Pregnancy Week 57: A Guide For the Sleep-Deprived Working Mom

tired working mother

Adobe Stock / Drazen

April 15, 2024 at 6:24AM UTC
We almost named this piece “How to Deal With Fatigue At Work," but then we remembered — "fatigue” is more like something that happens when ladies who go to tea feel they’ve worn heels for too much shopping.
This time is probably the most incredibly, miserably, insanely tired period that you’ve experienced. It actually feels like the right word is "torture." It makes the feeling of pulling the occasional one-nighter in college look like a joke in comparison.

Between going back to work and getting up multiple times at night to feed your baby (or just because they are still waking up), you’re probably at a new physical low. If you’re waking every two to three hours and only getting two to three of those sessions in for weeks on end, the truth is that you’re probably feeling ready to snap. 
This fog of tiredness is one of the most challenging times in your adjustment to life as a new mom because your physical needs aren’t being met. You’re literally starved of sleep, and unfortunately, there’s usually not a great solution. Here’s the best advice we could round up on how to get through it.

1. Figure out your caffeine situation.

Normally, coffee is a mom’s best friend. But when you’re this tired, caffeine can be tricky. You want to be able to consume enough to get you through the times at work when you’re literally falling asleep at your desk. But you can’t drink too much too late in the day. 
Caffeine has a half-life of about four to six hours, so you don’t want any of it in your system when you’re ready to go bed.
For Georgene, our cofounder, black tea became her go-to beverage because it didn’t come with as many extreme ups and downs as coffee. For others, this might mean sipping green tea throughout the morning.

2. Get comfortable with (really) early bedtimes.

Remember all that maternity leave advice to sleep when your baby sleeps? Well, if you have the opportunity to go to bed at 8 p.m. and get an extra two-hour sleep cycle in, that may be the only way to survive the next day’s big presentation or all-day client meeting. 
Is it shocking that your head is hitting the pillow before major TV sitcoms air? Yes. But is it absolutely, 100 percent sane if you have to get up at 1 a.m. and 3:30 am and then at 5:30 for the last time? Hell yes.
You might not want to or be able to do this every night. But when you can, it can be a life-saver.

3. Take turns with your partner.

You can’t do it all. (Or you can try, but risk ending up in an institution.)
Before the baby, you may have sworn to never sleep in separate rooms. But if one or both of you has to alternate nights of childcare to get some rest, for goodness sake, try it! 
If you’re breastfeeding, this is harder, but you can still try a version where dad helps mom by bringing the baby to her for a feeding and then returning the baby to her crib afterwards so that you can maximize the time your head’s on your pillow.

4. Move the baby from your room.

New parents discover a new meaning to being a “light sleeper” as they seem to wake at every little sniffle their baby makes — even when they’re down the hall. Sleeping arrangements are very personal decisions, but attachment sleeping arrangements can be toughest for mothers who return to work soon after their babies are born. 
If you’re already experiencing broken sleep, you don’t want to make it worse by waking up every time your baby rolls over or makes a hiccup. 

5. Try little adjustments to survive at the office.

Here are a few tips that have worked for others who catch themselves struggling to stay awake at work:
  • Don’t overheat: Nothing makes you sleepier than being too warm. Dress in layers so you don’t exacerbate your tendency to fall asleep.

  • Open the windows: Get some fresh air during your commute, at home and in your office. Breathe it in and hold onto it for dear life.

  • Sneak a nap: This is probably not realistic for most of us, but if you can grab a 20 minute cat-nap on the subway or train during your commute, or even in your parked car at lunch, it’s better than nothing. (And snapping awake in the realization that yes, you just started snoring in your cubicle).

  • Drink lots of water: If you find yourself nodding off more often than you’d like, keep a bottle of water and take a swig in moments of need. If nothing else, you’ll be forced to stand up and walk to the bathroom (see below on “moving”) instead of falling asleep.

  • Listen to music: If you work in a very quiet environment, put on a pair of headphones and play some high-energy music to get you through sluggish hours. Taylor Swift works. So does Beyoncé.

  • Eat the right foods: This is easier said than done, but large meals that are are heavy on carbs will suck whatever little energy you had and drag you down. Every little decision about what you put into your body can mean the difference between staying awake and falling asleep after lunch. Sad desk salads, here we come.

  • Get moving: When you feel yourself nodding off, stand up, stretch and go for a walk. Even if it’s just a walk to the water cooler or restroom, it’s probably marginally better for your boss to think you have a UTI than see you fall asleep at work.

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