I spent the first year and a half of my older daughter's life in a complete haze.
She was easy to put to sleep, allowing me to spend time with my husband and, on special occasions, actually exercise before bed. But then she would wake every two hours for assorted reasons — she was hungry, cold, had night terrors, or just flat out hated me. At the time, I worked in New York City and was lucky enough to be able to come and go as I pleased at my job for that first year. If I was up for two hours at 4 a.m., I would go back to sleep at 6 a.m. and maybe catch an 8 a.m. train. My fatigue, albeit awful, was manageable.
When my second daughter was born, I was at a new job I had to drive to, and my role was different. I was expected to be on time and to perform to the same degree I did prior to my leave. I struggled the first few months coming back to work. My daughter was a good sleeper and I worked a slightly later shift (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), but even being woken up once a night with the excess demands of a new job and now two children left me back in that constant fog.
Now, my youngest is 2 and a half and likes to jump on beds and run around the house like a cat right before bedtime. And while she doesn’t wake up often, there are many nights, like one this week, where a nightmare or adamant need to have her blanket with Minnie Mouse facing her creates a very hard next work day.
But, as many moms do, we try to find ways to make it through these phases. Here are some survival tips I’ve learned on how to get through your work day without falling flat on your face:
1. Feed the fatigue:
Coffee seems like the first line of defense and obvious choice. However, I often find that no matter what I drink, it doesn't take that “I just got punched in the face” feeling out of my eyes. If coffee works for you, then great. Continue to use this method. You may want to consider other ways to get energized, though, like drinking a smoothie with some protein in it or nibbling on a few pieces of chocolate (I won’t tell).
2. Get energized:
Keep a wet wash cloth near your desk and occasionally pat it on your eyes, face, and neck, allowing the change in temperature to wake you up. Ask that friend who is really into essential oils for a citrus and eucalyptus combo. Dip it on your wrists and keep sniffing it all day long. Create a Pandora station with your most upbeat music, like my personal favorite: 90s Hip Hop Workout Mix, and keep it on all day. Get one of those work bikes under your desk to keep your feet moving. Remember, this isn’t about exercising. It’s about making it to 5 p.m.
3. Take walks...outside:
I hate going out in the cold or in the rain, but on days I am finding my office chair as comfortable as my couch, I need to get up and move. Set the timer on your phone for 15 minutes and challenge yourself to keep moving until it goes off. You’re going to hate the start of the process, but you will most certainly feel better after it.
4. Re-work your work day:
Even on your most exhausted days, you will experience a “second wind” at some point throughout the day. Try to notice this time and schedule your most important meeting or project then. Altering your weekly work schedule may also help, keeping in mind that depending on the age of your child, this situation is likely temporary. This may require a conversation with your boss.
5. Call in sick:
This isn’t a joke, nor is it ethically poor career advice. I remember one day calling my husband from work after the 10th day in a row of no sleep. We were both crying on the phone out of sheer exhaustion, wondering when we would ever feel like humans again. When you have days and days of non-stop fatigue your immune system and mental health take a hit. If you feel like you are completely drowning and putting the baby’s diaper on backwards for the umpteenth time, then it’s time to take a day to regroup. Get a sitter or drop your child off at daycare, and go back home and rest. You will avoid actual sick days in your future by taking preventive measures. Listen to your body and mind.
After I finally got my little monster to bed the other night, I went into my room and found my older daughter asleep with her book in my bed. I snuggled in next to her, staring at her little grown-up looking face, remembering all the sleepless nights I had willing her to sleep in my arms. Amazed that we are here in this moment, where sleep is all she wants to do. I never thought I would survive, but I did. We all do.
Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time, and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues, which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.
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