Staying Alive

6 Tips For New Parents Who Need To Function On Little Sleep

No sleep till ... they become toddlers.

Originally Published: 
flickr / Toshimasa Ishibashi

As a new dad, you will absolutely be sleep deprived at some point (maybe even most points). You’ll do things that only the most tired people do, like forgoing a shower to get those precious extra minutes of rest. You might put your pants on backwards, accidentally pour salt in your coffee, and forget to comb your hair. Basically you’ll head out looking like Harry Dean Stanton on his worst day. And you won’t care. Because caring takes energy.

Dealing With Deprivation

Snap out of it! You can make this thing work. Because the fact is there have been a ton of people who have gone through much worse non-baby related sleep troubles and continue to live the lives of productive citizens. People like Navy SEALs and those affected by narcolepsy or insomnia. Here’s all the stuff you can learn from them.


Get up and do a stair lap. Walk around the building. Take a stroll to a coworker’s desk instead of sending them an instant message or an email. At least one recommendation from an individual affected by narcolepsy is to drink enough water that you are forced to get up and use the restroom regularly. One caveat? Your co-workers may begin worrying about your prostate.

Chunk It Up

You can get through most things, including a military training exercise that requires 5 and a half days of wakefulness, by breaking the time into manageable chunks. Don’t think past the next task, or the next meeting. Motivation to see that one task through will carry you to the other side.

Don’t Think About It

Denial is both a river in Egypt and a powerful tool to keep yourself from dwelling on your crappy situation. There’s a saying in the military that goes: “If you don’t mind, it won’t matter.” So think of something else, besides how crappy not sleeping is.

Find Some Sun

A good walloping of sunshine can do wonders to wake you up. It’s helpful for those suffering from narcolepsy and could be helpful for you. See if there’s a way you could temporarily work from a desk by a window. Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest. In which case, buy a daylight lamp and watch out for Sasquatch.

Ask For A Flexible Schedule

Some companies have been known to accommodate employees with sleep disorders, like insomnia, by allowing flexible schedules. Be frank with your employer. Find out if there are any ways you may be able to come in late and work after hours so you can get an extra hour or 2 of rest. And if you’re operating heavy machinery, they should understand you’re a walking liability.

Maintain A Positive Mental Attitude

There are some that swear just smiling can keep your brain buzzing. So maybe consciously turning that frown upside down will work wonders. Or you’ll look crazy. (Side note: You may be going crazy.)

How To Recover

Some studies suggest that fathers actually get less sleep than moms. Obviously, you know this to be true. That lack of sleep can put you in an awful state that some sleep researchers refer to as “sleep debt.” The more sleep debt you have, the worse the health outcomes.

However, this sleep debt can apparently be reversed by recovery sleep, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Sleep. Researchers found that a restorative sleep of up to 10 hours was effective in erasing a sleep debt from 5 nights of moderate sleep deprivation. Hey, that sounds like your life!

It turns out that when the brain is given a chance to recover, it doubles up on the good, deep, REM sleep you need to keep yourself healthy. And that’s a wonderful thing. Particularly if you can convince your partner to let it happen. Make it a weekend thing and trade off with her.

She’ll probably agree. Unless she’s really into Harry Dean Stanton. In which case, she might be an Alien.

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