When I had my first baby, sleep was a huge deal. My life revolved around sleep.
Try to get sleep, try to get baby to sleep, try to keep baby asleep, try to fall asleep, try to sleep for long stretches, try to sneak in a nap. I was so tired that all I ever wanted to do was sleep. And I was so concerned that I wasn't getting enough sleep that I couldn't get it off my mind.
The interesting thing is that the more I worried about trying to get sleep and my lack of it, the less sleep I ended up getting--and the more anxious and depressed I got. It was one exhausting, horrible cycle.
With my second baby, I did things differently. I told myself it wasn't a big deal if I didn't get much sleep. It wasn't a big deal if it took me a while to fall asleep. It wasn't a big deal if I was up 10 times at night. It wasn't a big deal if my baby didn't go right to sleep after waking at night. It wasn't a big deal if I never got a nap during the day. And it wasn't a big deal if I was tired all day.
My lack of sleep ended up not being a big deal because I decided it wasn't a big deal.
This change of mindset made all the difference. I was still tired, yes. But without my brain telling me incessantly that I felt terrible and my life was terrible and this was so freaking hard, I only had my physical fatigue to deal with. I no longer had that added feeling of fatigue and self pity and frustration coming from my thoughts.
Dropping the drama
Most of us worry about sleep one time or another in our lives. As a teenager, my nightly homework routine consisted of repetitively looking at the clock, adding up how many hours I had left until I had to wake up in the morning, and then feeling more and more stressed as this number started to shrink. As an adult, I've been guilty of doing the same thing. And when I had my first baby I felt like the whole world should feel sorry for me because I was so. dang. tired. I threw myself a pity party all day, every day. There were plenty of other moms to commiserate with me on this. It felt good to get validated about what I was going through. But it didn't help anything; it just made me more stuck in my sad story.
With my second baby, I chose to stop believing in my dramatic sleep story (most of the time...). Because the drama didn't solve anything, it just made me feel worse. And it honestly made me act worse. If I thought that I was cranky and stressed from no sleep, I became more cranky and stressed. Because what I believed about myself I made come true.
Instead of thinking things like 'my life is so hard', 'I'm so tired', and 'I didn't get enough sleep', I started thinking things like, 'I can function on little sleep', sleep isn't a big deal', and 'this is hard but I can do hard'.
Now some of you may be thinking I'm a bit crazy right now. Keep reading and I'll try to explain. Because this is life changing, you guys.
Your thoughts lead to your feelings
Think about when your baby has cried. You've probably had lots of different thoughts about this like: 'I wonder what my baby needs' 'Look how cute he is when he cries', 'Is my baby in pain?', 'Does my baby need to eat, again', Does my baby need me, I love feeling needed', 'Why won't he stop crying', 'Why doesn't my baby like me', 'I'm sure I can stop the crying right away'.
Each one of these thoughts creates completely different feelings. Some of them energize you and make you feel competent and loved. Others suck away your energy and make you feel like crap.
The way we feel about something starts with our thoughts about that thing.
So if you are tired and think that you didn't get enough sleep and life is so unfair and you are never going to get all the stuff done that you have to do today, how do you think that will make you feel? Probably tired and full of self pity and resentment. Now let's take the same situation but instead of thinking life is unfair and you are never going to get all your work done, let's just think, I'm tired, and that's ok. How do you think that will make you feel? Completely different. Seriously, it will. Some of you might be rolling your eyes at me, but give it a try. You have the power to change your reality just by the way you think about things.
Let's look at this another way. How does it help to feel grumpy about not getting enough sleep? Does it help you get more sleep in the future? (no) Does it help you get more things done during your day?(no again) Does it help you be nicer to the people around you (double no). So why not just drop the grumpy part? You can if you think the right kind of thoughts that don't lead you to feel grumpy.
Let's try a third way of looking at this. Would you rather feel tired and full of self pity and resentment or would you rather just feel tired? You can't avoid the tired part because you can't escape your body's physiological needs, but you can escape the self pity and resentment part by simply not feeling self pity and resentment. And the amazing thing about all this is that you'll even feel a little less tired if you skip those parts too. Because constant negative thoughts and feelings are a drain on our energy!
How do you simply stop thinking and feeling a certain way?
All these thoughts you are having about sleep are optional. They really are. If you're anything like me, you told yourself a story about your lack of sleep and how much this sucks for a long time. It can be hard to change something you've been thinking for so long. When you think the same thing over and over again you really start to believe it, and the thoughts and feelings can come up pretty automatically about it. But you can guide your brain in a different direction and move it towards new, more helpful, thoughts.
At first, it's a good idea to just be aware of your thoughts. What do you find yourself thinking about sleep and your fatigue all the time? How do these thoughts make you feel?
Next, when you start having some of these not so helpful thoughts about sleep, take notice of them, but decide to redirect your thinking to a more helpful thought. The better feelings will follow, I promise! And with the better feelings come a more satisfying, productive, and joyful life!
Some helpful thoughts to replace those dramatic ones you've been using
Sleep isn't a big deal.
This is hard, but I can do hard things.
It isn't as bad as I think it is.
This won't last forever.
I can function pretty amazingly on little sleep
I can still be nice even if I'm tired.
I was made to do this
My baby isn't sleeping great right now but that's ok, this happens, this is normal
Everyone sleeps badly at times
What's the worst that could happen? I'm tired. I can do tired.
I've got this!
*Any other thought that gives you energy and helps you think positive instead of leaving you more drained and negative than before.
What if your sleep is really, really bad?
If you have some sort of a sleep condition or think you might, then by all means go seek some help. With my first baby, I needed some help. Most of you probably aren't in this situation, though.
But what about all the research out there that talks about how good sleep is for you?
Now don't get me wrong, sleep is good for you. You should really try to get it. But what I'm suggesting is that you keep trying to get good sleep but at the same time drop all the drama you create about not getting enough sleep. Try to be ok with wanting good sleep without needing good sleep. As in, you will be happy either way, with or without good sleep. But it sure would be awesome if you got it!
When other stuff besides baby wakes you
You can do the same thing. Make it not a big deal! If you wake up for no good reason at night and can't fall back asleep, tell yourself it isn't a big deal. You can handle being tired the next day. The more you worry about it, the harder it is going to be to fall asleep again, anyway. If you have to get up early for a flight the next morning, of course see if you can get to sleep a bit earlier than usual, but if you can't, no worries. You are perfectly capable of functioning on a little less sleep and it isn't a problem. Seriously, tell yourself this. Believe this. It will make things so much easier.
This works for your baby's sleep, too
Just like you do for yourself, you should work on helping your baby sleep the best possible (that's kind of what this blog is about), but drop all the drama about your baby not getting enough sleep or not sleeping how you would like. It doesn't help! Really, it doesn't. And it can even make things worse. I know this is hard to do, so just be compassionate with yourself when you struggle with this and take baby steps towards improving your thinking.
How has changing your sleep mindset helped you?
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