new parent, days and nights may seem like an endless blur. This won’t last forever, but you may need a few tricks to cope with sleep deprivation until you can get more rest.
Keep in mind that while the tips below may help you survive a busy day, the only cure for a lack of sleep is getting more zzz’s. “There’s simply no replacement for a good night’s sleep,” says Gary Zammit, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York City.
If you’re still feeling wiped out even after your baby has started to sleep through the night, or if you find yourself unable to sleep, you might have a sleep disorder. Talk to your doctor about possible causes and solutions.
In the meantime, here are some common sleep deprivation scenarios and simple ways to cope with them in the short term.
Sleeping through the alarm
You routinely roll over and fall back to sleep when your alarm goes off in the morning.
What to do: Turn up the volume and get out of bed. Or put your alarm across the room so you’re forced to get up to turn it off.
It’s better to set your alarm for the time you actually need to get up – or just five to 10 minutes before. Setting the alarm much earlier just so you can hit the snooze button a few times only disrupts the precious sleep that you are getting.
Feeling groggy all day
You feel groggy and lethargic after waking up in the morning and struggle to stay awake during the day.
What to do: An early caffeine boost is a popular choice for sleepy parents. “I survived by drinking coffee and Coke, and I tried to get to bed as early as possible,” says Allyson Appen.
Try not to drink caffeine in the afternoon because it could affect your ability to get to sleep at bedtime. And remember that a cup of coffee or a caffeinated soft drink will give you a quick lift, but it’s no substitute for more sleep.
In addition to the caffeine jolt, fuel up with nutritious, energy-boosting foods to keep yourself alert throughout the day.
Watch your caffeine intake if you’re breastfeeding. Try a glass of cold water as a substitute pick-me-up.
Spacing out at work
You have a hard time concentrating on important tasks at work.
What to do: “To manage my work schedule after an all-nighter, I take on less demanding projects that day, and save the challenging ones for another day,” says Susan Santoni.
If you can’t reschedule, tackle your most challenging task first thing in the morning when you’ll probably be most alert. Save your least demanding projects for the midafternoon slump when your eyelids are starting to droop.
Nodding off during meetings
Long meetings in a warm conference room can make you very drowsy.
What to do: Open a window (if you can), step out and get some fresh air, or splash some cool water on your face. Take a cold drink with you to the meeting.
Or get creative: “When I first returned to work after maternity leave, I would nap in my car and have a friend at work call me on my cell phone to make sure I got back to the office on time,” says Sherri Jordan.
Naps are a great way to recharge your batteries, agrees sleep expert Gary Zammit. He says, “Employers let you take a 15-minute coffee break. Why not a 15-minute nap?”
Heavy food weighing you down
You feel yourself slipping into that postmeal food coma.
What to do: Ann Spivack, a mother of twins, found that what she ate had a lot to do with how she felt during a sleep-deprived day. “If I ate pizza, burgers, and heavy food, I couldn’t stay awake when I needed to. If I ate mostly fruit and veggies with a little bread, pasta – light carbs – then I could stay awake much more easily,” she says.
Feeling drowsy behind the wheel
You’re more accident-prone or come close to nodding off while driving.
What to do: If you must drive or operate heavy machinery, try to take a quick nap before you have to get behind the wheel. On the job, ask a co-worker to operate machinery for you, or talk to your supervisor or the company’s safety rep to explain why you can’t.
If you’re driving and start to nod off, immediately pull over in a safe place and take a nap or get out of the car for some fresh air. (Of course, you can’t do this if you have your child with you.) Otherwise, call a cab or ask a friend to drive you home.