My Rules for Sleep Deprivation


Yet again, I find myself in the middle of a sleepless season (I have a history of this … plenty of history, apparently). Just when I thought the newborn phase was behind us, I now have an eczema-and-teething baby who needs me all night and a toddler who is charged up on sleep at 6:30 a.m. and ready to go.

Maybe you’re there, too … in the sort of season where you’re functioning on so little sleep, you’re starting to wonder if you’ve been transported straight into the movie Groundhog Day, except the alarm clock is a baby crying, and the time always reads one or two hours from the last time you saw it.

As I was slogging along one day recently, I remembered I had made some “rules” for myself when my first child was a baby – basic reminders on how to make it through the day after a sleepless night. The guidelines are not profound, but they are tried and tested, so I’ll share them with you:

  1. If you can’t get to sleep, take a shower. I honestly think a hot 5-minute shower is almost as good as 5 hours of sleep. (OK, almost.) I’ve even been known to hop in the shower at 3 a.m. … because if you’re gonna be awake, you might as well be clean.
  2. If you can’t get a shower, take a walk. Because if you can’t get sleep OR be clean, you might as well exercise.
  3. Whatever you do: DO NOT GO HORIZONTAL unless you have back-up. People will tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps!” And I say, “Sure, if you come over and hold her!” Because my experience is that if you are home with children alone, trying to catch a wink is often a recipe for disaster. The minute you think those babies are finally snoozing and your head hits the pillow, someone will be awake. Or, you may lay down on the floor for just a second while you are playing hide and seek with your toddler … and suddenly wake up to that same child putting peanut butter on your nose. Not that I’ve ever made that mistake. Trust me: if you don’t have an extra set of hands around, just keep moving.
  4. Coffee, always. Repeat as needed. I don’t know how you non-coffee mamas are doing it. Even if I can’t drink much of it while it’s warm, it just makes me feel better to have a cuppa on standby.

That’s it — those are my four main rules, and I repeat them to myself on the days when I am so tired I think I won’t be able to make it, working my way through the steps:  Shower. Walk. Stay Upright. Find a coffee source.

Of course, there are many other practical things that can help, too – putting on lipstick is kind of amazing for tricking your brain into feeling awake sometimes! Whatever works for you, write it down and make it a routine on those bleary-eyed days, until actual sleep comes your way. Eventually it will, right?!

What are your tricks when you aren’t sleeping?

Jenna lives in Midtown with her husband and two kids (ages 6 and 4). She has an M.A. in English and too many overdue books at the library. She has been working with writers for over a decade, as a high school teacher, college instructor, and writing coach. She loves good coffee, serious conversation, and not-too-serious fiction.


  1. Jenna. Spot on. I’m in the sleep deprivation wilderness.
    Interested to hear your tips on how to keep one child from waking another? Solidarity Mama.

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