You expected to be tired as a new parent.
But you probably didn’t expect to be a walking zombie-like shell of your former self, fantasizing about getting just four hours of sleep (*giddy laugh* THE LUXURY!), with absolutely no end in sight.
But how could you? It turns out you had no idea what tired even meant until you had a baby.
WATCH: The truth about getting sleep with a baby. Story continues below.
A few recent British studies have found that new parents can lose anywhere from 44 to 50 full nights of sleep in the first year of their child’s life. The cruel twist, of course, is that these same, utterly exhausted parents are suddenly responsible for keeping a helpless baby alive, so they need to try to stay at least somewhat alert.
And while there are tons of resources on how to get your baby to sleep better, tips for how to survive the sleeplessness when you’re in the thick of it are harder to find.
But, don’t stress (you’re already doing enough of that over baby’s poop colour and whether he should be rolling over yet). We compiled some of our best no-sleep survival tips for new parents, based on experience, research, and tips from other parents who have been there ... and made it through to the other side.
Here’s how to survive a new baby when you’re so very, very tired:
1. Trick your body into thinking it slept
Open the curtains when the sun comes up, even if you just sat on the couch holding your baby for the last three hours. Brew the morning coffee. Shower and dress — into not just fresh(er) pajamas, but actual clothes (leggings).
Basically, do all the things you would normally at the start of a new day to trick your mind and body into thinking it just got out of your precious, precious bed.
Not only will these small routines make you feel like more of a human, they can help wake you up. Studies have found that sunlight, showers, and caffeine (no kidding) can all help alert your brain that it’s time get going.
2. Take cat naps whenever (and wherever) you can
There’s a good chance that by now you want to slap the next person who says, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” But, even if your baby barely sleeps, there are still ways to get a quick cat nap in when you’re desperate.
First of all, sleep when the baby sleeps (SORRY). If your baby dozes like a dream from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., then parties the rest of the night, try to get a few hours during that window, even if it feels unnatural.
If your baby doesn’t really crawl or move around yet, and you’re both in a safe place like inside a play yard or they’re happily examining their own feet in a play pen ... lay down on the floor beside them and pass out for a couple of minutes. Some moms swear by this stealth move. The baby will cry and wake you up if they need you.
You might get a few minutes of shut-eye, and 20 minutes is all you need to feel more alert, according the National Sleep Foundation.
Is some angel/grandma/neighbour watching the baby for you for an hour or so you can get things done? Great! Nap. JUST NAP.
Dinner can wait. Laundry can wait. That massage your lovely partner booked for you at the spa can wait (although we don’t mind admitting we once asked our neighbourhood spa if we could nap in an empty massage room for an hour, and they let us. And we did).
3. Get out of the house
Worried you’re going to pass out holding your fussy baby? Plop them in a stroller and go for a long stroll in your neighbourhood. The walk might put them to sleep (Oh, the injustice), but it will help you keep your eyes open. Just look both ways before you cross the street, mmmkay?
Take your baby to story time at the library, mommy and me yoga at the community centre, get together with some mom friends for a play date, or just push your kid aimlessly through a mall while you survive on food-court cookies.
Keeping busy will help distract you from the fact that you don’t know what day it is or where you are.
4. Keep your mind busy
“Engaging in something interesting to do or talk about can stimulate your mind to feel more awake,” sleep expert Richard Shane, PhD and creator of the Sleep Easily method, previously told Reader’s Digest.
Can’t keep your eyes open? Call a friend. Talk about, quite literally, anything. Pulling a graveyard shift with a baby who will only sleep in your arms? Do a puzzle on your phone, write out some lists, write emails to people you’ve been meaning to catch up with, or, heck, write a novel.
Studies have shown we’re more creative when we’re tired, so why not take advantage? Maybe just, um, have someone proofread your manuscript before you send Tired AF: A New Dud’s Eye-Opening Journey to a publisher at 4 a.m.
5. Take shifts
If you have a partner, take turns staying up with the baby. We know plenty of new parents who survived in shifts during those first few months.
If your baby is fussy at night, one parent can stay up with said fusser for three or four hours while the other person sleeps. Then you swap. Repeat until morning, or what used to be morning and is now just that time of your forever day when the sun comes up. Don’t forget to keep your mind busy during your awake shifts!
Yes, it’s not ideal. Yes, it means you and your partner never sleep in the same bed. But it will get you each a few hours until baby either learns to settle, starts sleeping longer stretches, or is old enough for sleep training.
Tell yourself you’re not tired. Pretend you had a normal sleep. Your mind may actually believe you!
Numerous studies have found that “placebo sleep”— which is thinking you had a good night’s sleep even though you didn’t— can improve cognitive functioning to the same level as a good night’s sleep.
On the flip side, talking about how tired you are can actually make you feel more tired.
7. Remember, it’s temporary
No, we’re not going to be those jerks who tell you to enjoy every precious moment with your newborn because they grow up so fast. You go ahead and enjoy holding your baby beside the vacuum from 2 to 4 a.m., because THAT’S THE ONLY WAY THEY STOP CRYING, BRENDA. We’ll be over here weeping (and vacuuming).
Instead, try to remember that most babies do sleep better eventually, so do whatever you need to survive right now. If that’s watching Netflix on repeat and eating bar after bar of dark chocolate because sugar is life, you do you. If that’s only passing your partner on the stairs in between shifts with the baby and forgetting what the person you married looks like as a result, you have photos to remember them by.
If you’re reading this article lying on the floor next to your baby’s crib as they practice their 11 p.m. dance moves, close your eyes. You’ve earned it.
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