Sleepless Nights: A Mother’s Survival Guide


I used to see late nights with the kids as the mental-emotional equivalent of a spike-ridden ball and chain. Walking around a dark dwelling half-lidded with the temperament of a menopausal dragon, this “ball and chain” was constantly tripping me up. While my grumpiness seemed necessary, it made the challenges of functioning with a late-night brain fog even more intense. Once I finally took a moment to slow down my fiery breathing, it was obvious that my horrible nights were really my own doing. Determined to one-up my own grumpy mother, I resolved to flipping the situation so I could make the most of this time for both me and my little dragon.  

Accept it

Whenever I’m feeling mopey, I often turn to the wise words of the film Grumpier Old Men (a great late-night watch by the way).

You can wish in one hand and crap in the other, and see which gets filled first.”

The moral? Feeling lusty and heartbroken over the touch of that down comforter won’t get us anywhere. Even the biggest and most creative of protest signs aren’t going to accomplish anything against the war on sleeplessness. The only way we stand to change things is by taking action. Accept that sleep may not happen, and you can sub tearful and ridiculous theatrics for the balance of logic and clarity. I myself still enjoy an occasional mini-breakdown on a sofa of unfolded laundry, but once I shake it off and accept what’s happening, I’m able to ponder what the issue is so I can get to work on finding a resolution.  

Bring On The Noise

I rather enjoy being frugal, and this had me adamant on never, ever getting a subscription to trendy music apps like Pandora. Well… That all changed thanks to my third. I’d had a lot of success getting my second to sleep better by having the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or radio running during naptime. Six years later, I had some fancy music apps to take the load off of the appliances, so I decided to try a little musical intervention with the less-trendy (and therefore justifiable) Spotify .

I scoured the internet in a quest to create a playlist that would be the envy of insomniacs everywhere. My musical odyssey led to the discovery of hour long white noise tracks as simple as a running dishwasher, as well as the researched and meticulously-planned compositions of Dr. Jeffrey Thompson and White Noise Research. By six weeks, my son was taking 3-4 hour naps nearly every… single… day… Once I finally brought Spotify to bed with us, he slept for a solid six hours at night (and I slept like a rock too!). I kicked myself in the butt when I signed up for Spotify’s monthly subscription, but I couldn’t possibly put a price on hours of commercial-free, music-induced sleep. If you want to go free without the commercials, you can probably find many of the same tracks at the local library, but having a phone app that’s always with you offers sanity on-the-go.  

Carpe Hora

The go-to approach for many mothers leans towards whining and feeling sorry for themselves. Having years of experience practicing this method with three different children, I can say it’s as effective as digging into a hole that I’m trying to climb out of. Instead of carving a notch into that rocking chair for every minute I’m awake, I try to seize this ungodly hour by doing something that’s worth being awake for. Instead of whining, I try to turn this into the highly-coveted “me time” of mothers everywhere by doing things I enjoy. Whether it’s catching up on blogs, getting in time with the Kindle, or zening out to my favorite tunes, I aim to make this my time to bliss out and feel good.

Now, there are times when my 14mo old isn’t as interested in blissing out as he is in squirming and screaming. When fussing is priority one, I try to turn it into quality bonding time by going for a walk with some 3am stargazing, finding ways to capture his attention or make him laugh, or I try to sneak in some fun or snuggling. These things definitely take more physical effort than sitting around and feeling sorry for myself but, as we all know, if mama ain’t happy than no one is. Investing a little time and energy into making things more pleasurable has everyone feeling happier and sleeping better. Even during the rough nights of teething, puking, and runny noses, I always start my day with 100x more power when I’m not feeling deprived and grumpy.    

Go Herbal

Whether you’re looking to smooth out frazzled nerves, ease the discomforts of the latest “bug,” or guzzle some antioxidants, herbs have healing properties that have helped me in every area. Lavender is the cheerleading captain of herbs thanks to popularity and good looks, but there’s good reason for it. That sweet scent does wonders with anxiety, and it can help with sleep as well as relaxation. I made a lavender sachet for my son when he was 2mo old to help him sleep better, and I use the essential oil on myself whenever I’m at risk of “wigging out.” This little gem is now a staple in my home (especially since it gives me fabulously radiant skin that offsets the dark and baggy eyes of the walking dead).

Herbs also have a place in my kitchen as tea. I didn’t have to turn to a steaming cup of midnight relaxation with my third since 2-3 minutes of nursing put him out cold, but I always turn to boiling up some water when my Kindergartner or Second Grader face the sleeplessness of sickness or nightmares. I keep teas on hand to address congestion, upset stomach, and relaxation that we can drink before bed and during the night. Once I tell them what the tea is good for, they’re good to sip down every last drop. They needed a little maternal comfort in their younger years, but thanks to some liquid relief, they usually just turn to their mug.

Do What Works For YOU

All of the above have worked wonders for me, but everyone is different. What matters is that you keep your sanity in check and find ways to sneak in a little pleasure. Whether that means getting out for a walk, cooking, staring at a wall, or strapping baby to your back for some 2am weight training, being productive and making things pleasurable will make good use of those wakeful hours. I was resistant to this idea in my early years as I preferred the ease and satisfaction of complaining, but turning my sleepless hours as an excuse for simple pleasures has made my life 1000x easier. We don’t exactly have control over how much sleep we get, but we sure as heck have a say in how it affects us. Besides, the zombie look doesn’t work so well for me.

Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t reading or writing, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!



Leave a Reply