Are You Sleeping?

Are You Sleeping?

How to get some ZZZs when you’re a Solo Mom

Sleep is a valuable commodity, especially once you become a parent, and with each stage of life the challenges that affect our sleep change. Here’s how I started to get some sleep, salvaged my sanity, and in the process became a better mom.

When my son was a newborn I was really desperate for sleep, and while all new parents know the total exhaustion that comes with having children (especially in the early years), being a Solo Mom only exacerbated the challenge of being well rested. Having no partner and no family within helping distance made the challenges of new motherhood seem insurmountable. What I wouldn’t have given to have someone take a late night feeding so I could get a solid four hours!

Getting only an hour or two of sleep at a time took a huge toll on my body and mind. My body wasn’t recovering fast enough from birth, and I spent many of my waking hours feeling like my brain was mush. I didn’t drive for fear that months of deprived sleep would inhibit my sensorimotor skills or I’d fall asleep at the wheel. Emotionally, too, I was suffering. Before long, I noticed that I was losing patience with my son far too easily. One afternoon I saw rats dancing across my bathroom floor and panicked. I was hallucinating. I knew I needed to make some changes. And fast.

First I sleep trained my son. I highly recommend doing this as soon as your pediatrician gives you clearance. In my case, that happened when my son was 3 months old. The book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Ballantine, 1999) became my bible. After using his techniques, which include putting your child on a schedule and letting your child cry for as long as possible in order to learn to self-soothe, I was getting solid stretches of sleep. At one year old, my son was sleeping straight through the night and went to bed with little or no fight. I continue to follow Weissbluth’s techniques, and I’ve had little to no issues with my son’s sleep for the last 5 years. Because my son sleeps, I sleep. Everyone is rested and everyone is happy.

Another challenge I had with sleep after my son was born was worry, especially during my divorce. I would lie awake with endless to-do list churning in my mind. To reduce anxiety and clear my mind, I kept a worry journal by the side of my bed. It is also something I commonly recommend for clients experiencing anxiety or difficulty sleeping. The idea is very simple but surprisingly effective: put your worries, fears, and to-dos down on paper and clear them from your mind. Close the journal and there they stay, to be dealt with the next day, if need be. After all what can really be accomplished at one in the morning!

Lack of time then became another thief that robbed me of my sleep. I found myself in graduate school trying to keep up with demanding courses, working in a clinic, caring for my young son, and maintaining a home. With fewer hours in the day to complete domestic chores, I was staying up into the wee hours of the morning struggling to get it all done.

Exhausted, I made some changes, letting go of the ridiculous expectation that I could do everything on my own. I gave up on being a domestic goddess and cancelled my subscription to Martha Stewart Living to prove it! For instance, I became an expert meal warmer and realized that microwaves are a gift from God. When you’re at the grocery, visit the prepared foods section and get things that can easily be rewarmed. If you like cooking or are on a budget, make items like lasagna, quiche, or soup during the weekend to warm during the week or freeze for later.

Lastly, ask for help! Consider letting your mommy friend care for your child one afternoon and then do the same for her. You’ll get time you need for that important appointment, save on a sitter, and your kiddo will get a playdate. There are lots of moms, solo and otherwise, struggling and tired who understand what it's like and would be happy to lend a hand!

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Ashley Volz-Reiss spent several years as a Solo Mom. She has gone on to earn her master’s degree in social work and is now a therapist helping children and families. She’s remarried and keeps busy raising her spirited six-year-old son.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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