How to Get Your Much-Needed Forty Winks

As everyone knows, hitting the sack is crucial for mental health. Sleep deprivation—a form of German torture in World War II—worsens depression and directly contributes to manic episodes. After a few days of working double-shifts, even neurotypical people start to hallucinate.

It is for these reasons that the recommendation for daily sleep is an eight hour period, give or take. All right, parents of newborns, say it with me: “Hahahaha! Yeah, right!”

Whew. Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, let’s discuss how we can get as much sleep as we can so our mental health isn’t compromised.

In short, do what works best for you. A crib in the room, a crib out of the room, or a playpen somewhere nearby—all of these choices are good ones. I know one mother who slept in a recliner for several years. Just make sure to cover your newborn with a light blanket, and introduce heavier ones more cautiously. Before bed, you can gently massage your child, and then feed them as much as they’ll take. If you have a partner, set a time to discuss who covers which blocks of baby care.

When my son Nolan was an infant, I co-slept with him to make nighttime breastfeeding easier—despite his having a beautiful, untouched crib in the next room. I was lucky that he enjoyed feeding while reclined, so I didn’t have to leave my bed, and was even able to doze. These snatches of sleep helped me regain my sanity during his first two years.

Studies demonstrate a causal link between bed-sharing and the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who slept with their mothers also appear to have a higher self-esteem, possibly because the infant’s signs of distress were more quickly addressed due to the parent’s proximity.

If you’re interested in trying co-sleeping, please take safety precautions. According to research, most fatalities are due to alcohol, cigarette smoke, soft mattresses, or heavy bedding. Older children may also endanger a newborn that they cannot sense while asleep.

Speaking of older children… Kids thrive in a structured environment, so they will usually go down easier—and sleep better—with an established routine. These three things may help:

  • A place to call their own. If you can afford a permanent shelter, lay them down in the same bed every night. If not, give them a portable comfort object, like a favorite blanket or toy.
  • A set bedtime. Nolan, now a preschooler, goes to bed at 8:30pm.
  • One last hurrah. Books, playing, and baths are all wonderful choices. I sing one or two songs while tucking Nolan in. If you’re shy about singing, don’t be! Your babies will love your voice until they turn thirteen.

I hate to offer this advice, because my inconsistent behavior has made this process extremely difficult for me. Like cooking regular meals, enforcing a bedtime requires me to be on the ball night after night—a topic which will be covered in a future post. But despite the snags, maintaining at least this much structure has been the best action I have taken for Nolan.

When he gets his rest, I get mine—and then my whole family benefits.

What lengths have you gone to get your shut-eye? Any advice for surviving the first year with an infant?

Not to be taken in lieu of a treatment plan crafted with medical professionals.

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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7 Responses to How to Get Your Much-Needed Forty Winks

  1. Amanda says:

    This sounds awful but I’m so thankful that I don’t have a child to add my issues! I’ve always had sleeping issues – not so much in falling asleep, but in staying asleep. So I’m lucky if I get 6 hours a night. I’ve definitely noticed that when that amount decreases for a few days in a row, I’m more likely to start acting hypomanic. I didn’t know there was a correlation!

    Of course, I have no tips on newborns … LOL .. sorry!

    • Cassandra says:

      Oh, man, yeah – sleep loss is both a trigger and symptom of mood states, especially mania. I’m sure you’ve noticed that once you’re sleep deprived and start slipping into hypomania, insomnia soon follows, which makes the episode worse. I can’t even go a few days past midnight without shooting into a pretty elevated hypomanic state. 🙂

      As for staying asleep, wow, that sucks! There are a ton of possible causes for that issue like diet, medication contradictions, and allergens (hooray). I assume you’ve talked to your doctors–including psych/therapists–about it? Good luck with your balancing act!

      • Amanda says:

        Yeah, I have talked to them about it — it’s been my entire life for the most part – I usually wake up with nightmares. All they usually do is prescribe me things, trazadone, ambien, whatever … which I’m too scared to take! 🙂 I typically just take Klonopin AND Benadryl if I want to sleep straight through the night!

        • Cassandra says:

          Yeah, it’s scary, isn’t it? Especially since some of those sleeping aids can be addictive. When I was at the mental ward, the staff gave me Olanzapine once and I was dead to the world for 20+ hours. I don’t recommend that one. 😉

          I’m so sorry you have to go through so much trouble to get your shut-eye. Good luck finding your balance.

  2. Okay, so here’s the thing. I read your post and could use some advise from a fellow parent.

    I am suffering from Dysthymia (Neurotic Depression) and am having a really hard time lately. I have a two year old who suddenly decided it’s okay to drop by in our room each night and crawl in our bed.

    At that point it’s either: let him stay and hopefully he’ll asleep (which sometimes he does) or put him back in his bed and enjoy a 60 minute serenade of screaming and shouting.

    One tiny problem, I’m not good at afternoon-naps, cause usually I feel sick as a dog when I wake up. Sleeping in the daylight really confuses my biological clock, I think.

    So, any advice?

    • Cassandra says:

      Daan, I’m so sorry depression has dug its talons into your life. *hugs* It’s a real beast, isn’t it? Best of luck cutting it off at the knees!

      Wrt your two-year-old, ohhh, do I remember that phase. So incredibly annoying, and so incredibly common. As far as I understand it, kids go through sleep regressions when they experience stresses, like teething, growth spurts, or uncertainty at home (parent stress = kid stress, unfortunately). So his climbing into your bed just means he’s looking for a little extra security/love. It’s totally natural, and no one’s fault, and two sounds about the right age for it.

      Personally, I’m not a proponent of the cry-it-out method, both because I believe 1.it permanently damages our children, and 2. prolonged exposure to shrieking makes me twitch like a caffeinated cocker-spaniel. But that’s a huge controversy subject to many flame wars, so I won’t get into that very much. 🙂

      Getting to the point, we actually shared our bed with Nolan until I weaned him at age three (and we got tired of his kicking us in the head). After that, we placed him on the floor in a sleeping bag, where one of us would perform the laying/massage/singing/snuggling to near death routine. We avoided giving him drinks at night, too, just in case his bladder was waking him up.

      Then, we got him a mattress on the floor in another room (which we were lucky to have!), and told him it was his Big Boy Bed. The BBB was a BFD. We had a party for the Big Boy Bed. It was christened with chocolate sprinkles, virgin’s blood, and our desperate, sleep deprivation induced tears.

      We explained over and over that we would be in the other room, so it was okay to stay in his BBB. We’d see him in the morning. When he climbed out of his BBB, we put him back gently, or called from the other room to, “stay there and go to sleep for God’s sake, you sweet little @#$%&”. We also made a paper chain, and added a loop for each day he stayed in bed. He could turn in the chain for ice cream after, say, ten days. (Visual rewards and bribes are my favorite parenting techniques.)

      As always, your mileage may vary. Here, here, here, here are references that I’ve found useful, and I hope they’ll help you, too. Best of luck conquering this phase of parenting. You’ll only climb this mountain for a short while longer.

  3. Pingback: Pregnant While Bipolar | The Bipolar Parent

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